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Modern Reformation: Thinking Theologically

The Touch

Published Tuesday, January 1, 2019 By Eric Landry

Before I leave my house, I engage in a ritual of sorts. I pat each of my pockets, feeling my wallet, phone, and keys. It isn’t until I actually touch them that I am confident I have them. Even though it’s common to say “Seeing is believing,” touch is the most important sense we use to make sense of our world.

The heart of our Christian faith is the God who comes near enough to touch: “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14). God had shown up in other forms before the incarnation: he spoke to Abraham, he appeared as a burning bush to Moses, he used his prophets to convey his will to Israel, and he even devoured sacrifices by sending fire from heaven. But his greatest appearance to his creation was in the form of his greatest creation: in the flesh of a human.

Why was God enfleshed? Simply so we could touch him. Later in his life, the apostle John wrote a letter to the early church, reminding those men and women who had never seen Jesus that he had seen him, that he had heard him, and that he had even touched him. Why is that important? Well, just as touch is our most important sense to orient ourselves in the world, our world makes sense only if we are rightly oriented to God. Sadly, the disorientation we all feel in the world—the sense that this world is not right and we are not right—is because we are out of touch with God. We know that we’re supposed to be with God, but a great chasm has opened up between God and us because of sin.

Some of the most memorable stories in the Gospels are about the people who touched Jesus—the woman with an issue of blood, the prostitute who wiped his feet with her tears and hair, and the beloved disciple who leaned back against him at the Last Supper. In Jesus, God drew near enough to be touched. That was his greatest gift to us, but it also made him vulnerable to all of the scorn, abuse, and violence humans are capable of. The tender touches that fill the Gospels are replaced at the end of Jesus’ life with violence—the soldiers who seized him, mocked him, and beat him, pushing a crown of thorns onto his head, and nailing him to a cross. A God near enough to be touched is also a God near enough to be crucified.

But this touch, as violent and terrible as it was, was also the reason the Word was made flesh; for in the touch of the Roman soldiers who crucified the Lord of glory, the world was suddenly and strangely put right again. This was the touch that reoriented a disoriented world. By assuming our flesh, God redeemed it. He confronted our sin on its own turf and defeated it in the flesh.

The incarnation is not incidental to our faith. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, or as one paraphrase puts it: “He became flesh and bone and moved into our neighborhood!” That is what makes our religion different from every other religion and moral philosophy of the world. Where others promise us the means by which we can become like God, only Christianity tells us that God has become like us.


Eric Landry is the executive editor of Modern Reformation.

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