❝ Why is it that we beheld the glory of God in flesh – finite, limited, ordinary flesh? Why did God come like one of us? Why is He the God of the manger, the God of the cross?
Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard told a parable about why God communicated His love the way He did.
Imagine there was a king that loved a humble maiden, Kierkegaard said. She had no royal pedigree, no education, no standing in the court. She dressed in rags. She lived in a hovel. She led the ragged life of a peasant. But for reasons no one could ever quite figure out, the king fell in love with this girl, in the way kings sometimes do. Why he should love her is beyond explaining, but love her he did. And he could not stop loving her.
Then there awoke in the heart of the king an anxious thought. How was he to reveal his love to the girl? How could he bridge the chasm of station and position that separated them? His advisors, of course, would tell him to simply command her to be his queen. For he was a man of immense power – every statesman feared his wrath, every foreign power trembled before him, every courtier groveled in the dust at the king’s voice. She would have no power to resist; she would owe him an eternal debt of gratitude.
But power – even unlimited power – cannot command love. He could force her body to be present in his palace, he could not force love for him to be present in her heart. He might be able to gain her obedience this way, but coerced submission is not what he wanted. He longed for intimacy of heart and oneness of spirit. All the power in the world cannot unlock the door to the human heart. It must be opened from the inside.
His advisors might suggest that the king give up this love, give his heart to a more worthy woman. But this the king will not do, cannot do. And so his love is also his pain.
The king could try to bridge the chasm between them by elevating her to his position. He could shower her with gifts, dress her in purple and silk, have her crowned queen, But if he brought her to his palace, if he radiated the sun of his magnificence over her, if she saw all the wealth and power and pomp of his greatness, she would be overwhelmed. How would he know (or she either, for that matter) if she loved him for himself or for all that he gave her? How could she know that he loved her and would love her still, even if she had remained only a humble peasant? Would she be able to summon confidence enough never to remember what the king wished only to forget, that he was king and she had been a humble maiden?
Every other alternative came to nothing. There was only one way. So one day, the king rose, left his throne, removed his crown, relinquished his scepter, and laid aside his royal robes. He took upon himself the life of a peasant. He dressed in rags, scratched out a living in the dirt, groveled for food, dwelt in a hovel. He did not just take on the outward appearance of a servant, it became his actual life, his nature, his burden. Kierkegaard writes, “But the servant-form is no mere outer garment and therefore God must suffer all things…he must be forsaken in death, absolutely like the humblest – behold the man! His suffering is not that of his death, but this entire life is a story of suffering; and it is love that suffers, the love which gives all is itself in want.” He became as ragged as the one he loved, so that she could be united to him forever. It was the only way.
His raggedness became the very signature of his presence: 'And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.'
God came to earth. We beheld His glory. Not the glory of thrones and crowns. No, his glory was that he would lay all that aside for ragged, sin-filled peasants like you and me.❞
— Life-changing Love, John Ortberg
Further listening: I Will Find A Way, Jason Gray