We only understand life backwards, but we must live forwards.
Behr maintains that Kierkegaard's comment applies to our modern understanding of theology, which has become fragmented. Moreover, Behr argues that, with regard to the Incarnation, the disciples understood and enterpreted this "event" as such retrospectively, in the light of Christ's Passion. I have selected this because it has potential implications for how we understand the Incarnation - its purpose, meaning, and relation to the Passion, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and coming of Jesus Christ - which is often the content of our contemplation during the Advent season. The way I read his work, Behr encourages us to consider the Incarnation of Christ in a holistic, "timeless" sense, rather than in a manner which is fragmented and compartmentalized. He writes:
It is sometimes said that for antiquity truth is what is, for enlightened modernity it is what was, and for postmodernity it is that which will have been. The historicizing approach of modernity places the truth of Jesus Christ firmly in the past - how he was born and what he did and said - and subjects his truth to our criteria of historicity, which are ultimately no more than a matter of what we find plausible (as evidenced by the "Jesus Seminar"). For antiquity, on the other hand, the truth of Christ is eternal, or better, timeless: the crucified and risen Lord is the one of whom scripture has always spoken. Yet, as the disciples come to recognize him, as the subject of scripture and in the breaking of the bread, he disappears from their sight (Lk 24.31). The Christ of Christian faith, revealed concretely in and through the apostolic proclamation of the crucified and risen Lord in accordance with scripture, is an eschatological figure, the Coming One. Hence the importance of the other half of Kierkegaard's observation, that while we understand retrospectively, we nevertheless live into the future. As we leave behind modernity's fascination with the past, it is possible that we we are once again in a position to recognize the eschatological Lord.
This, moreover, allows us to see a greater depth of meaning in the term "Incarnation." As it is only in the light of the Passsion that we can even speak of "Incarntion," the sense of the term is pregnant with greater fertility: by the proclamation of his gospel, the apostle Paul is in travail giving birth to Christ in those who receive his gospel (cf. Gal. 4.19), that is, who accept the interpretation he offers in accordance with the scripture, and are thereby born again to be the body of Christ. This is still in process, as our life is "hidden in Christ with God" (Col. 3.3). Yet the indeterminacy celebrated by post-modernism, locating the "event" always in the future, is given concrete content in Christian theology, by anchoring its account in the crucial moment of the passion. The timeless subject of Christian theology is the crucified and risen Lord, the one who "was from the beginning, [who] appeared new yet is to be found old, and is ever young, being born in the hearts of the saints." (Behr 2006:17-18)
Behr, John. (2006). The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.