Have you ever asked yourself this question: what do I have to believe about Jesus to be Christian? Do I have to believe that he was consubstantially fully human and fully divine? Do I have to believe in all the healing stories and the miracle stories? Do I have to believe that Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead? Do I have to believe that he died for my sins? Do I have to accept him as my personal Lord and Savior? Do I have to believe that he was sinless?
There was a time when I wondered if I could actually be Christian because I had all of these questions running through my head. And I’m sure that the more rigid, conservative or fundamentalist Christians would say, “Yes, you absolutely have to believe these things or you aren’t a real Christian.” In some people’s minds I’m sure I will never be a “real” Christian. And that’s ok. In my mind I am.
There are so many things we really don’t know about Jesus, but the one thing that seems certain is that he was an immensely influential individual who offered an alternative and expanded vision of God and that he spiritually uplifted and changed people’s lives. Because of this, we reason that the divine must have been present in Jesus in a very powerful way and we’ve spent centuries trying to figure out who exactly he was and how he got that way.
Just the debate about whether he was fully human, fully divine, or both, has raged from the beginning. It was those church fathers who wrote the Nicene Creed in the 4th century who eventually nailed down the doctrine that said he was both. But if we actually look at the scripture in a chronological order, we see how the divine aspect of Jesus elevated as the years went on.
About 28 years after Jesus’ death, Paul was writing to the Romans explaining how Jesus was “designated” the “Son of God” by his resurrection from the dead (Romans 1:4). For Paul, Jesus was fully human until his resurrection which bestowed divinity, Son of Godship, upon him. Now, if we look at the earliest gospel, Mark, written about 40 years after Jesus’ death, we see that Jesus was proclaimed the “Son of God” at his baptism when the Holy Spirit descended upon him and a voice came from the clouds saying “You are my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Moving to the Gospel of Matthew, written 5-55 years after Jesus death, we find that Matthew had the Spirit descend upon Mary, hence Jesus is the Son of God from his conception. And if we go one final step, the Gospel of John, written in the last decade of the first century, we find that the Word or Logos (aka Jesus) was with God from the beginning of time: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Fascinating, isn’t it?
Frankly, we could go around in circles debating the different aspects of Jesus, and we could find substantiating scripture for each argument. Personally, I don’t really care if he physically healed people or not, I don’t care if he was bodily resurrected or not, I don’t care if he was fully human and fully divine… none of those things affect my faith in what I understand God to be, and none of the answers to those things would make me stop following Jesus. Heck, they could find Jesus’ bones tomorrow and I would still preach about him.
In Philip Gulley’s new book, The Evolution of Faith, he describes Jesus as theotokos, a Greek word meaning God-bearer. Theotokos is usually ascribed to Mother Mary who “bore the son of God”. But what if we use the word to describe Jesus? What if we understand cut through all the endless debates about what exactly we need to believe about Jesus (because we really don’t have the answers anyway) and simply know Jesus as a God-bearer? He was one of those people (for there have been many) who bear the wisdom and experience of the divine to the people. They challenge the systems of oppression, stand for equality, work for justice. They are the prophets, the spiritual pioneers, the ones who give us an expanded vision of God.
All of us are called to be God-bearers (even Jesus said, “you can all be greater than I am”). We are all encouraged to get out of ourselves, to put our egos aside, to live with love and compassion, to live simply and not be so attached to things of this world, to be quick to listen and slow to anger, to be generous, to cultivate that peace inside that passes all understanding. It can take a lifetime to do this even when we’re working on it. But then there are those people who seems to have said “yes” more fully and easily to the divine presence within than the rest of us. They live in this time and space, but seem to also experience a spiritual realm that we only catch in glimpses.
Let me close with a quote by Philip Gulley:
“Who was Jesus? One whose awareness of the Divine Presence within him was so keen, and his response to the Divine Presence so full, that he was empowered to live and love so powerfully that those who encountered him were often made whole themselves and more fully equipped to say yes to that same Divine Presence that was also in them.”
Peace ~ Kaye