Listen to what Christians say about Jesus and we often fall into two groups:
- Some want to focus on his humanity, encouraged that God sent us someone who can really identify with our problems — like by being one of us.
- Others want to focus on his divinity, encouraged that he is big enough to help in the ways we need it most — like by being very different from us.
The funny thing is that we think we have to choose.
Christianity has always, emphatically, taught a paradoxical third option: Jesus is both, not one or the other.
In different ways in different centuries, Christians have always emphasized that Jesus is a mystery: one person with two natures, human and divine. It is beyond human reason to explain. How can somebody with a true human nature and a true divine nature remain just one person?
The “how” is beyond explanation, but the “why” is clear: for salvation to be possible, the savior must be human and the savior must be God.
A good mystery ought to point us toward something helpful: awe. God is bigger than our brains. We ought to relish the paradox.
Instead we pick one or the other. We pick the human Jesus or the divine Christ.
This despite what we say we believe. Every Sunday in most mainline churches, we stand up and recite the Apostles’ Creed, saying Jesus
was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
Most of the time we just don’t think too hard about what that means.
Thankfully, our slightly curmudgeonly forebears who wrote the Heidelberg Catechism did think about it. (That’s the 450 year old summary of Biblical theology that Christians in the Reformed tradition continue to affirm.)
Here’s their analysis:
35 Q. What does it mean that he
“was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary”?
A. That the eternal Son of God,
who is and remains
true and eternal God,
took to himself,
through the working of the Holy Spirit,
from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary,
a truly human nature
so that he might also become David’s true descendant,
like his brothers and sisters in every way
except for sin.
Later, since the Enlightenment, people want matters of faith and the actions of God to comply with the laws of nature.
In the Reformation, not so much. They assumed that God created nature and its laws so he could bend them as needed.
They looked at the Gospels for their understanding of Christ and the drama of salvation. In Matthew and Luke
- The Blessed Virgin Mary became Jesus’ mother, guaranteeing his humanity
- The Holy Spirit acting directly to bring the whole thing about, guaranteeing his divinity.
Or as John put it,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us…
Now isn’t a little paradox a great addition to the life of faith?
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