Thursday, 12 February 2009

God became one of us in Jesus

We have just begun to study of St. John's Gospel in our Disciple 4 group, and for our homework last week one of the questions we were asked was-

God came to us in Jesus. God became one of us in Jesus. Those words sound simple, but their meaning is not. How do you understand "the Word became flesh"?

When we shared our replies, my answer caused a very lively, almost heated, discussion. I had written, 'Jesus became human in every respect like us except without sin, yet He was still part of the Triune God, with God's foresight and insight.' My friends disagreed vigorously with the second half of my reply, saying that if what I had written was true then Jesus was not truly human. But I argued that if 'God took on human flesh' He would not relinquish his Divine qualities but could become fully human and be Divine at the same time. This led to remarks about that making Him into a superhuman, not a human exactly as we are - and they believed that Jesus was fully human, like us in every respect and no more than us.

The following questions seemed to me to agree with my statement because they referred to 'the divine-human Jesus'. The other questions were -

What about the divine-human Jesus draws you to Him?

What about the divine-human Jesus pushes you away?

What does allegiance to the divine-human Jesus require of you?

Simply to speak of the incarnate Jesus as completely human cannot be the same as to speak of the divine-human Jesus, surely?


Carol E. said...

Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I am going to have to ponder what it is I believe on this question. It's not an easy one!

Olive Morgan said...

Thank you, Carol. It's a very difficult one, but I think we need to sort it out. There are several times when Jesus knew more than he would have done if he had been only human. I still don't think this meant that He was not fully human. He felt everything exactly as we humans do and even more so, because of His Divine knowledge, which included the knowledge that He had the power to change things - if He wanted to and felt it to be right. That surely would have intensified His human feelings of sorrow and pain.

Rev Tony B said...

I just read your comments on Richard's blog, so came over to un-disappoint you! :)

Two thoughts. First, whatever we say about this, we're not going to get it completely right. It's bigger than we are. All we can do is use whatever language God has given us to get a handle on it, and accept that we're in the presence of something much bigger than we are - and adore!

Second, to the issue itself - John wrote about the Logos, and then "The Logos became flesh." (I'd prefer to use Logos instead of Word, to escape the familiarity of the English phrase for a while.) Now, Logos meant two things in the ancient world. In Platonic thought it was the balancing factor between chaos and cosmos. In Hellenistic Judaism, and especially in Wisdom literature, it was one of the words used to translate "Wisdom" (as in Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiasticus, etc) - the other was Sophia. (Remember last years' Women's World Day of Prayer, and the hymn to Wisdom?) Wisdom (the Hebrew was hokmah) almost became a personalised manifestation of God, the active finger of God in creation and salvation, and referred to as "Lady Wisdom" (eg Prov.9:13-18).

John begins his Prologue using a familiar term to his hearers - they think "Oh, I know what he's talking about" - but by the time he's got this far, they realise they don't; but by then they're in, and hooked.

Essentially, John is saying that what was dimly seen in Wisdom has become much clearer, and God has become flesh in Jesus. He doesn't make much of the Logos-Christology afterwards - it has served its purpose. The way we understand it is less to do with the NT, and more to do with the theological definitions of the Trinity and of Christ as formulated at Nicea and Chalcedon.

The NT maintains a tension between two ways of understanding Jesus. First, he is exalted, divine, the Word made flesh - the strand which led to him being defined as the co-equal co-eternal second person of the Trinity. Second, he is human, incarnate, and subordinate to the Father (eg Mt.24:36) - the strand which dominated Arius' thoughts, but which led him to a position condemned as heresy.

What do I believe? Jesus truly was God on earth, but also completely human. I don't understand the Trinity, and I don't think it helps to crystallise definitions of God so firmly - it always reminds me of the Tom and Jerry cartoon when Jerry dives into a bowling ball, Tom wraps it in a scarf to trap him but hasn't a free finger to put on the knot, and up pops Jerry from somewhere else to put his finger on the knot - Tom does the eye-popping double-take, and the chase resumes. In other words, the Trinity may be a good pointer to the nature of God, and Chalcedon might help us see something of the nature of Jesus, but as soon as you think you have him defined, he pops up somewhere beyond your definitions, grins, and says "Come on, follow me..."

See what I mean? Faith is a journey, not a passed exam. Enjoy it!

Olive Morgan said...

Thanks, Tony. It was good to have your explanation because from it I see that we were meant to link it up with the first half of this course when we were studying the Wisdom books you mention. We didn't do that, but perhaps we might understand it more fully as the course proceeds.

Rachel said...

Hi Olive. These tricky questions remind me of difficulties I've run into in trying to explain the Trinity to two different groups of Primary School children (Yr 6). Part of the brief was to explain what the unique features of the Christian faith are, so I decided I had to say something about the Trinity - challenging as that inevitably was. I was trying very hard to be both simple and orthodox. But one girl, when she'd heard what I had to offer - simply said - "that's impossible". No amount of further careful attempts to elucidate made any difference - the girl stood her ground. And it just made me think that she was being far more honest than most adult Christians who think the same thing, but dare not say it - so pretend to understand!! On another similar occasion, the thankyou letters from the school contained one classic: "Dear Revrunt Rachel, Thankyu so much for teling us abut the 3 gods. All my life I thort there was only 1 god but now I know difrent"
I thought I might as well erect my own stake and gather the brushwood around it!

PamBG said...

Olive, I'm not feeling terribly well at the moment, so don't have a lot of energy for deep thought.

I do think these things are a mystery.

I absolutely believe that Jesus was God-in-man, truly divine and human.

Personally speaking I don't believe that Jesus had divine foresight. 'Divine insight' is another matter depending on what you mean by it.

For me, if Jesus was a supernatural-being-on-earth then a great deal of what I personally see as Jesus' sacrifice and obedience just fly out the window and are meaningless. I.e. Jesus couldn't really have a trusting faith in the Father any more than I can have a trusting faith in my own intentions.

Olive Morgan said...

I'm sorry to hear you aren't so well, Pam. So thanks all the more for adding your comment. For me, I think there were times when Jesus did seem to have foresight beyond the purely human foresight of his disciples, i.e., when he delayed rushing to help and everyone else was astonished that he seemed quite unconcerned, knowing that when he did go all would be well and it wouldn't be too late.

And I feel differently from you because I think that his divinity made his human pain and sorrow even more intense, knowing that he had the power to change the situation but choosing to be human. This fills me with awe and wonder and love for this Saviour who felt just like me (and even more intensely) and all this for me (and the rest of the world). We all agree that this is a mystery!

Rachel said...

Hi Olive. Following a comment over on Connexions I've found it necessary to defend aspects of my earlier posting which I've done over there.
As for Jesus' divine foresight - I find myself torn between your's and Pam's views. But I did appreciate your final paragraph.
I've been set the task of preaching on Christ the Miracle Worker this Sunday evening (a theme you will remember from the old lectionary). It does bring up the same sort of issues.

PamBG said...

Nothing serious, just a 'thing' that won't turn into either a cold or 'flu but lingers and makes everything seem difficult.

For me, I think there were times when Jesus did seem to have foresight beyond the purely human foresight of his disciples, i.e., when he delayed rushing to help and everyone else was astonished that he seemed quite unconcerned, knowing that when he did go all would be well and it wouldn't be too late.

I can sort of see what you're saying but equally I can see my point of view - of course ;-)! I don't see why this requires foresight at all, although I see how one could believe in foresight and explain it that way.

When you say 'foresight', do you mean that Jesus knew everything that was going to happen to him? I need that word unpacking.

I think that his divinity made his human pain and sorrow even more intense, knowing that he had the power to change the situation but choosing to be human.

I see that point. What I don't see, though, is how we can imitate Christ if his life was essentially one of holding back from using his 'super-powers'. And the call to imitate Christ was actually one of the central calls in Christianity - de-emphasised by Protestantism.

Olive Morgan said...

Pam - It seems to me that the imitation of Christ can be a exercise of mind ans will which can fall short of the full experience of 'being in Christ' and 'Christ within me' that results from a life lived closely with the living Christ and placing the emphasis, not on my efforts to be Christ-like, but on asking Christ to take over my life and dwell in me through the Holy Spirit. That way round, the divinity of Christ makes sense for me.