Many Christians are comfortable with language describing Jesus as “fully divine”, but rarely explore the implications of his complete humanness. I don’t believe this is what was originally intended when the creeds were written. I believe those who first said that Jesus was both human and divine really meant it. He was divine in some way– And he was absolutely, positively human.
It wasn’t until I started to read the gospels without my former Evangelical assumptions that I began to see the portrait of a human Jesus. Yes, the divine Jesus is in the scriptures– but the human Jesus is there, too– possibly more clearly depicted than the divine Jesus.
In my opinion, the gospel texts begin to make more sense when we grant Jesus permission to be fully human. It makes sense that a human Jesus would feel the need to pray, or might have had prejudices (such as the one he seems to have clearly displayed when he called one woman a dog), or might have been afraid. It makes sense that a human Jesus might become enraged in a temple and destroy private property, or that a human might not have been omniscient. It also makes sense that a human Jesus would try and heal someone more than once before being successful, or that a human Jesus might weep.
However, when these textual issues arise and people ask, “Why did Jesus have to pray,” or “Why was Jesus so rude to that woman,” we tend to over-spiritualize our responses. We reach far into the metaphysical realm for an answer. “Jesus didn’t need to pray; he was merely demonstrating what you and I ought to do… He was crying divine tears to show God’s compassion, but those weren’t human tears… His decision to turn over tables in the temple or demonstrate prejudice was justified because he was God.”
We resist the most obvious answer to these questions, which is that perhaps Jesus did those things because he was human.
I wasn’t sure how to verbalize my feelings about the humanness of Jesus until this weekend when I was searching for more information about process theology. John Cobb (a famed patriarch in the process world) made a two-minute video for Living The Questions in which he touched on an ongoing debate about the Greek word pistis (faith). In short, the scriptures speak of faith in reference to Jesus, but it is unclear whether the writers meant “faith in Jesus,” or “the faith of Jesus”. Cobb prefers the latter translation, and in his understanding, the word pistis was used by Paul to describe a Jesus whose divinity was expressed in his faithfulness to God:
One of the problems has been that even translators have been influenced by theological developments in the later Church… The language implies that Paul was interested in the faithfulness of Jesus… and our participation in the faithfulness of Jesus.
My understanding of what it means to be a Christian fits well with Cobb’s definition. I don’t think of Jesus as a surreal, faultless, super-human deity any more. The scriptures paint a much more complex picture than that. I think of Jesus as someone who was called to impact his own world, and who submitted to that calling. I think of Jesus as someone who had flaws– he got angry and didn’t handle it well… he had biases, but overcame them… he called people names… there were times when he didn’t know the answers… he (understandably) had moments of crippling emotional weakness.
But Jesus was also relentless in his effort to be faithful to God. I think of him as someone who emptied himself in profound ways, and I realize how important it is for me to live out that kind of devotion every day.
I believe Christians are called to participate in the faithfulness of Jesus by imitating him. In doing so we develop an understanding of what it means to be fully human and we become partakers of the Divine.