How does Christian Tradition explain Jesus being fully God and fully man?

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As I shared in my last post, I grew up with a nominal Catholic faith. I had the intellectual understanding that Jesus was both God and man, but I didn’t have a relationship with him…and so it was just an interesting piece of information.

But when I encountered Jesus and began a living and personal relationship with him, the fact that he is God suddenly became more real to me. However, I would say that it’s only been in recent years, that the reality of Jesus being fully man and the importance of that has come home to me. I’ll have to share more about that another time, but today I want to focus on the astonishing claim that the Christian Tradition makes. And that we celebrate at Christmas: that Jesus is truly God AND truly Man. And why that really matters.

The Christian Tradition teaches that in the incarnation, God became one of us – God became human. Mind you – not ceasing to be God and not undermining the integrity of the human he became; God took to himself a human nature to use as an icon of his life and person.

Now that tells us something very interesting about us – that we are meant to find our deepest identity, precisely in God. I’ll need to come back to that at another time.

But it also tells us something very important about God – that God is not in competition with his creation. God is not invasive or intrusive vis a vis his creation. God can become a creature and still maintain the integrity of the creature he becomes. Let’s unpack that a bit.

Take a look at the great statement of the church Council of Chalcedon in 451. After centuries of debate and argument, the Church summing up its view about Jesus Christ said the following: ‘In Jesus’ person – in the unity of his person – there come together two natures – divine and human – without mixing mingling or confusion.’ The integrity of each is maintained, precisely in the union.

In saying that, Chalcedon was holding off three options that were prominent in the ancient world and also influencing some in the church of that time.

  1. The first one called Monophysitism, which means ‘one nature’. That was the view that Jesus is God. And that his humanity is just an appearance. This belief was that he’s truly divine, but not truly human.
  2. On the other extreme was Nestorianism. The claim that Jesus is a human person with a very high intense relationship with God – a kind of super saint. According to this belief, he’s human, but not truly divine.
  3. Then there was a middle position in the ancient world call Arianism. Arius said that ‘Jesus is the coming together of a semi-divine principle and a semi-human principle. According to this belief, what becomes incarnate is the ‘logos’, which is not truly divine, but is a very high creature. And to become incarnate, the logos had to kick out the human mind and will of Jesus. So he’s kind of semi-divine semi human.
    Now mind you, that idea was well known in the ancient world. Think of Achilles or Hercules – both demi-gods or demi-humans. So, in that view, Jesus is a little bit divine and a little bit human.

Chalcedon said no to all three positions and stated that Jesus is truly human and truly divine – the two natures coming together in such a way that each is maintained in its integrity. Again, what does that tell us? It tells us that God is not a competitive being. Not a being standing over and against creation.

Think about this for a minute. Can an antelope become a lion? Well yeah, by being devoured! They’re competitive. if the lion devours the antelope, it takes it to itself and the antelope becomes the lion.

Can this desk at which I write, become ash? Sure. By being burned; by being destroyed.

So it goes with mutually exclusive, finite creaturely natures.

Now you see what’s being claimed in the Incarnation? It’s extraordinary!

God is not a being; not one thing among many. If he were, he couldn’t effect the Incarnation.  Which is why Christian Tradition consistently refuses the term ‘being’ of God.  And speaks of God rather, as Being itself. God is not called ‘the highest being’, but the act of ‘to be’ itself.

God is not ‘one thing among many’. In fact, he isn’t in the genus /category of being. That’s interesting, isn’t it? We’re beings; the piece of furniture on which you sit is a being, the clouds and sky, animals and plants are beings. So, wouldn’t God be just the highest instance of that genus? No, teaches the Christian Tradition – He is Being itself.

St. Anselm famously says, ‘God is that than which nothing greater can be thought.’ At first blush, it looks like that means he’s the highest being. I can think of you and of higher beings and higher beings…and then there’s this highest being called God. Right? No! That’s not it.

Think of Zeus or one of the ancient Greek gods. Something at the height of the hierarchy of being. Zeus plus the world, is greater than Zeus alone. Right? You take Zeus and all his perfection. But then you add to him all the perfection of the world – that would be greater than Zeus alone. Therefore, Zeus is not that than which nothing greater can be found.

Here’s a paradox for you: God plus the world is not greater than God alone. A lot of our theology in fact hinges on that. Think about that – God plus the world, is not greater than God alone. That means he’s not one being among many; falling into a competitive relationship with the world.

Is God other than the world? Yeah, absolutely! The world is just made up of beings. Think of the building where you are sitting – it’s made up of a whole slew of beings. Think of the area or suburb – nothing but beings. The whole universe is a congeries of finite beings. But because God’s not a being, therefore you’re not going to find God in the world. He’s not one being among many.

That’s where atheists make this mistake all the time. You can call it ‘the Yeti /Bigfoot theory of God’. ‘Some say there is a Bigfoot; some say there isn’t; let’s go find out. Is there evidence for the existence of Bigfoot?’ But we’ll never find God that way! Because He’s not a being, hiding amidst the beings of the world!

Think of the Russian cosmonaut, who went up into space in the ‘50’s. ‘I’ve been to the heavens – he radioed back to earth – and there’s no God.’

We’ll never find the true God that way – searching as a being among many. Because he is not a being in the world. God is other than the world.

At the same time, is God everywhere in the world? Yes, because everything in this room depends right now, upon the causal efficacy of ‘To Be’ – the one who is the very source of being. “In you we live and move and have our being” the Bible says in Acts 17:28.

The far reaches of the cosmos – everything here and now – depends upon the power of

being itself.

St. Augustine summed this up beautifully, when he said, “God is at the same time, “closer to me than I am to myself; at the same time, higher than anything I could possibly imagine.”

That’s the true God! Not the highest being, but ‘to be’ itself.

He is the God who allows the world to be, even as he comes close to it. In fact, the closer God comes to us as humans, we are empowered to be more fully human. We can draw close to him in relationship and at the same time, we can never fully get our minds around him.

Now, something interesting to note is that the views of the classical atheists that have influenced our cultures – from Feuerbach through Marx and Freud to Sartre – are predicated upon the fundamental assumption that God and humanity are competitors. This view would be accurate if applied to a (small ‘g’) god or some supreme being (like one of the Greek mythological gods), that is in a competitive relationship with the world.

It isn’t accurate when applied to Being itself; it does not apply to the God who can become a creature, without ceasing to be God and without undermining the integrity of the creature he becomes.

Does that make sense? ‘To Be’ is not a threat to humanity; but is the very ground for the full flourishing of humanity. Do you see the full import of the Incarnation? It’s that the glory of God is a human being fully alive. That’s what the atheists – both classical and contemporary – never get.

Let me close with an image. Go back to ancient mythology – Greek and Roman. They have wonderful stories, full of wisdom. But watch how the gods break into human affairs in ancient mythology. If a God makes an appearance, what happens? People are incinerated; they’re destroyed. The gods always come crashing interruptedly into human affairs.

Why? Because they’re supreme beings and beings exist competitively. The more I get, the less you get. If I’m gonna show up, you better move out of the way.

Now, look at the Bible. What’s the great image of the Old Testament? There’s this bush that Moses sees. It’s on fire, but it’s not consumed. When the true God comes close, what does he do?  He makes creatures more luminous and more radiant and more beautiful and does not consume them.

Please notice that contrast between the Bible and mythology on that point. When the true God comes, he comes gently; non-invasively non-competitively. And his presence makes the world radiant.

Where does the burning bush now come to its fullest expression?

In the Incarnation! God becomes one of us, without ceasing to be God and without undermining the integrity of the creature he becomes. The God of the burning bush – To Be – who has come into our world to offer us inner freedom, healing and flourishing – that’s the true God we are again called to respond to, at Christmas!

If you are interested in learning more about this fascinating subject, I’d like you to refer you to an article here: https://stpaulcenter.com/fully-human-and-fully-divine-understanding-the-incarnation

Also, please free to message me here, if you have a further question and I’ll do my best to give /find you a good answer.

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