I don’t believe Jesus is God. There. I’ve said it. That probably would have gotten me burned at the stake during the Inquisition. In fact, after I said this in worship yesterday a few folks wanted to know if one could still be Christian and believe that. I’ve struggled with that question myself, and have come to the conclusion that yes, I can be a Christian and not believe Jesus is God. Certain kinds of Christians I’m certain would disagree. But for me, being Christian simply means that Jesus and his teachings are the primary spiritual path we are following.
(To listen to the full audio version, click here.)
Let me unpack my comment a little bit.
To backtrack, the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE definitively answered this centuries old question of Jesus’ humanity and divinity by determining that Jesus was fully human and fully divine: “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God.” There were great reasons to declare this, not the least of which was that if you were going to institute a new state religion your new God had better be bigger and better than the last one. And ever since this has been the plumb line for “right belief” on the question of who Jesus was.
I’ve always had questions and doubts about some of this. I never really bought the Virgin Birth, though it’s a nice story to work with. I’ve never believed that God required Jesus as a perfect human sacrifice for our sins, in the same way that an ancient God might demand we throw a virgin in a volcano to make it rain. Jesus has not been the object of my worship. And, I have not used Jesus as an intermediary to God, nor prayed to Jesus.
I ask myself if Jesus wanted to be thought of as Divine, if he wanted to be worshiped. And the answer is always no. Jesus was always pointing beyond himself to God. What I think has confused people most is the number of times in the Bible where we hear that God was in Jesus and he was in God. For me, it is simply a very mystical way to say that we all have the divine spark in each of us.
It’s like this… have you ever used walkie-talkies? Well, to hear the other person you need to be on the same frequency, right? To use this metaphor, I believe that God operates at one frequency and that, we as human beings each operate at our own frequencies, but occasionally – through prayer, meditation, worship, a walk in the woods, an experience of love or just sheer grace – we bump into the frequency of God. If we’re really lucky we get to go with that for a little bit, but usually the world pulls us back out of that frequency. Still, while we are there we have a moment of clarity, communion, oneness with all of creation, awe, wonder, peace, love. Those brief moments are enough to keep us searching for more.
To continue the metaphor, I believe that Jesus simply operated at the God frequency the majority of the time. He was one of those special people who could stay connected regardless of what was going on around him.
I believe that Divine frequency flows through each of us. When Jesus says, “The words I speak are not spoken of myself; it is God, living in me…” (John 14:10) I believe that he was so tapped into the Source that he spoke with profound authority and wisdom. This may sound terribly conceited, though I say it with all humility, there have been times when I’ve finished worship and thought, “Wow, I have no idea where those words came from.” They weren’t planned, but they just flowed, and I would have a sincere feeling that it went better than I could have created on my own. That doesn’t happen all the time, but I get what Jesus is saying.
In moments when we connect with our Source, we are one with the Divine. Inasmuch as Jesus seemed to be connected to the Divine almost constantly, he was one with the Divine. He was in God and God was in him. And in that interconnectedness, there is also an understanding that there is no difference between any of us, we are all connected. We are all one.
So, here’s the kicker… Jesus was human AND Jesus was divine AND SO ARE WE!
In my opinion, the meaning of his life and ministry for us in the 21st century begins when we stop holding Jesus at arm’s length because, “he-is-God-and-we-are-merely-imperfect-humans-and-we-need-to-worship-him” box and wrap our heads around the fact that we are just like Jesus. In John 14:12, Jesus says, “If anyone has any faith in me, if you believe what I’m saying, then you must know that you can do the works I do and even greater.” Yes.
Given his connection with the Divine and the loving, compassionate, justice-filled way he lived his life, he is the greatest example we could ever have. And he has much more impact on our lives as an example and mentor than as a god.
There was a pastor who once said that “some people will tell you Jesus is only an example for how we should live, but anyone can be an example.” Baloney. Being an example does not diminish who Jesus was or is. We don’t find many people who are examples like him. I know I fall far short.
Jesus is an example of how to live out of a deep, intimate connection to the Divine whether we are at work, with our children, encountering someone who we don’t like, faced with the outcasts of our society, struggling with a love relationship, advocating for justice, or tempted by the desires, worries and fears of this world. No matter where he was, he sought to share the love of God and to transform lives through that love. We can do that, too!