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Human and More Than Human
by Jeff Carter
In the year 6 B.C. (or roughly thereabouts); a man was born who was more than a man. Into that humble village of Bethlehem came the one who was the “only-begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all time, Light from Light, true God from true God the same essence [reality], as the Father, through Whom all things came into being, Who for us men and because of our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became human. (The Constantinopolitan Creed)In the year 6 B.C. (or roughly thereabouts); a man was born who was more than a man. Into that humble village of Bethlehem came the one who was the “only-begotten Son of God, begotten from the Father before all time, Light from Light, true God from true God the same essence [reality], as the Father, through Whom all things came into being, Who for us men and because of our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became human. (The Constantinopolitan Creed)This is the crux of Christianity – that the eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God would leave His timeless, changeless power and join himself to the human condition.
In our Salvation Army Doctrines we state that: We believe that in the person of Jesus Christ the divine and human natures are united so that he is truly and properly God and truly and properly man.
Jesus Christ is fully and completely God.
Jesus Christ is fully and completely man.
Jesus Christ is not two persons but one.
Early Christian art (the first century through the middle or “dark ages”) had a tendency to stress the Divine nature of Jesus; pictures of Jesus demonstrated his God-hood. In these pictures he is the pantokrator – the All Governing God of the world, the ruler who reigns over heaven and earth. In these paintings he is dressed in the royal robes of a king and wears a crown. He was portrayed enthroned on the walls of the churches as the ascended and exalted Lord who brings order to heaven and earth (Robert Webber ed., The Complete Library of Christian Worship Vol. 4, Music and the Arts in Christian Worship, Book 2, pg. 489, Star Song Publishing Group, Nashville TN, 1994.
This emphasis in artistic expression of the divinity of Jesus corresponded to an emphasis in apologetics of the time. Attacks on the God-nature of Christ came from all sides; from the pagan Roman Empire and from their Jewish brothers. It was unfathomable to them that a divine being would subject himself to such a life as that lived by Jesus of Nazareth, and to such a death as the one suffered by this Jesus. Crucifixion was reserved for the basest of criminals.
Celsus was a 2nd century opponent of Christianity who, like others of his time, refused to accept the idea of a God who would become a man. For Celsus, Jesus was only a man, a poor, wretched, miserable man, who was born in poverty (even claiming that Jesus was the illegitimate son of Mary with a Roman soldier) and who died condemned as a criminal. If, Celsus asks, Jesus was God, why did he allow himself to be crucified? Why did he not destroy his enemies? And even if Christians could answer these questions he went further, “What could be the purpose of such a visit to earth by God? To find out what is taking place among humans? Does he not know everything? Or is it perhaps that He knows but is incapable of doing anything about evil unless he does it in person? (Origen, Against Celsus, 4.3)
To the Christian’s Jewish brothers, it was obvious that Christians were guilty of blasphemy. This Jesus that they declared to be God had been crucified – and according to Jewish law, anyone hung on a tree was under God’s curse (Deut 21: 22 – 23). How could Jesus be God? He was, as Peter wrote in his letter, “the living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen by God and precious to Him… a precious cornerstone and no one who relies on this will be brought to disgrace. To you believers it brings honor. But for unbeliever, it is rather a stone which the builders rejected that became a cornerstone, a stumbling stone, a rock to trip people up. They stumble over it because they do not believe in the Word… (1 Peter 2: 4 – 8)
For St. Athanasius (295 – 373) the incarnation of Jesus Christ as the God-Man was evident in every part of his life, death, and resurrection. “…even at his death …the whole creation was confessing that he who was known and suffered in the body was not simply a man, but the Son of God and Savior of all. For the sun turned black, and the earth shook, and the mountains rent… and these things showed that Christ who was on the cross was God… (The Incarnation)”
By the time of the Renaissance however, the emphasis had changed; artists became focused on the humanity of this God-Man, Jesus – the “humanation” of God. “In the imagery of earlier Christianity, the claims for Christ’s absolute godhood, and for his parity with the Almighty Father, had to be constantly reaffirmed against unbelief – first against Jewish recalcitrance and pagan skepticism, then against the Arian heresy, finally against Islam. (Leo Steinberg, The Sexuality Of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion, pg. 9, Pantheon Books, New York, 1983.) Now in the renaissance painters were showing the humanation of God just as preachers were emphasizing the mystery of the incarnation.
In their understanding of theology “humanity was saved redeemed, at least inchoately, at the moment the Godhead assumed human flesh and became one with us. (pg. 200)” And they lovingly portrayed Christ in his human-ness showing him often as the naked infant – demonstrating that Jesus was fully human in all his members.
In one age the deity of Christ is emphasized over his humanity; in another his humanity over his divinity. And yet the mystery is that he is fully both – “perfect both in deity and also in human-ness; this selfsame one is actually God and actually man with a rational soul and a body. His is of the same reality as God as far as his deity is concerned an of the same reality as we are ourselves as far as his human-ness is concerned; thus like us in all respects, sin only excepted. Before time began he was begotten of the Father, in respect of his deity, and now in these “last days,” for us and on behalf of our salvation, this self-same one was born of Mary the virgin, who is God-bearer in respect of his human-ness. (The Definition of Chalcedon)
This is a mystery. That Jesus
Who being in the form of God (the same essence and reality)
Did not count equality with God something to be grasped or exploited.
But he emptied himself, despoiled himself
Taking the form of a slave
Becoming as human beings are
And being in every way like a human being,
He was humbler yet,
Even to accepting death, death on a cross
And for this God raised him high -highly exalted him in his resurrection, ascension, and glorification -
And gave him the name
Which is above all other name [Yahweh]
So that all beings
In the heavens, on the earth, and in the underworld,
Should bend the knee at the name of Jesus
And that every tongue should acknowledge
Jesus Christ as Lord
To the glory of God the Father.
In the year 6 B.C. (or roughly thereabouts); a man was born who was more than a man. Without divesting himself of his God-ness, Jesus put on our flesh. And while it would have been right and fitting for him to come to us in glory and in power, as the pantokrator the Supreme Ruler of All that Exists, for our sake Christ preferred to set aside these “insignia of majesty” and lived for thirty-three years in a life of service and obscurity; veiling his majesty in his suffering and death, until he was raised on high and highly exalted by God.
His death was not an accident any more than his birth was an accident. It was not “plan B.” It was not the last resort. Christ’s death upon the Cross is not a failure which was somehow put right afterwards by his Resurrection. (Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (Revised Edition), pg. 81, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood NY, 1998.) His death and subsequent resurrection were the purpose for which God made such a mysterious intervention into human affairs; the reason that Jesus set aside the insignia of his majesty to become human like us.
Jesus, for a short time was made lower than the angels so that he could share in our humanity, so that he could be like us in every way, so that he could suffer temptation and death and by doing so he could forever break the power of the one who holds the power of death. He was and is 100% God and 100% man. Truly and properly God and truly and properly man. Very God and Very Man. Light from Light, true God from true God. And that is difficult, if not impossible to understand.
Errors in thinking about Jesus have tended to swing too far toward one of three extremes. 1) that Jesus was just a man and not God or 2) that Jesus was God and was not a man or that 3) Jesus was part God and part man (a sort of human/deity hybrid.)
Each of these errors is the result of attempting to completely define and articulate the incarnation without leaving any questions or ambiguity; to answer without any mystery.
But it is a mystery. That God became man. That he was born as a blood covered screaming baby. That God would suffer skinned knees. It is a mystery that God could be tempted in the desert. It is a mystery that God could die, executed like a common junkyard thief.
Since we have blood and flesh, he too shared our humanity so that by his death he might free us from death and the fear of death
Can you imagine The infinite, all powerful God of the universe suffering? Can you imagine the perfectly, righteous holy one of heaven being tempted? Can you imagine the eternally self-existent Lord of space and time dying?
But in the person of Jesus Christ who is truly God and truly man we have an Icon of a suffering, tempted, and crucified God. A God who hurts, and hurts for us. A God who suffers with us, a God who understands our temptations, and who has died so that we may live.
God came to dwell among us so that he might participate willingly in all the things that we try so desperately to avoid. Jesus, the Son of God came to suffer. Jesus came to be tempted. Jesus came to die. So that he could prove his solidarity with us.
Jesus came to show us that God is not far removed from our concerns, and troubles. We worship a God who has been through them with us. We worship a God who has suffered but not been broken. We worship a God who has been tempted but has not sinned. We worship a God who has died, but did not stay dead – who instead rose up from the grave and has guaranteed eternal life to those who call him Lord.
It is this voluntary humiliation of Christ that is the mystery. The world looks at the person of Jesus Christ and rejects him as God because of his humanity, because of his commonness. Common sense would even reject Jesus as God because of his suffering and death.
But, the crucified Christ is the image of the invisible God – and God is not greater than He is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than He is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than He is in this helplessness. God is not more divine than He is in this humanity. (Jürgen Moltmann – The Crucified God )
In his nature God cannot die. God is eternal. God is the I Am That I Am. God IS. But now that God and man are completely and fully united in the person of Jesus Christ – when that man dies it is rightly called the death of God, for he is one person. (Martin Luther). It is by the suffering and death of God that we can be redeemed, and we could not possibly understand this suffering and death of God, if it were not for the incarnation of the Son of God
The crucified Christ is the image of the invisible God, the way by which we can know God. It was through his sufferings that he knows us and is one with us. It was through his death that we may be reunited with God. Jesus, the incarnate God, is our icon of temptation, suffering and death.
Jesus came to willingly participate in all those things that we try to avoid. We don’t want to be tempted because we know that we are likely to fail. But Jesus didn’t . He could have given into Satan’s temptations, the human nature of Jesus could have given in, but he didn’t, and we don’t have to either. We don’t like to suffer because it hurts and we’re afraid that it will break us. Jesus suffered with us and for us, without regard for himself. In fact he was perfected in his role as pioneer of salvation through his sufferings. Suffering isn’t to be feared. It makes us more like Christ. And we know that death, in the end, comes for us all. But we don’t have to be slaves to the fear of death. We rest confident that the power of death has been broken.
Jesus – Very God and Very Man. Two natures human and divine. Truly and properly God and Truly and properly man. He came so that we could know God and so that God could know us.
He is our suffering and death.
He is our resurrection and our life.
Whom have we, Lord, like you –
The Great One who became small, the Wakeful who slept,
The Pure One who was baptized, the Living One who died,
The King who abased himself to ensure honor for all.
Blessed is your honor!
It is right that man should acknowledge your divinity,
It is right for heavenly beings to worship your humanity.
The heavenly beings were amazed to see how small you became,
And the earthly ones to see how exalted.
(St. Ephrem the Syrian, The Harp of the Spirit: 18 poems of Saint Ephrem)