Jesus: The God-Man Paradox
For those familiar with Christianity, as I assume most of my readers are, a central belief is that Jesus is both fully God and fully human. This has been official orthodox doctrine since the 5th century, and realistically it was the unofficial doctrine of the majority for most of the time in the 5 centuries beforehand. No, a bunch of people did not sit around a table a few hundred years later and make it up. Much of what developed as official theology in the first 7 centuries or so was already practiced, but since practice was always the point, it wasn’t codified until there was a scandal involved whenever a minority movement started saying something that the majority didn’t accept. The divinity and humanity of Christ was one of these topics.
For many this raises an obvious problem. How is that even possible? Specifically, many people think this is a logical contradiction. If God by definition is infinite, and humanity by definition is finite, then Jesus as fully God and fully human is both infinite and finite? That’s the same as saying that something is a and not a at the same time – a logical inconsistency. You can similarly use omniscience and limited knowledge, or omnipotence and limited power, or I’m sure lots of other things. To be fair, the church has rarely through history actually dealt with this, and just say “it’s a mystery”. I don’t think we need to resort to that cop-out.
The assumptions that underlie the seeming logical inconsistency need to be examined a bit more closely. I do not deny that God is infinite, nor do I deny that humanity is finite. I do not deny that God is omniscient and omnipresent, or that humans are not. But I wonder: is that the core definition of being God? Is that what we mean when we say Jesus is fully God? I don’t think so. If anything, it is stated in Scripture, and in most theologies since, that Jesus gave up those things to become human (for example, Philippians 2).
The problem is similar to when we say that humanity is created in God’s image but interestingly the question rarely comes up about this doctrine which is also very central. What do we mean by being in God’s image? If God is infinite, but we aren’t (I even just said we were created), then obviously if we are in God’s image we aren’t in that way. I’m guessing it is the “fully” that adds some challenge to the question when it comes to Christology.
I would still defend that Jesus gave up his infinite, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent nature to become human. And this isn’t a sacrificing of the “fully God” Jesus. God is those things, which are primarily aspects of power, but that doesn’t mean it is the defining characteristic of God. I think the defining characteristics of God are precisely what we see in Jesus and that we are called to be as image-bearers: love, peace, joy, self-control, patience, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness (Galatians 5:22-24). I think God, like us, is defined not primarily by her power but also by her character. Jesus exhibited these in his life and taught us to do the same, and therefore he is fully God. Jesus is also fully human, in a way that nobody else has succeeded to be since the fall of Adam and Eve. Again this isn’t a case of power – he exhibited great power including his own resurrection – but it is a case of character which Scripture also considers as a higher defining factor. He shows us what it is like to be fully alive, fully the creation we were made to be, filled with those fruits of the spirit I listed from Galatians.