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The Descent of the Son of God

The Christian Doctrine of the World as Creation
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. The Descent of the Son The Christian Doctrine of Creation The Incarnation of the Word The Son of the Father Nicaea

The Christian doctrine of God is that the God of Israel is the only God. There is no other. The God of Israel is the God of all creation, of every creature and therefore he is God of the Gentiles too. God will vindicate Israel, and all the poor of the earth, from those who have attempted to make themselves masters and gods.

1. The Descent of the Son

The Journey of the Lord Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.5-11) Jesus Christ did not regard his identity, his glory, as something he had to seize or to cling onto. He did not have to hold onto his own identity. He was able to take it for granted that is identity was safe with God, so he was able to concern himself with the identity of others. His identity was established publicly when the Father raised him from our clutches, and made him the measure of all humanity. The Son set out, left the Fathers side, entered the created world and came down, through all levels of created reality, to us. He took on our material reality, flesh. He took it as it was, deficient, disconnected from God and fallen. He lived with us. He took our aggression, but he did not return it. By absorbing it he took the aggression out of us. When he finished he went back to the Father, rejoicing and bringing his harvest with him. We will consider the two stages of this journey as though they were two distinct journeys, the Descent of the Son of God, and the Ascent of the Son of Man. We need an analogy for the descent of the Son, that will serve as an abbreviation of the narrative account of the coming of Jesus Christ. The Son goes down the Hall The Son sits with the Father at the feast. The whole company of their people sits beneath them, at tables in rows that stretch away down the hall. But those at the tables mid-way down have not passed the good things to those below them. They have exercised the act of hospitality that God has given them to exercise. No one below them has received anything

to eat and so cannot celebrate. At the bottom of the hall fighting has broken out. The Son leaves the Fathers side, goes down the length of the hall. The Son re-establishes order and hospitality at every level and the proper flow of gifts from one end to the other. He goes down into the mle at the bottom, where there is chaos, death and non-being. He does not consider the bottom of the cosmos to be alien to him, but is entirely content there. The Son remains at the bottom of the hall. God has himself entered human history at the bottom, where the disregarded and overlooked people are and sets up his throne there. From the bottom of the hall the Son continues to be in perfect communion with the Father. The two of them do not consider this distance between them as an obstacle to their communication. To them it is no distance at all. The conversation and fellowship of the Son with the Father is basic and unbreakable. The power of the Son fills the whole universe. The Lord is Servant Christ served and suffered and was humbled. All humanity is in flight from the bottom toward the top, away from the status of the servant, toward that of the master. All masters are served. But the Son of Man did not come to be served, or make us work for him. He came to serve and to work for us. He is here to wait on us, supply us with what we need, to carry us and take away from us whatever we cannot cope with. But though he is he to serve us, he is the servant of the Father, and so, rather than do what we want, he will do for us what the Father wants. The Son of Man did not come to be served but in order to serve (Mark 10.45) The Son does not consider that he has to work or struggle for his life with the Father. He comes down to find us. He finds that we are all at cross purposes with one another, and therefore in trouble. He opposes those who deny others what God intends for them. He resists us when in insidious ways we neglect or oppress one another. He resists and absorbs our violence, and carries away our distress and fury. The Father raised him from the dead, and set him over us. Now, with him as our protector, nothing can frighten or threaten us again. The Servant is Lord Jesus is Lord. This Lord is far above us. But he has also set himself below us, as our servant. He has come down to us, but not only to our level, but far below us. He has gone down into death, into the place of extinction where the whole detritus of human failure has massed. He is above us and he is below us.

2. The Christian Doctrine of Creation

Creation is good. It is not, as pagans believe, the result of a cosmic misfortune. It is the work of God who intends to brings us to life and to participate in a single communion with himself. Everything that is not God is a creature, and part of the hospitality of God for us. God's word sustains and renews the earth. Creation exists because God gives it praises. That praise must be returned to God to be refreshed and received from him again. Creation is ours, only because it is first and always his. Neither we nor any of these others amongst whom we find ourselves, nor anything that exists, is alien to God. All things are given by him, to us. All things were made for us. But we are also responsible to God for them. We must not treat anything either as though it were ultimate or as though it were dispensable. God sustains creation for us and will not let creation see decay. Creation is ours, only because it is first and always his. Neither we nor any of these others amongst whom we find ourselves, nor anything that exists, is alien to God. All things are given by him, to us. Creation has its own logic, and is reliable and may truly be known. It is inexhaustible: we will not be able to master it or to wrest it out of the hands of God. God will

preserve it, even from us. All things owe their loyalty to God. He alone is not in the same position as they, but is their Creator, who wills them and being entirely free of them, is able to be so in freedom. The Christian confession that Man is not God, and that we may not make ourselves God, is a breakthrough. It relieves of the temptation to make ourselves more than creatures. It is good to be human. We do not have to make ourselves divine. God glorifies us. God gives us our glory. If we cannot acknowledge this, we have made the presumption that we originate ourselves, are our own source and are all self-sufficient. Athanasius taught that God created us and this world, and considered us to be a good work worth preserving. He made this world himself, so it is from beginning to end his own work. He did not mould it out of some pre-existing stuff, so he did not take some existing work (the work of an earlier divinity) and mould it into some new form. It was not a work of alteration. He made something out of nothing, merely by the power of his Word. It did not evolve out of the substance of God, but God was the agent, who decided to bring into being something that was not himself, and to share his life with this creature. God conceived and initiated this project, and he did not give it up. God would not let his creation see decay, so against our resistance, he intervened to re-connect us to himself, the source of life. No other god would not care for this world, or for us, because they would not see it, or us, as their work. Monotheism and the Reliability of Creation We may know the real God, the God who is behind all gods. Behind all this creation and theology there is no other God who remains ultimately unknowable. God comes to us as one of us, clothed in flesh, as a creature among other creatures. If the high God cannot reach right to the bottom then at least some part of creation is alien to him, it is not his, and he is not the real creator or the true God. Confession of the one God (monotheism) means we that cease to attribute anything to the many (created) powers and authorities (gods) who otherwise demand that we attribute them with ultimate (divine) status. But everything that is not God, is not a semi-divinity, but is a creature of God, brought into being and sustained by his Word, and so brought into being out of nothing (not formed from some existing material) Gods word sustains his creation, changes and transforms it, and make it good and declare it good. God is responsible for all. No created thing is ultimately able to hold out against the call of God, for it is the command of God by which they exist. All things are his creatures and the functions of his will. God is entirely at home with his creation and in creation. It represent no restriction on him. He alone is not a creature. Neither we nor any of these others amongst whom we find ourselves, nor anything that exists, is alien to God. All things are given by him, to us. Everything that is has an immediate relation to him and an only mediate relation and subordinate loyalty to us. Creation has definition and logic, and is reliable and may truly be known. It is inexhaustible: we will not be able to master it or to wrest it out of the hands of God. God will preserve it, even from us. It is ours, only because it is first and always his, and he sustains it as good for us. All things owe their loyalty to God. He alone is not in the same position as they, but is their Creator, who wills them and being entirely free of them, is able to be so in freedom. God does not intend to see his creation decay. The doctrine of God is set out by the doctrines of creation and salvation. The doctrine of creation affirms that we may have reliable knowledge of the world. In pagan systems it is some junior god who makes creation, which means that creation is not the will or responsibility of the God behind the gods, the one God. But the Christian church says that

creation and we ourselves are not the product of some less authoritative or less competent deity, for it is the God the Father who is the Creator. The creatures of the world are not divinities. The world is not an illusion or an ultimately unknowable place. There is enough constancy and reliability about all created things to enable us to describe them. We may explore the universe with confidence. It is this Christian confession that make opens the way to science. Creation is the creation of God. It belongs to him and to no other. It is his possession. He is committed to it and possessive about it. He will not let it go. His covenant with it is irrevocable. The covenant is much more powerful than anything in creation, so there is nothing within creation by which creation can tear itself away from God. God cannot be divided from his covenant. The concept of belonging is fundamental to the doctrines of God and of creation. This is what we see in the vehemence with which God defends creation and holds on to it against all comers. The doctrine of the atonement reinforces this first clause of the doctrine of creation, that God determines that creation belongs to him.

3. The Incarnation of the Word

The Word made materiality, and then became material The Word became flesh. The creation of the world was a making flesh of the Word. The Word became flesh as it were a second time, in the form of Jesus Christ. That second act of creation completed the first. He made flesh and became flesh, first as many, incomplete, then as one made complete. The Son of God took our flesh. He took a body to do away with death so that the Word, the image of the Father, could create man in that image again. He now restores the image of God in man, and so renews the rationality of creation. Next we must set out the logic of the coming of God to man as it was set out by the Church, and particularly by Athanasius. He shows that the doctrine of creation also requires the doctrine of salvation. In On the Incarnation of the Word Athanasius tells us that the Word made creation, a material world, a world of flesh. But it would not have been right that God should make this creation and then let it fall into neglect and decay. Gods handwork had become corrupted and the rationality of man, made in Gods image, was in danger of disappearing. Man and and creation itself were in danger of dying. But how could God abandon them and give up on his project?
The Word took a body to do away with death so that the Word, the image of the Father, could create man in that image again (s.13).

As Athanasius puts it, a king who founds a city which by its inhabitants carelessness is overcome by bandits, doesnt abandon that city. He goes and wins it back again. He is determined not to lose his city. The Lord came to take back the creation that was his, to end the trouble and make it safe. By coming the Lord makes that city safe from the enemy, and from death which is the result of that enemys depredations. By coming in a single body he stopped the enemys access to every other single member of that city.
And just as if someone is king and is not seen anywhere but remains inside his palace, frequently seditious men, taking advantage of his absence, proclaim themselves, and each one of them deceives the simple by pretending to be king; and thus men are led astray by a name, for they hear that there is a king but do not see him, because they cannot possibly enter the palace. But when the real king comes forth and is revealed, then the deceitful revolutionaries are refuted by his presence, while the citizens, seeing the real king, abandon those who formerly deceived them. In like fashion, demons and men previously exercised deceit and paid to themselves the honour due to God. But after the Word of God was revealed in the body and made known to us his Father, then the deceit of the demons

disappears and vanishes, while men, looking to the true divine Word of the Father, abandon idols and henceforth recognize the true God. On the Incarnation s.55

Man becomes a Danger to Himself Man, when he does not receive the discipline of God, becomes a tyrant and a threat to all around him. He starts to invent authorities, intermediaries and gods, each of whom makes their own demands and has their own price. We invent for one another a false world of menacing and impoverished images of reality We frighten each other with stories of dangers and threats, and these bogeymen grow with our gullibility. We imagine that the things brought into being by God's hospitality are powers which we have to obey and placate. Christians refer to these as demons. But God does not let these rival claimants to power take over or let his creatures imprison themselves within these delusory constraints. God does not let his creation see decay, God did not create on the basis of another gods work, or have to overcome other forces, but created, from nothing, by his Word. God comes to reveal that he is the host, and so to show up the usurpers. The strong fail to pass on to the weak the good things of God, and fail to pass on the truth that all creatures and powers are part of the generosity of God and are intended to serve man, not to frighten him. The power-hungry rise to the top and demand that they receive greater levels of deference, while the weak fall victim to the illusions created by the powerful. We try to control other people and turn them into our own creatures and attempt to interpose ourselves between them and God. For the sake of those who have been neglected or abused the Lord intervenes. He acts for the poor against the rich. He acts against us, to rescue from our clutches those we have oppressed and deceived. At the bottom of the cosmos is Death. Fear of death is the source of the power which all masters wield over their people. Our fears make us vulnerable to them and ready to subordinate ourselves to them. As long as we fear, and believe their promises, their exert a hold over us. The Hostage-taking and the Siege The Word of God made creation so we live could live with him in it. We are afraid of it, and of the responsibility it represents. He made the whole estate and the house at the centre of it. But we have run upstairs and locked ourselves in the bedroom in the hope that he will not find us. What is more, we have locked everyone else in with us. Our bad dream became increasingly convincing and totalitarian. It has become hard to tell what is real and what fake. These creatures of our imagination that took on a hideous derived reality. The reduced space of the occupied part of creation has become a house full of desperate people. How will the Lord rescue them from us, and rescue us from ourselves? The siege is ended when God breaks into the city his own which the tyrants held against him. The Lord hears the cries of those trapped in this room, finds us, breaks down the door, lets in the air and light.
For just as when the sun is present darkness no longer has any strength, but even if there is some darkness left anywhere it is put to flight, even so, since the divine manifestation of God the Word has occurred, the darkness of idols has no more strength, but all parts of the world everywhere are illuminated by his teaching. s.55

Mans fear is gone, his delusions vanish, the hallucinations are over, and foulness is purged. Everything that took on nightmare qualities is returned to their normal place and function,

and so are no longer threatening or idolatrous. He cleared out the spiritual forces that had been preying on man.
He called and drew all men to himself so he died with this gesture, with his hands stretched out as you do on a cross, and held up in the air he cleared the air of the devil and the demons which normally live there and so re-opened the route through the air to heaven (On the Incarnation s.25).

Christ has overcome death, the source of the illegitimate power that had held man in captivity. Now no one needs to be afraid.
Death has been conquered, exposed, tied up and helpless so everyone who passes can give him a kicking and have a laugh at him. He is like a tyrant deposed by a real king. Now there is nothing to be frightened of (s.27).

4. The Son of the Father

Athanasius taught that God has made himself known as the Father of the Son. The Son is divine as the Father is divine, of one being (homoousios) with the Father. The Son is not of lesser being than the Father: the Son willingly subordinates himself and the Father raises him up again. It is the Son who makes the Father, Father. He would not be called Father if there was no Son to call him by this name. We call him Father because Christ has told us to call him Father. Christ, declared by the resurrection to be the Son, gave us the name Father to use, and commanded us to use it. It is not a title, but a name. If we use any other name than this one, we will not be calling the true God, but some other divinity. The Father-Son relation is prior to the Creator-creature relationship. We know God because God has made himself known to us, whilst remaining freely himself, and not comprehended or mastered by us. It is not the case that we know God because we are able to deduce from our existence that we have been created by some creator. The names Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the name of God, and the name God has given is the only knowledge of God. Athanasius insisted on the primacy of knowledge of God through the Father/Son relation over the God /creature relation, and thus re-asserted the internal ontological relations over external moral relations. We do not know God through any conceptual contrast of underived and derived, limitless and limited, transcendent versus immanent, universal versus particular. No such natural theology is knowledge of God. The Son is not the less the Son for taking human form, being human, and being one specific human. He leaves no divinity behind in being man, becoming our servant, and suffering and dying. The whole of God was not only represented, but present, as the person of Jesus Christ. The Christian doctrine of God establishes the right of the poor man to appeal against all other lords, authorities and intermediaries. To deny that God has come to us is to deny the poor at the bottom of the cosmos access to that court of appeal of God who is above every other master. Only God is high above to be able to reach below where we are to hear the desperation of the poor and voiceless man right at the bottom. Jesus is God Jesus is who God is. The Son and Father are of one substance (homoousion). This is what the Church established at Nicaea. We cannot find other routes to God round the back of Jesus. There are not many roads to God, but only one, the route provided by God himself. God himself is that route. Other religions do not provide other routes.

The Church teaches that we may know God only as he makes himself known to us in the Son. It is the Son that can be seen in the Old Testament (It is not that the Father is seen at work in the Old Testament and the Son in the New Testament). It is not the case that Israel knew the Father, but not the Son. It is the Son who has made himself known to Israel.

5. Nicaea
Defending the Incarnation
Until Nicaea the majority of Christians had been content to express their faith in terms of the Logos, the Word, who became flesh. The status of the Logos remained vague. But Gnostics took the conceptuality of the Logos in their own direction, suggesting that God produces his Logos as though by a process and thus inadvertently or by necessity, in which case, being under necessity, God is not God. Christian thinkers point out this contradiction in pagan and Gnostic systems, but agreed that a more theologically robust way of indicating the uniqueness of the incarnation was needed. The Council of Nicaea (325) teaches that the Son is of one being (homoousios) with the Father, that God's revelation is God himself, the Word is of the same substance as the Father.
one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being (homoousion) with the Father.

The Emperor Constantine insisted that representatives of the churches should gather to produce an authoritative statement about the divinity of Christ. The unity of Christians about Christian teaching and authority would help provide much-needed unity to the empire. The particular challenge came from the adherence of German troops to the Arian account of the Son. Athanasius (c.300-373), bishop of Alexandria, dedicated himself to demonstrating that the decision of the Church at Nicaea was the right one. Arius (260-336, presbyter of Alexandria) represented the temptation to make Christ subordinate in being to the Father. According to Arius, the Son is not divine in the same sense the Father is. Arius position was summed up by the phrase There was when he was not there was a time before the Son came into existence. This makes the Son the first creature, through whom subsequent creation was made. The result of this is that, on Arius account, the real God does not make himself known, because he is not interested in us. Arius confuses gennetos (begotten) with genetos (having come into being, been created). Arius says that the God behind God is not interested to make himself known to us (because he is not interested in us) and so the God behind God can never be known. The Son is not the less the Son for taking human form, being human, and being one specific human. He leaves no divinity behind in being man, becoming our servant, and suffering and dying. The whole of God was not only represented, but present, as the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the very being of God not a dilution, but the whole God. Like any reduction of the doctrine of God, Arianism does not believe that the high God has made himself known and available to those at the bottom of the ladder of being. The powerful can concede that God could perhaps humble himself for a while, but find it inconceivable that the true God could intend to identify himself with the bottom of the

cosmos permanently. Arianism always remains a temptation. In the seventeenth century and eighteenth century centuries Arianism was called deism, Socinianism or Unitarianism. Securing Nicaea The doctrine that God has come to us in the incarnation establishes the right of the poor man to appeal against all other lords, authorities and intermediaries. The lowest of us can appeal direct to God. No intermediary divinity can deny us access to the true God. Heresies attempt to make Christianity fit the age-old shape of pagan thought. They set Christ within some existing explanation of the world, within some pantheon, at higher or lower position. It is syncretism, the adaptability of existing systems of thought, which can make room for new information about the Christian God, without being otherwise being changed. They tend to contrast time and eternity, promote timelessness over time and make Christ subordinate to some more fundamental logic or process of emanation. Modalism represents the teaching that the persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are modes of action of God, rather than distinct persons. They represent one God in three aspects. It was this fear that drove the early resistance to the term prosopon (mask, persona). The divinity can be over-emphasised at the expense of the humanity so it looks as though the divine nature pushes out Jesus will. In this case we would have a human body being propelled directly by the Logos (Sabellianism). If this were so there would be no real participation in human interaction, so no sense of struggle, which would ignore the agony of Gethsemane, or development of character. Docetism is the teaching that Christ took on the appearance of a man, but did not actually have any bodily/biological functions, and suffered no real hunger or pain. Apollinarius (c. 315-392, bishop of Laodicea) argued that the divine Logos took the place of the human mind and will in Jesus. There was therefore no conflict of will or intellect with the will of the Father. The Logos took on a human body, but, without a human mind or soul, was not fully human. This ignores Irenaeus teaching that the unassumed is the unhealed. Athanasius pointed out that if humans are to be fully saved, Christ would have to be fully human.

Christianity as True Wisdom

Christianity has brought what the philosophers and their schools have been seeking to bring the passions of man (rage, rivalry) under control, to bring wisdom and create a new more self-controlled humankind, through the service of Christians who represent a new race of ascetic philosophers.

Tertullian the distinctive Christian life

Tertullian (c. 200, Carthage) taught that Christians are dissidents, who demonstrate a distinctive form of life. Christ received crucifixion, the penalty for sedition or treason. In The Wreath (De Corona), Tertullian teaches that Christians are a holy community, who witness to the world through their own distinct way of life, through distinctive practices, diet and dress code. They do not wear signs of high status. They do not serve in the military or burn incense to the emperor. In The Circuses (De Spectaculis) tertuallian taught that Christians do not participate in the civil religion of the Roman empire. They regard the Roman imperial cult as idolatry. The theatre and games were displays of this political theology in which Romans worshipped the

symbols of their unity by replaying imperial battles in the circus. Pagans accused Christians of being atheists, because they did not revere the gods who had given Rome an empire. Christians are not afraid of the empire and do not concede that it has any final validity. They see that Roman civilization is based on blood and violence, and is the war of war of those with power against those without. They respond to the empire with martyrdom. Christians oppose the worship of false gods that celebrated in the public festivities and games of the circus in blood-baths in which the empire consumes its own people. The hostile audience is there to enjoy the spectacle of Christians capitulating under the torture to the worship of the emperor. But if the Christian can control his or her body they can refuse to make that confession, and audience and torturers will be obliged to acknowledge the superior power of Christian. Saint Anthony, Monks and Manual work Christians work with their own hands. They do not let anyone serve them but are content to live as servants, and in this service to consider themselves to be free men. Like Anthony and the monks of the Egyptian desert, they are content to weave baskets while they pray and teach. As God works with his own material, so Christians are also free to be workers who use their own hands and no longer seek to be dependent on anyone else. Christianity has achieved what the other schools of philosophers intended, bringing under control the passion and anger of man. It has brought wisdom to man and created a new race of those who love wisdom. They separate themselves from the madness of the world, and because they are solitary (monachos) they are called monks. The High God The God of Israel is the high God, the All Mighty God. He is above all gods and above the whole hierarchy of the gods of the pagans. The gods of the pagans have been created by the fearful imaginations of the pagans, but they also represent demonic and destructive forces. Such gods are too needy and self-interested to be trustworthy. They demand loyalty but never give it and expend human beings in order to serve themselves. They cannot answer prayers or deliver what they promise. The God of Israel provides a universal court of appeal. The poor can appeal to this court over the heads of all gods and masters. Those who are crushed under the arbitrary rule of their kings and gods can appeal for rescue to the God of Gods. The temple at Jerusalem is the appeal court for all nations.
These I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples (Isaiah 56.7).

God has come to us. It is only because he has done so that we may talk about God. A God that took no interest in us and did not approach us would not only be unknowable, but also not worth knowing. This God would live in a different universe from ourselves and we would have no impact on us. How could such a god be anything but our own imagination? Will God establish justice? Will God rescue the poor from their oppressors? The resurrection of Jesus is the vindication of the Poor man. The vindication of the poor as the vindication of God. The God of Israel can give life to everything, and can bring to life whatever has died and to bring into being new things and new life limitlessly.

1. God has come to be with man. When we are with him, we may truly be with one another. When we are with one another we may so truly become ourselves. 2. The coming of God to man is the form in which man comes to God. God comes to be with us, and intends to bring us into relationship with all others. But we oppose his coming and defend ourselves against other people. 3. Creation belongs to God. Everything that is not God is a creature of the world, and part of the hospitality of God for us. We are his possession and are . God has promised not to let his creation come to grief. 4. The God of Israel is the high God. He is above all gods. He is the court of appeal. Anyone can appeal to him. God exercises his power for us. He hears us and comes searching for us. 5. The poor have called to us for resource and recognition from us. We have not given it to them. We have tried to make others our creatures, to assume control over them and to interpose ourselves between them and God. We have turned into aggressors who hold others captive to our power-claims creating a delusory world and become a misery to ourselves. 6. God intervenes on behalf of those we were oppressing. He came against those who opposed him.. 7. God has made himself identical with Jesus for us. The Son and Father are of one being. There are not many roads to God, but only one, the route provided by God himself. The Son is the fullness of the Father for us. The Son is the gentleness and the unknowableness of God, the Father, made known to us and present with us. 9. The creation of the world was a making flesh of the Word. The Word became flesh as it were a second time, in Jesus Christ. That second act of creation completed the first. God has packed man-with-God, the whole future of the relationship of Creator and creature, into one figure. 10. The Christian worldview introduces the idea that are free. We can have our own way. We can use and misuse our freedom in such a way that we threaten the whole existence of creation. We may long to give up this freedom but we cannot ultimately get rid of it. 11. The Son of God does not consider creation to be any barrier to his relationship with the Father. No part of creation is alien to God. 12. The Son of Man is the true man, the one whom the Lord had been waiting for, the complete human.