The concepts of God’s condescension and accommodation are found throughout Scripture and have profound implications for how we understand God’s relationship with humanity. At a basic level, God’s condescension refers to how the infinite, eternal Creator humbled Himself to interact with finite, temporal creatures. God’s accommodation refers to how He adjusts and limits the revelation of Himself in order to communicate with humanity in ways we can comprehend.
A key passage speaking to God’s condescending nature is Philippians 2:5-8: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” This profound humility is at the heart of God’s condescension.
God’s accommodation is demonstrated throughout Scripture as He speaks in human terms, uses anthropomorphisms (human-like descriptions of God), and communicates truth progressively. As John Calvin wrote, “For who even of slight intelligence does not understand that, as nurses commonly do with infants, God is wont in a measure to ‘lisp’ in speaking to us? Thus such forms of speaking do not so much express clearly what God is like as accommodate the knowledge of him to our slight capacity. To do this he must descend far beneath his loftiness.”
Some key examples of God’s condescending and accommodating nature include:
- God walking in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8)
- God speaking to Moses from a burning bush (Exodus 3:4)
- God limiting His power by wrestling with Jacob (Genesis 32:22-32)
- God speaking through donkeys (Numbers 22:28) and storms (Job 38:1)
- The incarnation, as the eternal Word became flesh (John 1:14)
- Christ’s parables, which used everyday objects like seeds and fig trees to teach divine truth
- The way Scripture uses metaphors, similes, and analogies to describe God’s attributes and actions
In considering God’s condescension and accommodation, several implications emerge:
- We see God’s grace, mercy and love in reaching down to creation
- This humble posture reveals God’s heart to be known by us
- It highlights humanity’s inability to reach God on our own
- It displays God’s patience in revealing truth gradually
- We must interpret anthropomorphic descriptions of God carefully, not literally
- We should be humble, knowing we see God “in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor 13:12)
In summary, the theological concepts of God’s condescension and accommodation show that the utterly transcendent Creator definitively bridges the gap to relate to His finite creatures. Through Christ-like humility, speaking in human terms, and veiling His full glory, God makes Himself known to humanity in ways we can grasp. These profound truths also call us to humble adoration, awe and diligent study as we contemplate the One who transcends it all yet draws near to us.
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God’s condescension and accommodation can be seen starting in the very first book of the Bible. In Genesis, we find God coming down to walk in the Garden of Eden and speak directly with Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8). Even after their rebellion against Him, God continues to pursue them by clothing them in garments of skin (Genesis 3:21) – the first foreshadowing of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. In Genesis 4-5, God interacts personally with Cain, Abel, Enoch, Noah and others, demonstrating His desire to be known by His creatures. In Genesis 6, God limits His wrath by extending grace and promising not to destroy the earth through flood again.
As the biblical narrative unfolds, we see increasing demonstrations of God’s accommodating nature. When calling Abraham, God comes down and promises to bless “all peoples on earth” through him (Genesis 12:3). God appears to Abraham several times, each time more tangibly than the last. First as a vision (Genesis 15:1), then indirectly as a “smoking fire pot and a flaming torch” (Genesis 15:17), next disguised as three travelers (Genesis 18:1-2), and finally in a burning furnace and flaming torch (Genesis 15:17). God meets Abraham where he is, progressively revealing more of Himself.
Throughout Israel’s history, God continues to condescend to humanity’s level. He appears to Moses via the burning bush (Exodus 3:2), leads Israel as a pillar of cloud and fire (Exodus 13:21), dwells among them in the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34), and speaks through prophets using vivid metaphors, poems, proverbs and visions. Through Samuel He warns about the consequences of wanting a human king instead of relying on Him alone (1 Samuel 8:10-18). Out of love, God becomes like a husband to Israel, enduring pain over their spiritual adultery yet taking them back repeatedly (Hosea).
Through Isaiah, God paints vivid word pictures to evoke awe, comfort or warning. Examples include:
- Soaring over the earth (Isaiah 40:22)
- Carrying people along like a shepherd (Isaiah 40:11)
- Having a mighty arm (Isaiah 40:10)
- Coming with fire and chariots (Isaiah 66:15)
Isaiah also foreshadows the greatest act of divine condescension – the incarnation of Christ. The prophetic passages about the suffering servant (Isaiah 53), the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), and the coming Messiah communicate God’s heart to ransom and rescue His beloved creation.
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation of God’s condescension. John 1:14 proclaims astoundingly, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The second person of the Trinity takes on human flesh, embracing all the limitations that entails. As Paul declares in 2 Corinthians 8:9, though Jesus was rich in heaven, He becomes poor on earth to redeem us. The Author of life is born to die. The perfect Son lives among sinners. Christ steps into our brokenness out of sacrificial love. He who is Light personified walks in the darkness with us.
Throughout Christ’s ministry, God accommodates Himself to humanity’s weakness. Jesus, the great Teacher, communicates through simple parables. He, the Bread of Life, provides crowds with actual, miraculous bread (John 6:1-13). Christ, the master Healer, touches the eyes of the blind to restore sight (Matthew 9:27-31). In His humanity Jesus weeps, feels anger and fatigue, and experiences temptation. At the cross, the invincible God allows Himself to be mocked, beaten and crucified by the very creatures He could obliterate with a word.
But the condescension does not end there. After the resurrection, Jesus tenderly makes breakfast for His disciples (John 21:9-13) and patiently restores Peter after his denials (John 21:15-19). For forty days He continues teaching them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). And when He ascends, He promises the Holy Spirit who indwells believers permanently – God’s living presence within each one of us. What stunning, relentless grace and accommodation.
This brief survey provides just a glimpse of how the entire Bible reveals our condescending, accommodating God. From walking in Eden to dying naked on a cross, God spare nothing in His quest to reconcile with broken humanity. Seeing this progressive revelation of God’s humility, mercy, patience and deep desire to be known should move us to worship and spur us to make Him known.
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Digging deeper into Christ’s parables provides a masterclass in God accommodating His communication for human understanding. These simple stories about farming, fishing, parties and other everyday topics paint incredible pictures of profound spiritual truths. Jesus uses these word pictures because He intimately understands human nature and cognition. As Augustine observed, “For the mere words, if taken literally, were not enough… but those things which are uttered in parable are not to be interpreted literally, but point out something else.”
For example, in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9,18-23), Jesus uses the metaphor of sowing seeds to make several points about how God’s Word is received in human hearts. The imagery of seeds falling on paths, rocks, thorns and good soil would have resonated instantly with Christ’s agrarian audience. This story emphasizes hearing God’s Word rightly, the obstacles that can derail us, and the fruit that results from true understanding. These complex spiritual dynamics are made simple and tangible through an extended metaphor about planting.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) encapsulates the gospel message through a multi-layered story. On one level, the parable reveals the amazing grace and unconditional love of the forgiving Father. The youngest son’s rebellion, squandering of inheritance, and rock-bottom repentance echo humanity’s cosmic turning from God. The son’s return and warm embrace from the thrilled father mirrors God’s lavish forgiveness toward all who turn back to Him.
At another level, the parable warns self-righteous religious leaders who resent Jesus welcoming prodigals and outcasts. The elder brother’s refusal to join the party pictures how the proud can become so entrenched in rules and rejection of grace. Through this vivid word picture, Jesus powerfully extends hope to the lost while cautioning the self-made righteous. God accommodates through layered storytelling.
In the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus answers the question “Who is my neighbor?” by telling a relatable story his audience would find shocking. This famous tale about the beaten traveler rescued by a hated foreigner masterfully exposed prejudice and legalism. It also provided a timeless model for living out costly, cross-cultural compassion for those in need. Though we remember the details differently, Jesus originally told this parable in a way His ancient Jewish listeners would never forget.
Across Christ’s parables we see God accommodating truth through everyday imagery – harvesting wheat (Matthew 13:24-30), searching for a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), investing talents (Matthew 25:14-30), and much more. Jesus leveraged familiar settings, activities and objects to illustrate divine perspectives. This incarnational teaching style – God with us, speaking our language – exemplifies accommodation at its finest.
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In addition to parables, Jesus taught using metaphors, hyperbole, rhetorical questions, object lessons and more. He understood that human minds best grasp abstract concepts when they’re equated to concrete things. For example, Jesus describes Himself metaphorically as living water (John 4:10), bread of life (John 6:35), light of the world (John 8:12), a vine (John 15:5) and more. He uses the physical to point to the spiritual.
When Jesus declares exaggerated statements like, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off” (Mark 9:43), He communicates through hyperbole. By advising people to take extreme measures to remove sources of temptation, He powerfully underscores the importance of eliminating sin from one’s life. Similar bold, provocative claims challenge listeners to deeper insight.
Jesus also engaged audiences by asking searching rhetorical questions. “Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27) At other times, questions like “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” (Matthew 10:29) grab interest before asserting God’s attentive care. “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) sets up a forceful teaching on eternal perspective. Time after time, Jesus’ expert questions hooked listeners and pushed them to reconsider assumptions.
In addition, the Lord repeatedly used object lessons to convey spiritual truths. Plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8) and cursing the fruitless fig tree (Matthew 21:18-22) acted out parables. Jesus also leveraged real life props like a child (Matthew 18:1-5), bread and wine (Matthew 26:26-28), and a coin (Matthew 22:15-22) to communicate potently. Through tangible symbols, Christ impressed truths indelibly on followers’ minds and hearts.
Finally, Jesus brought accommodation to its pinnacle by taking on humanity’s ultimate enemy – death itself. Though He could have simply spoken forgiveness over humanity from heaven, Christ chose to decisively defeat sin and death by experiencing it Himself. Only by God Himself dying unjustly could atonement be accomplished on our behalf. This most costly, humble self-condescension was the only way Christ’s love could be fully demonstrated and the gulf bridged between Holy God and sinful humanity.
As Peter wrote, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24). The innocent Lamb of God willingly assumed the iniquity of the world when He allowed Himself to be crucified. God’s supreme accommodation made our salvation possible.
In all the ways outlined above, Jesus came to earth not just to model righteous living, but to mediate truth about God in ways designed to connect with human hearts and minds. Through teaching techniques tailored for humanity, He gave people ‘ears to hear’ eternal truths that can transform our lives and renew our relationship with God when embraced.
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Beyond Christ Himself, Scripture contains numerous examples of God accommodating his communication to meet people where they are. Through visions, dreams, voices, natural wonders, angels, and the Spirit, God spoke to prophets, kings, andaverage believers throughout biblical history.
Though the stories and delivery methods vary widely based on context, the divine voice shines through. God repeatedly proves willing to speak through unexpected means to convey His Word across barriers. Though unchanging, He employs great creativity and flexibility in pursuit of relationship with mankind.
At Pentecost, God authorize His Church for mission by sending tongues of fire and a rushing wind (Acts 2:1-4). To an imprisoned Paul, the Lord says “my grace is sufficient for you” through an unanswered prayer for healing (2 Corinthians 12:9). In Revelation, apocalyptic imagery conveys the cosmic spiritual battle being waged. And the risen Christ repeats the call to disciples, ”Feed my sheep” when Peter requires restoration (John 21:15-17).
In its totality, Scripture forms an epic, divine revelation communicated through human words, stories, songs, letters, and more. Each part unpacks more of who God is and how He interacts with His beloved creation. Every page shouts the accommodating heart of the Condescender who longs for all people to know Him.
In closing, God’s biblical condescension and accommodation display His relentless pursuit of relationship with humanity. Though created beings can never fully grasp the infinite Creator, through Christ the veil is torn open. As Scripture reveals, God will use any means needed to make Himself known and bring people to understanding.
When we begin to perceive the depths of Christ’s sacrifice and God’s untiring efforts to speak to us, our only response can be worship. By His grace, the Lord who transcends the cosmos unveils His majesty and draws near to dwell with those who love Him. Through God’s word made flesh, dwelling among us, we begin to behold the One who is altogether lovely. Our desire is for the eyes of all people’s hearts to be enlightened, so they may know the hope of His calling.