Monday, January 19, 2009

Is Jesus God?

Is He? Of course this question only concerns folks who consider themselves Christians as I do. So does answering this question wrongly determine your eternal destiny? That's certainly what I was raised to believe. My branch of Christianity insists that to even consider Jesus as anything less than completely God is not just disrespectful, but will doom you to eternal torment.

Since Jesus never took the time to sit down and write out all the details of how this issue works, His followers have been all over the place on it. Especially during the first 4 or 5 hundred years, as Christianity was defining itself. There were groups that said Jesus was pure spirit, (Some Gnostics ) groups that said He was just a man, (The Ebionites ( ) and every flavor in between. Eventually those on the edges were 'weeded out' and we ended up with a dichotomous orthodox declaration that insists that Jesus was both fully human and fully God. Oh, and throws in a third guy too, because the language used about the Holy Spirit could be interpreted in such a way as to bestow personhood on it.

As I've become more skeptical of my own ability to know these sorts of things, I've also become skeptical of other people's ability to know these sorts of things. This viewpoint erodes the foundations of doctrine as a valid form of revelation or medium for keeping Truth. While I recognize the value of tried-and-true recipes for success in life, I also recognize that bad ideas can come down through the ages just as easily. So I don't think the fact that Trinitarian theology has prevailed in Christian history attests to its truth. What I see in Trinitarian theology is an attempt to keep Christianity balanced, without sliding into the ditches of the afore-mentioned groups. But just because it makes a good steering wheel doesn't make it suitable for eating. By that I mean that all sorts of machinations have occurred within Christendom that preserved its power-base and insured its most-favored status in society. But not all of those things are good to mimic in our personal lives.

The relevant question to me is: Can I leave the question blank and still get a passing grade? When asked if Jesus IS God, can I just say "I don't know."? Or does that automatically forfeit my subscription to Christianity Today? But right now a shrug is all I can honestly give. Not out of apathy, but out of a deep reverence for the scripture that refuses to give a formulated answer on the subject.

As to the divinity of Christ, I leave that to mystery. I neither affirm nor deny it. Because all the recorded words from Jesus on the topic can be read multiple ways, I see no reason to dogmatize the issue. I submit that Christ's work, words, and life affect me identically whether He is 100% God or not. I am saved by His work. I believe in His teachings, and have applied them successfully to my life every time I work at it. He is the Lord of my life. How that all works under the hood doesn't seem like the important thing to me. The important thing is that this vehicle takes me from point A (Selfishness) to point B. (Selflessness) Maybe that's WHY Jesus used stories that are almost impossible to dogmatize rather that writing down a list of bullet-point doctrines.

My dad, who is perfectly orthodox, brought up a tried and true analogy (adapted from Carl Sagan) that I like, but doesn't convince me of the orthodox Christology. I'll elaborate on my own version of it to show my thinking:

Imagine you are a god, and you put your finger into a 2 dimensional illustration of a world. To the 2-D inhabitants, your finger would be a cross section, a circle, that they could go around and examine. You could move your finger back and forth along two plains and they would understand it as a circle moving around. If you put your finger further in, the circle would get bigger, pull it out and it gets smaller. (assuming your fingers taper handsomely like mine)

Now if you could speak through your finger, you could tell all the little 2-D people that you and god are one. That to see you (the circle that is really a cross section of a finger) is to see God. This would be both true and false. True because that finger-circle is the most they could see of you, and false because it does not contain the fullness of you.

You could let them 'kill' your circle, withdraw it from their world for 3 days, then put it back in. Viola, resurrection.

This is my favorite way of visualizing that which can't be fathomed by humankind. Does it mean that Jesus IS God? That's totally subjective, which I think is the way it's supposed to be. The real story is about how Jesus is changing you and me. For that, He is to be loved, revered and worshiped.


Anonymous Bart said...

I liked this post. It was good fodder for thinking. I especially loved the analogy you dropped at the end.

5:59 PM  

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