How are we to understand Jesus as both divine and human?

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In Jesus, God surrenders divine presence into human form in an act of self-emptying called kenosis.

Great minds have struggled to get this right, so it's no wonder you and I have to wrestle awhile with the concept of incarnation. Theologians quite descriptively call it "the scandal of the particular": why would the Eternal choose to be time-bound, the limitless One to assume shape in space? As writer Annie Dillard points out, you and I are up to our necks in this particular scandal. How reassuring that God chooses to be here too. 

Jesus is Emmanuel or God-with-us. In Jesus, God surrenders divine presence into human form in an act of self-emptying called kenosis. This doesn't mean God loses divinity in the moment of incarnation; only that the prerogatives of divinity are freely suspended. 

We see how this works in Jesus' temptation in the desert. Hungry after weeks of fasting, it was possible for him to command stones to become bread. But the divine privileges that would preserve his life are precisely those that would nullify his humanity and render it a farce. Similarly, to be angelically protected from harm, or to exercise control over the nations, were things a God-man certainly could do. Jesus refrains from such indulgences not only in the desert that day, but more significantly in Jerusalem in his final days. Instead of turning stones into bread in Jerusalem, Jesus turns bread into his own self-sacrificing body. Instead of preserving his life and enthroning himself in Jerusalem, he allows his life to be seized and his body to be enthroned on a cross. 

Every way to get this idea wrong has been tried and promoted in history. The Arians declared Jesus a created being inferior to the Father. Docetists taught that the humanity of Jesus was basically a mirage. Adoptionists viewed Jesus as a Spirit-filled person whom God "adopted" as a divine son. The Monophysites insisted Jesus had only one nature after his birth. The Apollinarians imagined Jesus as without a human soul. Nestorians believed Jesus wasn't one person but strangely two: one human, one divine.

Incarnation embraces Jesus as the Eternal Word, the true and everlasting God. It also celebrates that Jesus shares fully and unequivocally in the reality of mortals, knowing family and friendship, weariness, rejection, pain, and death. Jesus is the meeting ground of heaven and earth, the reconciliation of every division. This is a precious understanding not to be compromised.

Scriptures: John 1:1-5, 14-18; 8:52-58; 1 Corinthians 1:21-24; Galatians 4:4-5; Ephesians 5:32; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-20; 2:2-3, 9-10; 1 Timothy 3:16


Books: Rekindling the Christic Imagination: Theological Meditations for the New Evangelization, by Robert P. Imbelli (Liturgical Press, 2014). On the Incarnation, by Saint Athanasius, with forward by C.S. Lewis (St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 2012).

Reprinted with permission from ©TrueQuest Communications.

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