Although the definition of kenosis refers to a self-emptying, I find it unjust to restrict the concepts’ to a ‘loss’ or a ‘giving up’ in the negative sense.—I find this to lead to lazy theology that excludes possibility for becoming the seeming ‘other’. John the Baptist understood this concept in a constructive sense: “He must increase, but I must decrease…the Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands.” Dialectically, this statement can be interpreted to mean that in the very act of being diminished, we come closer to becoming Christ-like—lowliness itself is what the Father placed in hands of the Son: self-emptiness is everything.
Then what would a dialectical kenosis actually look like? A doctrine of dialectical kenosis is one that assumes the ‘missing foundation’ of human epistemology actually does exist, albeit in a roundabout way. Its existence is not something to be found by way of searching through new avenues of thought, but by observing what is already present. This is not to say that meaning is ultimately a futile illusion to which we must succumb—no! Meaning is communication, whose very constructions simultaneously frame and expand our social relationships. Thus, meaning inherent in a social construction is far more real than anything that poses as a universal indubitable truth: constructions are intimate, intersubjective, and binding.
Under this pretense, three of God’s “essential” characteristics—omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence—can be understood as being displayed in Jesus’, rather than as characteristics that logically conflict with it. Essential qualities of God are attributes that exist in God apart from any external relationship. With that in mind, it must be remembered that an eternal God who transcends all human categories can only be understood within the conditions of those categories. In other words, finite beings comprehend the infinite through contextual terms of finitude. Therefore, any shifts in understanding cannot declare superiority over other expressions of truths about God, but can make new claims based on the shifts in the context of the existing social categories.
Firstly, omnipotence is the idea that God’s power is unlimited in both its degree and its scale. In a dialectical examination of kenosis, Christ exemplifies omnipotence to his fullest extent when he is born under a murderous king, is tempted and hungry, and when he dies like a criminal on a cross. (“…If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”) The omni (all) potent (being powerful) divine aspect of power is not restricted or lost in Christ’s humanity—it is fully unleashed. This way of thinking about power subverts the tendency to see social categories as constricting absolutes, rather than the flexible social conditions that they represent.
For the second, omniscience, sciencia (knowing) is the issue addressed. How could Christ retain his omnipotence and not have had to restrict his use of it? There is a response to such a question that alters divine possibilities: perhaps there is no “everything.” Classically, omniscience is defined as God’s perfect knowledge of all things or, put simply, there is nothing that God does not know. The dialectical move is the proposition that this common-sense view is flawed – meaning it is impossible for a human to know everything, namely, because it presupposes that there is “everything” already existing. Here, my argument is that reality is not objectively and thoroughly complete; instead, there is a break that is sustained in created existence. The message of Christ’s incarnation is that God’s omniscience is explicated as far as humanly possible, not despite a gap in existence, but rather that it is only and precisely in the gap that an omni– knowledge is even configurable.
Finally, we come to omnipresence. Similar to how omniscience reverses the epistemological idea of “everything”, a dialectical account of omnipresence seeks to reverse the ontology of such a claim. The power that raised Christ from the dead is the power that the Son’s life witnesses to in his incarnation – not the resurrection event per se, but the affecting power responsible for it. In order to be omnipresent, Christ need not literally be everywhere—such a thing does not exist—rather, Christ is the complete instance of omnipresence; all presence has not to do with being, but with the restorative power of God’s gospel (which is in all places). The critical piece for this inversion is realizing that part of what the Holy Spirit is, is the relationship shared between the community(ies) of believers. Where they are, Christ is. In this way, God’s omnipotence is not static, but ever-expansive. If this concept is lost, Christianity in the 21st century must continue to sustain the stale idea that there is a scientifically foundational reality, which is incessantly co-opted on two fronts: coarse humanist liberalism or a fundamentalism that retaliates against it.
The mystery of God’s kenosis is not something Paul wrote of as a doctrinal truth, but as a way of experiencing God and our neighbors: love. In dialectical terms, kenosis encourages thinking of God’s self-emptying in Christ as a jamming of socially constructed conditions of power, or as an aggravation to human categories of orginazation. The vitality of these dialectical inversions alleviates God as a colossal ontological power whom protects the world without risking one’s own self—this claim is dangerous in itself if applied to how one interacts with power, struggle, and neighborly relations.