Thursday, April 06, 2006

Pointless Essay #2: Humanity and Divinity (and my lack of understanding)

A friend of mine asked the following question of me today:
How do you understand Jesus' humanity and divinity?

Not having much to do today, I crafted a simple answer. And here it is:

"There are a multitude of ways to think about this issue. It doesn’t seem to make much sense that Jesus could be both fully God and fully man at the same time. And there is that part of me that wonders why God even needed to become human to begin with. If he’s God, why can’t he just make things the way that he wants?


When I look at the Bible, I think of it in terms of a story. I know that a lot of people like to focus on the laws and traditions contained within. I do that to a certain extent as well. I was raised Southern Baptist, remember. But now I can’t help but look at all of history in terms of a story. That’s why there’s so much poetry and singing and exclamations of rage and hate and love and heartbreak.

If you were to tell [name deleted to protect the semi-innocent] all the things about [him/her] that you liked in a philosophical format, [he/she] would likely be unimpressed. “I really like your hair. Your eyes are attractive. Your figure is pleasing,” you’d say. And [he/she] would respond, “Whatever, freak.” But if you say the same thing in poetry, expressing your feelings in a relational format, the meaning changes. It deepens.

Take Shakespeare for example. In Romeo and Juliet, the two lovers speak of and to each other in poetic, iambic pentameter, but they speak to their friends in regular language. The language they use for each other, the language they use to speak of their love, has much deeper meaning than everyday speech or what you find in a generalized accounting of things. Even if all you’re doing is saying, “you are a very pretty woman,” it carries greater meaning for both parties to communicate relationally when Romeo says, “’Tis the east and Juliet is the sun.” (she is the first and brightest thing he sees in the morning) or when Juliet quips, “Be but sworn my love and I’ll no longer be a Capulet” (tell me you love me and I’ll give up everything I am just for you).

Or better yet, go back and read some of Moses’ writings in the Torah. Or David’s Psalms. Read them out loud. Read them in their original Hebrew. Listen to the ebb and flow of the words. Sometimes Moses states the facts and other times he breaks out into song. When you hear these songs as they were meant to be, not as a collection of theological ideas as most people consider them today and not as simple emotions as others have taken them, but as an expression of width and breadth of thought and emotion that comes with an exhaustive description of relationship, they gain significant depth.

God’s word is not merely a systematic theology. It is an expression of his love for us and his repeated attempts to restore the break we cause with our sin. It is the story of our relationship. In Genesis, this story goes from creation to the fall of man in just a few paragraphs. But take a minute and think of what that meant. God created the universe for us. When he was done with all of that, THEN he created man. Man was his greatest creation. And he didn’t mean for us to be as we now are, but as beings that could fully stand in his presence and be with him every moment of every day. Back then, we didn’t know what it meant to fail. We didn’t know what it meant to be disobedient. We didn’t know what it was like to have doubt or to fear death or to harbor ill will. All we knew was happiness and a perfect relationship with God.

This went on for a long time, too. Genesis says that Adam named every animal and living thing in all of creation. That had to take a while; years, maybe even hundreds of years of communion between Adam and God. Then God gave Adam his wife Eve. And they existed in the Garden of Eden for a time.

Then came the fall. But the fall was not just like sinning is to us nowadays. When you or I sin it is serious business, rest assured, but we can convince ourselves that it really isn’t. You ask for forgiveness and it goes away, but you can repeat it the next day. Follow this cycle and, after a while, sin becomes almost esoteric, like something that doesn’t really exist outside of an idea.

At least, until God kicks your ass about it anyway.

But for Adam, things were different. When he sinned, his very nature changed. He understood death and separation. He understood shame. He understood hatred, selfishness, and disobedience. He understood the vastness of the human capacity for evil. He was no longer God’s definition of human. He was … something else. He became our definition of human. For us, this would be like sprouting ten extra legs and suddenly existing in a four dimensional universe where everybody spoke binary and wore fez hats. It’s completely inconceivable.

When we sinned, we became different creatures entirely. And these creatures could not comprehend God. We could not interact with him properly. We became trapped in our selfish ways and there was no place for us but the death we had brought into the world. This should sound familiar, because this is how we currently are.

Fast forward a few thousand years. God has given humanity the law as a start towards learning how to come back from the depths of our existence. But like I said earlier, a list of rules is not nearly enough. A list of rules doesn’t change a person’s soul any more than baseball statistics are the reasons I enjoy the game or the daily routine that [married couple] undertake is the reason they love each other the way that they do. There is an unseen depth.

In one of his dialogues, Socrates describes a cave. He says man’s understanding from birth is like prisoners chained to a wall in a cave with their eyes covered. After time, one prisoner learns to uncover his eyes and he sees shadows on the wall. This shadow makes no sense to him because all he knows is darkness. But can you imagine the joy this person must have felt in realizing that there was more to life than just the darkness he had known since birth. You can imagine his thrill at realizing there were others around him and that, even though he was in a terrible situation, he knew there was more. Even this dim movement on a dark wall in a deep cave would seem like waking from a deep sleep to find that the world did not go away while you rested, and that the greatest joy waited at your fingertips.

Slowly, however, the man comes to the realization that these shadows are not reality. There is something else, something he cannot see. So he works his way out of his chains and turns around. Before him is a long and treacherous tunnel, the end of which is engulfed in a bright light that moves in the strange patterns he saw reflected on the walls. His heart leaps again. This is true reality. The shadows on the wall were a mere reflection.

He climbs towards the light, slipping here and there and sometimes having nasty falls. But he keeps going. Always, he keeps going, setting the moving light as his. The moving objects become clearer as he approaches. And as he reaches the entrance to this cave, this darkness that once defined every aspect of his reality, he finds crowds of people, former prisoners like himself, dancing in the bright sunlight.

The difference between the darkness of the cave and the bright reality of the former prisoners is an apt metaphor, I think, for the difference between humanity as God intends it and humanity as it is. The prisoners have only known their darkness and their solitude. They may even be perfectly happy in that existence. But there is something greater, and that thing is inconceivable to the prisoner as he sits in the cave with the blindfold over his eyes. He was meant to be in the light, but he cannot comprehend it. He was meant to dance, but he cannot move his legs. He was meant to experience the joy of interaction with others and with God, but all he knows is solitude.
Socrates goes on to say that the only way to free these people is to go down into the cave, help them remove their blindfolds and bring them into the light. The only way to reach those people is to meet them on their level, in the lonely, dark cave.

Now let’s look at the Bible again. Humanity is in the cave. We cannot conceive of life as god intended it. All we know is our current existence. We cannot bring ourselves out of this because we cannot conceive of anything different than what we already know. God saw this and said, “I have to meet them where they are,” He acted relationally. He became human. He faced the darkness of the cave.

He had to be fully God because that was the only way he could be the definition of justice and thus provide the standard by which sin is judged. And he had to be fully human because that was the only way he could pay the price that was demanded for justice. He had to be both, because otherwise there would be no way to remain fully loving (omnibenevolent) all powerful (omnipotent) and completely just (omnijust? Is that even a word?), which are several of the defining characteristics of his nature, and still have a relationship with us in a way that we could understand.

Yes, there are parts of it I do not understand. But that’s what makes it all the more real. We’re talking about the nature of God here. If I were capable of understanding everything there was to know about him, he would cease to be God and become something less than human. Given that I understand parts of it (the thought aspect of a relationship) and that I have experienced others (the emotional aspect), it makes perfect sense that there would be things I didn’t understand. As with any relationship there are things we don’t understand. The fact that it is moreso in our relationship with Jesus only further supports his existence and both his divinity and humanity.

The Bible tells the story of God’s relationship with man, and Jesus in his complete humanity and divinity, is the fullness of that expression. "

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