In the 4th century a guy called Arius had trouble with thinking of Jesus as divine. He argued that since there is one God, both Jesus and the Father couldn’t be God. And Jesus, being the one who got hungry, thirsty, tired, etc was the one to get ousted from divine status. (OK, so this is the Tamie paraphrase, but you get the picture.) One of the other guys, Athanasius got himself all upset about this because, he claimed, Jesus had to be God – the lifegiver, creator, etc. – in order to be the one who, through his death and resurrection, gives life to the dead and sets free those who are slaves to sin. i.e. all of us. No mere human can give life, so no one less than God himself is equal to this task. So far, so good, we’re convinced that Jesus is ‘mighty to save’ and the ‘King of Majesty’. No worries.
However, by the next century, some Christians had so emphasised Jesus’ divinity that it seemed that his humanity was insignificant. Perhaps Jesus was God in a human body they argued – like some kind of divine brain transplant had happened? Or maybe he had two natures that alternated, kind of like the Goa’uld in Stargate for the SciFi buffs amongst us. They had a big council at Chalcedon in 451 to sort it out and affirmed that Jesus was of one nature with God AND one nature with humans.
But why does it matter? Why do Christians need to keep both together? Well, for a start, because Jesus’ death was actually doing something. What? Well, he was bringing life, which only God could do, but he was paying for human sin as well, which only a human could do. He had to be both. Here’s how Leo I (the bishop of Rome at the time) put it:”the characteristic properties of both natures and substances are kept intact and come together in one person, lowliness is taken on by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity, and the nature which cannot be harmed is united to the nature which suffers.”
And all this, that we might have a mediator, the ‘one and only Son’ whose divine nature co-exists, without change, confusion, separation or division, with his human one. His humanity means he understands our afflictions and sufferings; his divinity means we can be confident of his power to act. We must not lose sight of Jesus’ humanity, that he is still our great high priest and representative, for, as Athanasius put it, “What is not assumed is not redeemed.” It is by Jesus’ very incarnation as human that he, the divine Word, is able to raise us to life and eternity with him.
If we are truly to worship Jesus for who he is, we must worship him as he truly is: both divine and human. As we sing about Jesus who is ‘Majesty’ and our ‘Awesome God’ we must also remember Jesus our mediator:
What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.
Let us affirm that our hope rests ‘In Christ alone’: fully human and fully divine. It seems difficult to do at times. After all, this is merely a description, not an explanation of something that seems almost incomprehensible. Indeed, Jesus is “incomparable, unchangeable”. However, as I’ve reflected elsewhere, there is great comfort in saying to God, “Your thoughts are higher than mine.”
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.