Christ was always present, even before he came to earth, but he waited until humans were able to accept him. The incarnation is still important, as Aquinas would remind us, as this is the ultimate proof of the eternal power and existence of God's power and presence in the world, as spirit even within the flesh.
Luther says: "One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom." A Christian has to willingly and joyously accept the bondage of being a Christian, even though God has left us free in a corrupt world to reject or accept Him.
Thomas: Joyous bondage? C'mon. No one likes being told what do.
Christian: But the faith of a Christian is a bondage freely chosen.
Thomas: I thought religion was about what you were told not to do, and what was fun was wrong.
Christian: Think of it this way -- you're free, if you accept the consequences, to not study, flunk out of school, not do anything with your life. But you don't -- not because you are being forced to make your life better, but because you know that learning and maximizing who and what you can be is the true path to finding happiness in life. It's willing bondage. Now, maybe if your parents nag you, trying to do well in school feels like a burden. But if you chose to act in a good way, it feels good. This is also true of choosing to be a Christian. I accept the bonds and rules of Christianity willingly, as a soul that can chose to do right or wrong.
Thomas: I guess that is why I have always rejected Christianity, on some level. I just don't think I could be that morally scrupulous in my thoughts or my behavior.
Christian: Neither could St. Augustine, at first! Augustine's "Confessions" are filled with tales about how bad he was. For example, he stole apples from a neighbor's orchard as a young man, not because he needed food, but just for the fun of it.
Thomas: Yeah, I have to admit that I've stolen a couple of deer crossing signs to decorate my dorm room that I didn't really need
Christian: Augustine even had a mistress.
Thomas: No way! A saint?
Christian: And he used to pray: 'Oh make me good God, but not yet.'
Thomas: That's a pretty frequent prayer of mine. Don't make me good until after college, right?
Christian: I thought you never prayed!
Thomas: I mean, yeah, I'm a Doubting Thomas agnostic, but there aren't too many atheists around finals time. I sort of pray.
Christian: Augustine became a saint because he realized that he didn't have a choice about whether to accept or reject salvation because of his deeds. He couldn't say, oh, I'll pinpoint a date on the calendar when I'll accept grace. And he couldn't buy his way with following crazy cult leaders, with strange supposedly secret dietary practices and laws -- kind of like modern self-help gurus who tell you that you can become saved if you follow a series of steps. Augustine realized that he had to open his heart to grace.
Thomas: So what you're saying is that the point isn't if Jesus Christ can be 'proved' to have lived at a certain time or not, it's the actions of Christ in the hearts of men like Paul, Augustine, and Luther that demonstrate the importance of Christianity for all time? That Christianity is about belief, not dates and relics?
Thomas: You've really given me a lot to think about. Not that I needed more to think about right now.
Christian: Good luck with the orgo final!
Thomas: I'm praying.
Augustine. The Confessions. [18 Dec 2006] www.ccel.org/augustine/confessions/confessions.html
Luther, Martin. Faith and Freedom. Edited by John F. Thornton and Susan Varenne.
New York; Random House, 2002. [18 Dec 2006] http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780375713767&view=excerpt
Paul. "Letter to the Galatians." [18 Dec 2006] www.earlychristianwritings.com/goodspeed/ch03.html