The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita 18: Incarnation and Creation

Image by Villy Fink Isaksen, from Wikimedia Commons

I want to take a moment to linger on Krishna’s statement that I mentioned yesterday: My true being is unborn and changeless. I am the Lord who dwells in every creature. Through the power of my own maya, I manifest myself in a finite form. (BG, 4:5-6)

Maya can refer to physical reality, the world reported to us by our senses, or to a power like magic or the conjuring of illusions. The proto-Indo-European root word magh means “might” or “ability.” The idea is that there is an ultimate reality that lies underneath or behind this one, and maya is the power to shape our experienced reality. Krishna says that in his most true form, he is everywhere and in everything, but that this pure consciousness can manifest in finite, changeable form. 

A growing notion among diverse scientific fields is panpsychism, the idea that the universe itself is conscious, and that we are simply participants in that larger consciousness. These scientists do not necessarily think of this theory in religious terms, or think of what they are doing as theology, but theologian Sallie McFague suggested decades ago that the universe is actually God’s incarnate body. When God creates, God incarnates.

Similarly, Christian mysticism points to several related truths:

  • This thing called “I” is not separate from the universe. Separateness is an illusion. (We can actually see particular brain structures responsible for this sense of separateness).
    • What we call “God” or ultimate reality is not separate from the universe, nor is constrained by it.
    • “I” am not separate from God.

For some Christians, this gets dangerously close to pantheism (one of many heresies), but there are plenty of warrants for incarnational theology. Saint Paul had no problem borrowing from pagan Greek poetry when he quoted Aratus, saying that God was the one “in whom we live and move and have our being.” There is nowhere and nothing that is independent of God. God is incarnate, made physical, in us, and our life is God’s own breath (Genesis 2:7). We say as much when we share communion, saying, “Make this bread and wine the body blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the Body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.”

It was radical when early Hebrew authors claimed that all humans are made in the image of God. It was also radical when they claimed that God gave their nomadic tribe the gift of the Tabernacle so that God could physically live in the midst of God’s people. Early on, they realized this was a metaphor, intended to teach them something profound about God’s presence. Solomon prayed: But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! (1 Kings 8:27).

Jesus’s answer to Solomon’s prayer is, “Yes, God will indeed dwell on the earth. Want to see God? Look at your neighbor.”

Lover and Beloved, I recognize you dwelling in every creature—including myself.