I’ve started working on the dissertation as part of my MTh, and this has led me to think a lot about Christology – the study of the person of Christ.
I count it the highest privilege to spend my time thinking about Christ. When I did a PhD in maths (far too many years ago!), I spent 3 years thinking about one single set of coupled nonlinear ordinary differential equations that arose in the field of Chaos Theory. It was interesting, but in the big scheme of things, who really cares?
But now I get to think about the two greatest things in the universe – Jesus, and the Trinity.
But the more I think about Jesus the Christ, the more paradoxical he becomes.
There was a church council back in AD451, the Council of Chalcedon – don’t nod off! – which basically set the parameters within which one may speak of Christ and not be a heretic. To sum up: Chalcedon said – he is one Person – the eternal Son of God , but with two natures – a divine nature, and a human nature. And He is fully divine, and fully human. He’s not half-and-half. He’s not a weird composite. And he’s not two persons.
Seems straightforward enough. But as soon as you get down to the nitty gritty, problems emerge.
Let’s take an example: God’s omniscience = He knows everything. Whereas you and I can only hold one or two things in our minds at once, and we have to go from one idea to the next, to the next, and so on – God is not like that. He knows everything – past, present, future – all in a single act of knowing.
So, how does this look in the life of the fully divine Jesus?
Surely it must mean that even as baby, while Jesus was having his nappy/diaper changed by Mary, he was considering the events of the Battle of Hastings, the novels of Jane Austen, and the intricacies of quantum physics.
Surely it must mean that as he wandered round Galilee, he was immediately aware of every thought of every person around him? Indeed – all their past and future thoughts too!
And so on. Surely it must mean that he had a perfect vision of heaven at all times? Thomas Aquinas I think taught basically that. Whereas the Christian believer will experience the so-called “beatific vision” of God at death, Aquinas I think taught that Jesus must have had this permanently, from the moment of conception. He also taught that when Jesus got up very early in the morning, while it was still dark, and went off on his own to an isolated place, to pray to his heavenly Father, he didn’t really need to do that. He was just modelling for us mere mortals the importance of prayer. Yeah, right.
But what kind of authentically human person is this? Isn’t this just “God in a spacesuit”? The eternal Son, the second person of the Trinity, dons human nature to save us, rather like an astronaut dons his spacesuit to complete a repair to the spacestation.
Surely to be fully and authentically human is by definition to be finite in your knowledge – in other words – ignorant? And it is to grow and develop, and be tempted, and suffer, and change. And die.
So if Jesus is to be fully human as Chalcedon insists, he must be ignorant of things. He must grow, not just physically, but in knowledge, and wisdom. Luke’s gospel chapter 2 shows us that this is what happened with the boy Jesus. Mark chapter 13 shows us Jesus ignorant of the time of the end – only the Father knows.
Had I heard these things a year ago, as a good evangelical I would have been running from the room shouting “Heretic!” I think I have more or less suffered with a “Jesus is God in a spacesuit” outlook, ever since I became a Christian.
So how does it all work? Jesus as fully divine must know all things. Jesus as fully human does not know all things. Go figure.
Jesus as fully divine is omnipresent – everywhere. Jesus as authentically human is limited to his own body. Go figure.
Isn’t this just mumbo-jumbo? Some of the early church fathers even seemed to take a perverse kind of delight in saying (ridiculous?) things like “the immortal God dies”, “the impassible [unable to suffer] God, suffers”. As if to rub our noses in the nonsensicalness of it all!
Many modern theologians have given up on trying to make any sense of it. They have done this by trying to dismiss talk of “human nature” and “divine nature” as Greek metaphysical speculation, an early intrusion into genuine Christianity.
Is there any way to make any progress without just giving up?
We have to be clear – we will never truly understand how Christ can be fully divine and fully human – it is a paradox that is beyond the capacity of our feeble brains. But, on the other hand, God whose image we bear, has given us our brains, and the human brain is pretty awesome. He still means us to think hard about these things. Surely that’s part of loving the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, MIND, strength?
Well, there’s a few ideas that are just beginning to make a tiny bit of sense to me in terms of grappling with it all. Spirit Christology is one, and Kenotic Christology a related other.
But I’m going to leave you in suspense right there … I can see you now, on the edge of your seats!