One of the more frustrating problems faith is trying to make sense of pronouncements that characterize realities that we cannot understand. In Christianity, a great deal of dialog, derision and good-old-fashioned blood-letting revolves around the concept that Jesus was at once both God and man. It is related to the problem of the Holy Trinity that was the most controversial issue in the Council of Nicea, and continues to divide the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
To critical onlookers this probably appears to be ludicrous ado about nothing, merely an attempt to layer a veneer of respectability over a huckster’s mumbo-jumbo. But to those that take the program of Christianity seriously, the mystery is a real problem. Jesus clearly expected us to be more. That is hinted by his repeated pronouncement “Your faith has healed you.” It becomes more explicit when he tells the disciples “there is nothing I do that you cannot do yourselves” leading him to observe peevishly, when waken on a stormy sea, “Oh ye of little faith!” And of course, ultimately he avers to his students “Things even greater than these shall you do.”
Clearly, Jesus’s expectation was that he was only an existence proof, not a singular phenomenon.
So how do we become like him? What is this faith? What power does it allow to enter into us? And as Jesus demonstrated, how do we establish a permanent and continuous living with and through that power?
The key, I believe, is clear through Jesus’s teachings. He began with parables that characterize the unconditional and infinitely forgiving love of the Father. At the midpoint, he simplifies the Law as “Love your God, and love your neighbor as though he was yourself.” And finally, in the great struggle in Gethsemane, he conquers the fears of the flesh and surrenders himself fully to his love of the world. And in his resurrection, his glory testifies to the authority earned in his remaking of heaven and earth through the mechanism of his sacrifice.
So he is God and Human. But why God? Why the best, most powerful God? What is it about love that is so powerful?
To understand this, we have to turn to the realm of the Almighty, where the ethereal host evolves under different laws of physics. What we know is that angels do not have flesh. They are souls living in pure relation. What is common between their realm and ours is that some of those relationship are beneficial, and some harmful.
Two forms of relation are particularly potent. First is the relation of Death, which creates insuperable barriers between the angels, preventing them from entering in relation. Although there is a certain restfulness in death, by its very nature its grasp is difficult to escape. The second is Unconditional Love, which seeks restlessly to maximize the benefits of relation. It is a force that helps angels escape circumstances that suppress their expression, liberating them into mutually beneficial engagements that generate new and unexpected possibilities. As we are told, liberated spirits facilitate the spread of love by “singing” its praises.
In the Book of Revelation, John is brought into Heaven. While Heaven is not the Realm of the Almighty, but reflects its dynamic. Around a throne occupied by Unconditional Love, twenty-four principal angels are gathered wearing crowns. When the living creatures sing the praises of love, the angels are compelled to lay aside their crowns and bow in praise to the one on the throne.
Why is this so? If so powerful, why should love sit on a throne, isolated from us, guarded in fact by fearsome predators? That is not its desire, as revealed in the final Chapters, where no light and no temple is found in the city of God because love has been woven into its very fabric.
The problem is that when offered power, we think first of ourselves. Trapped here in this physical existence, full of pain and struggle, we use our strength to compel others to serve us. We violate the compact of unconditional love. We corrupt it with “sin.” To become as Jesus, we must surrender our self-concern. We must think only of others, and trust that they will concern themselves with us.
This was the compact that Adam and Eve sundered in the Garden of Eden. Given the task of tending God’s kingdom on earth, they thought of themselves. God tried for many generations to overcome that sin, but the gap was too great between his perfection and our fallen state. Jesus came down to experience that fallen state, to struggle with its frailty, to have his compassion sharpened on the point of our daily peril. It was only in the intimacy of the disease that healing could be given.
So this is how Jesus was both God and Human: he was a one-way street. Through him, only love came. Impervious to self-concern, no sin went back the other way. And through the humanity of his courage, love gave those he encountered the strength to turn aside from fear and accept the healing power of love.
And finally, in his encounter with death on the cross, love suffused that presence and turned it into the agent of peace. Death is no longer a final separation, but an agent that brings surcease when fear pushes us into violence. Having submitted death, the Prince of Peace is capable of cocooning us in love until we recall our better selves.
So this is the answer: in submitting to the teachings of Christ, we become gods in loving one another, and thus receive from each other the power to bring good into the world, and thus experience good to the limit of our capacity.