Monday, March 11, 2013

The Humanity of God

The experience of Jesus of Nazareth is the experience of God...

It should not be taken for granted how difficult, and yet how necessary, it is to say such a thing. The complexity of claiming that something unconditional, something infinite, can be somehow conditioned by the experience of a finite human being is unavoidable. Such a claim can only be made in the language of paradox - God is one and another. It can only be claimed through the affirmation of the divinity of the finite human being, Jesus. If it is not claimed, then the experience of Jesus is relegated, at least in part, from the experience of God as the experience of one is relegated from that of another (even in the strongest forms of empathy). But if God is one and another then the experience of the one is wholly and unconditionally that of the other. The experience of God is the experience of Jesus of Nazareth. The experience of Jesus of Nazareth is taken up into the experience of God. There is nothing in Jesus that is "all too human" for God to experience it, and yet there is nothing in Jesus' experience that is not the experience of a human. Jesus is authentically human and authentically divine - one with God, in unconditioned and unfragmemted trinity.

Whatever is assumed in Jesus is assumed in God and " is what is united to his divinity that is saved. . .” (Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101).

Our preconceived theistic notions often compel us to protect God from the experience, particularly from the torture and death, of Jesus. In the gnostic tradition, for example, the concept of divinity was such that God was incapable of any kind of suffering... so the 'laughing Jesus' tradition was conceived. The way some resolved the problem of Jesus on the cross was to say that Jesus, who was indeed divine, was not actually crucified. Rather, at the last minute before the crucifixion, Jesus traded places with someone else and watched the authorities crucify this other person, laughing at them for thinking that they could ever crucify God... Such a revision of the crucifixion narrative would be received as absurd by just about any Christian today, but we have made similar theological maneuvers. The concept of penal substitutionary atonement is a pervasive perspective in Christian orthodoxy. One piece of this perspective says that Jesus died to appease the wrath of God against humanity and that God, when Jesus was experiencing crucifixion, was turning 'his face away' from Jesus, abandoning the human Jesus on the cross. God can't suffer such a human death, we say, so we relieve God of the experience as the man Jesus is tortured unto death.

While we should indeed make a claim that Jesus did indeed experience Godforsakenness, that God did abandon Jesus, we can only make such a claim in a strictly paradoxical way. Of course Jesus is forsaken by God, that is, he journeyed to the deepest darkness of Godforsakenness so that there would now be nothing and no experience which stands outside of God's redemption - even that of alienation from God. Now, in Jesus, God is present with us and for us even in our abandonment. But if such abandonment is not taken up into the experience of God, it cannot be healed. The Godforsakenness of Jesus is experienced by God so that redemption might come.

In our attempts to protect God from crucifixion, God says to us, "sheath your sword... shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" (John 18:11). We fear, in the same way that Peter feared, that God will somehow be lost in crucifixion, that divinity will be lost in human experience. But what Jesus reveals to us is a God, a savior, like none we might have expected - the God who does not exploit divinity but becomes a servant to creation (Phil. 2:6-11). Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15) who shows us that it is not below God to be in communion with us. If we want to know what God is like, we need look no further than Jesus of Nazareth, the helpless man on a cross who has resurrection for his future. Such a claim is not easily made, but it must be made and it is made.
...neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

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