The word “condescension” often invokes a negative reaction for most people. This is so because it is often used in a derogatory way to indicate that the speaker considers the person or persons to whom he is communicating with to be inferior in some way. However, the word may also be defined as the,”voluntary descent from one’s rank or dignity in relations with an inferior” (Merriam-Webster). For example, a mother will speak to her young child in a manner much different than she would speak to an adult.
We may take this understanding of the word into the world of theology when we speak of how God interacts with human beings. Isaiah informs us that God’s ways differ from ours and that God’s thoughts are “higher” than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is so radically other that He cannot be comprehended by man through reasoning power alone. If then God is to commune and communicate with mankind, He must “lower” Himself.
This condescension of God is seen throughout the Bible, indeed, the Bible itself may be understood as a form of divine condescension. This is so because it is believed that the human authors of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit in their works. Within the Bible, we see examples of what is meant by divine condescension. The psalmist tells us that “He [God] made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel”. In Deuteronomy 8:3-4, we are told that God fed the Israelites with manna and made provisions for their clothes so they would not wear out.
The culmination of God’s condescension is seen in Jesus Christ. In the Book of Phillippians, Saint Paul writes of how God emptied Himself and made Himself into the likeness of man. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
It is God’s willingness to lower Himself to the level of man that allows for divine revelation, which has allowed man to come to a knowledge of God he could not otherwise possess.
This, of course, leads to the question of why God would humble Himself in such a way. Perhaps Luke provides the most cogent answer, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost”. That is God, emptied Himself of His divine nature so as to descend into sin in order that man could be reconciled with God.