Too human to be God?

  • Question from DN, United Kingdom

    In Luke chapter 7, verse 9 it says that “Jesus was amazed.” How can Jesus be “amazed”? Jesus as God should know stuff about people and therefore not be surprised by them.

    This is quite a complicated question to answer and has been since the earliest days of Christian theology. One of the big problems facing many early theologians was how to reconcile the assertion that the fullness of God was in Christ (to use Paul’s description in Colossians chapter 1, verse 19 and account for the ‘high’ Christology encountered in the first few verses of John’s gospel) with the obvious human-ness found in the gospel accounts. These thinkers wanted to avoid the idea that Jesus was only ‘pretending’ to be human (a heresy called docetism) and yet struggled with the idea that Jesus as God incarnate did not know some things, or felt physical pain and wept from the emotional pain of bereavement.

    One solution is the ‘two-natures Christology’. This was the preferred formulation to arise from the huge doctrinal debates of the fourth and fifth centuries. By saying that Christ was both fully God and fully human, theologians could attribute the supernatural things to Christ’s divine nature, while the awkward bits could be assigned to his humanity. The central criticism of this approach, recognising that it still forms the basis of orthodox doctrine concerning the Incarnation, is that it splits Jesus down the middle and while it explains why he could be supernatural one minute and all-too-human the next, it does not adequately explain why he acted one way in one situation and a different way a few minutes later.

    Another option, and one that has come into vogue in recent years, is ‘kenotic’ theology. This is based on the passage in Philippians chapter 2, where Paul describes Christ as ‘becoming nothing’ or ‘emptying himself’ (the Greek word is ‘kenosis’). This idea effectively explains why Jesus is so human, because the divine nature is somehow swapped for true humanity. The explanation within kenotic theology for the supernatural things Jesus did involves seeing Jesus as a ‘true human’ (in fact, the only real human being unmarred by sin since the prehistoric fall of man). As the ‘archetype’ of true humanity, Jesus is therefore in touch with God in a way that other human beings are not. Therefore it is only natural that God can work through him in supernatural ways. Those who follow him and are set free from sin are similarly ‘put in touch’ with God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

    Thanks for your question, DN.

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