Is Jesus God?
Holy Week coming up. Do we really buy the outrageous, impossible claims of this faith?
One of the strangest, head-scratchers is the claim that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully human.
How can you be fully one thing and fully another? Rationally you can’t. But as my buddy, Rick Floyd, recently reminded readers of the UCC Daily Devotional faith is more a matter of the heart than the head.
Over the history of Christianity, various preachers and factions have decided the answer was not the paradox of “both,” but the easier “either/ or,” pick one. The Gnostics declared Jesus all divine, not compromised by unseemly mortal flesh. The Arians, the other side of the coin, he’s all human, but — mind you — a really great one.
And so in the contemporary church, we also fracture toward one or the other.
With Holy Week and Easter coming up, preachers and congregations veer toward one or the other. Jesus is wholly divine, his suffering and abandonment apparent, not real. Or, Jesus is human only, albeit a really good human, and now another victim of the empire.
But the paradox of fully God/ fully human is like a battery. If you’re only connected to one pole of the battery, there’s no charge. You gotta have both. That’s the nature of paradoxes.
I’ve mentioned here Francis Spufford’s wonderful book, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything Christianity can still make Surprising Emotional Sense.
Spufford addresses these issues helpfully. Particularly one aspect of them, the dissing of Paul, as “where it all went wrong.” Here’s Spufford:
“In the air now, there’s a general feeling that something or other in the early church, probably St Paul, retrospectively glued Godhood onto poor Jesus, appropriating what was clearly a perfectly ordinary and un-mysterious career as a Jewish preacher, and using it as a vehicle for weird shit.
“Jesus goes about encouraging people to be kind and forgiving; then, when he’s safely dead, he gets signed up as the lead of an unlikely cosmic drama he’d have been horrified by if he’s ever known about it.
“Lift the lid of interpretation, and there’s the man underneath, a minor first-century religious reformer with a bit of a bee in his bonnet about gentleness. A well-intentioned and irrelevant person from the pre-Enlightenment ages of superstition.”
Spufford points out the historical sequence is actually just the opposite. The earliest Christian writings and proclamation were gobsmacked by the Jesus fully God fully human and a cosmic drama of redemption.
Only much later do you get the quasi-biographical gospel accounts. In other words, rather than gluing Godhood onto a perfectly ordinary Jewish preacher for various political agendas, it was sort of completely the other way around. The God/man thing was up front, though held in this vessel that is “human as we are,” in the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Spufford later sums up the implications of orthodox faith in a particularly beautiful sentence:
“Jesus’s actions in the world were God’s own actions in the world; where Jesus was present, God was directly present too; his death and return from death were an initiative by God to take from humanity the weight of guilt and shame and disgust, and to show us a life larger than law.”
“This cluster of propositions (Jesus God/ human, cosmic redeemer) is Christianity’s first layer of organized words and understandings. It, not the biographies [the Gospels], is the foundation.”
I pass these luminous thoughts along chiefly to embolden preachers, and perhaps console laity, as you enter into Holy Week and Easter.
Spring is wonderful, but please do not preach, “Flowers blooming again in the spring, tra-la, tra-la.” The times are too dangerous and life too hard.
Preach Christ, crucified and raised.