One of the key beliefs Christians hold is that Jesus was 100% God … and that he was also 100% human. This may sound impossible or just theological-speak, but it is a core belief that “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…” (Col. 1:19).
Hebrews then goes on to describe Jesus as the “reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being…” (Heb. 1:3). In this verse, the words “exact imprint” come from the Greek charakter, which denotes a stamp or impress similar to what can be found on a coin. All of the features of the image look identical to the tool used to create it. That means that not only does Jesus look like God, God looks like Jesus.
That, it would seem, is the easy part. It’s relatively easy for Christians to believe Jesus was fully God.
The harder thing for Christians to actually believe – or maybe it would be better to say “acknowledge” – is that Jesus was fully human. We may say it as if we believe it, but do we grasp what that means? It means the fullness of God was contained inside a human body, warts and all. Jesus subjected himself to nine months in the womb of a human woman and allowed his brain to develop at the pace of a human being. He was born a normal baby – crying and all – and developed speech, the ability to walk, fine motor skills, and much more as he grew.
Stop for a second and see if your picture of Jesus allows you to view him as a two-year old toddler unable to pronounce his words correctly …
Jesus was “in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). He went through ALL the trials we will ever experience. God has actually, personally experienced all the temptations and frustrations we have or could ever experience.
That may be a hard idea for us to understand, but we are told Jesus went through everything we do and yet did not sin. Everything we have ever encountered or could ever encounter, he himself has gone through. God is not distant, asking us to accomplish something that can never be achieved. Jesus entered our mess and showed us a way to live that doesn’t remove the trials, struggles and challenges, but embraces them.
I think many people view Jesus a bit like a Greek mythological God-creature who comes to earth for a holiday. He pretends to be human by taking on a human-form, but really is just God playing dress-up. Nothing really affects him and he’d obviously be perfect in anything he did – super strength, x-ray eyesight, the works.
But Jesus is portrayed as fully human. Luke even says “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour” (Lk. 2:52). In other words, he grew and developed in a similar way to any human child. He gives his parents grief, feels pain and cries.
This is not Zeus on a holiday.
Everything about Jesus’ life shows that despite being fully God, Jesus also experienced all the doubts, trials, questions, and LIMITATIONS that we have because he was fully human.
If he was struck in the face with a fist, it actually hurt.
When he was tempted by Satan in the dessert, he actually was tempted and had to overcome this temptation.
When he prays saying he would rather not go to the cross if there were any other way, he meant it. He did not want to go through with this.
All of this introduces a picture of how we should look at the bible as well. The bible is not one of the members of the trinity and yet often times, we elevate it to something like this status.
The bible is the book Christians would all agree is inspired by God in order to reveal who God is, but did God come out of heaven holding golden tablets and hand them to the Pope?
No. He used us!
I can say with 100% certainty that every book in the bible was written by a human being. Not a human being without sin, like Jesus, but a flawed human being with their own environments, understanding, literacy levels, troubles, issues, concerns and hobbies.
We have a tendency to want to remove “humanity” from the equation because we recognize humans are flawed. This is why, for many of us, viewing Jesus as unable to properly add and subtract is incredibly difficult – we don’t want to think of him as “fully human”.
Although we may have issues with humanity, God does not seem to share our hesitancy. Our tendency to remove flawed people from the equation is surprising given the high value God seems to place on us. As Paul says;
“The whole creation, the entire cosmos, is on tiptoe with expectation to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own.” (Combination of Phillips Version & NT Wright paraphrase)
Not only are we included in God’s plan for creation, we play a key role; one that no other part of creation can fulfill. In fact, the bible goes as far as to claim that “through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10).
Humanity is something God places a very high value on and has a unique purpose for us in his creation.
A scan of the biblical narrative will quickly reveal that throughout history God has always been trying to partner with humans to do his work. For example, let’s start with Moses. God did not go speak for himself in the story of the Exodus. He sent Moses and told him; “See, I have made you like God to Pharoah” (1). God acted in Egypt through Moses.
After Moses, he chose Israel to be a nation of priests, people who would show the world what their God was like.
Finally in the new covenant, he makes us all his body. We, the church, are his method of working in the world. Rob Bell describes this very well;
“God needs a body. God needs flesh and blood. God needs bones and skin so that Pharoah will know just who this God is he’s dealing with and how this God acts in the world. And not just so Pharoah will know but so that all of humanity will know… This God is inviting these people to be priests, to show the world what this God is like through their lives. This God doesn’t need images in the form of wood or stone or marble, because this God has people. This God is looking for a body.” – Jesus Wants to Save Christians, pp. 31, 33-34
God accomplishes his plans for creation through humanity.
Now, if it were me, I’d see everything falling apart and quickly turn to an alternative plan. But God has no “Plan B”. He has only one plan for his creation to thrive. He’s committed. There is no turning back.
The church has advanced throughout history in the hands of this imperfection. God seems to relish choosing the “least of these” as his way to move his plans forward.
He chooses the youngest to outshine the oldest.
He chooses the foolish to shame the wise.
He chooses the weak to defeat the strong.
Quickly look at Genesis and notice how many times God’s chosen line flows through barren women. In this culture, women who did not bear children were not viewed in a very positive light. One Rabbi said that “any woman who doesn’t bear children is desecrating the image of God” (2). God’s selection of these women to do his work in the world is in very bold contrast to this dominant view of the day.
God does not want perfection. He wants people who are willing. And with willingness as the primary starting point, it shouldn’t be surprising that the people he worked with were far from perfect.
Did Moses do a perfect job of representing God to Pharoah, or then to the nation of Israel?
Did Israel do a great job of representing God to the world? As a nation of priests did they even come close to showing other nations what Yahweh is like?
Do we do a perfect job of representing God to our neighbours, our workplaces or even to our family members?
I think I can easily say the answer to all these questions is an unqualified “No”. And yet this is the way God has chosen to work. It is his “Plan A”; there is no “plan B”.
Now we finally get to the point of how this has anything to do with the bible. The bible may be best understood in the same way as the incarnation. It is 100% inspired by God, and 100% written by people. People who have limitations. People who cannot adequately represent God to the people around them because of these limitations. People with imperfections, opinions, world-views, interests, and perspectives of God. But none of these things are a hindrance to God. He will work with people in their limitations and seems to take great joy in doing so. In our weakness, his strength is more clearly shown.
This is why the bible may seem to contain (dare I say it) “flaws” in certain areas. Not because God did not know better, but because he uses humans as his penmen. If a semi-literate prophet is willing to be his mouthpiece, he will gladly speak through him or her, but don’t be surprised if the message is not 100% grammatically correct.
To acknowledge this “human” side of the bible does not diminish its divine status any more than acknowledging Jesus was 100% human and had to be potty-trained diminishes his status as fully God.
God inspires people within their culture, context, limitations, and abilities and these people work with what they know as they write down what God is saying to them. It is very rare that God will provide people with “super-human” talents in order to be used by him. He generally works with what he has and this does not diminish his work, but actually elevates it.
God inspired people to write, but he did not dictate the words. Inspiration is something that can be expressed in many ways, but it comes from a single source. A song writer and a painter may be inspired by the same thing, but the work they produce will be very different while still communicating the same message.
My belief is the writers were inspired to write God’s story, but God wanted it to be told in a language that would resonate with the audience they were reaching.
Because of this focus on communicating a clear message about what he was like, I would argue God is not the least bit concerned when his inspired authors state things in a way that has long since been proven to be mistaken according to our 21st century scientific worldview. Take for example how the writer of Job quotes God as saying;
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements – surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
Or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?”
– Job 38:4-11
This passage depicts God describing a very clear ancient cosmology. What that means is that in the Ancient Near East, people believed the cosmos consisted of a round, cylinder-shaped earth with waters below and waters above. When God created the earth, he drew back the waters and gave them boundaries where they could no longer pass. In doing so, he defeated the mythological monsters found in the sea (Rahab & Leviathan are examples of this) and set the pillars or columns of the earth in their place. The dry land is prevented from sinking into the sea by these foundations. The heavens reached down and touched the earth at it’s farthest edges where mountains acted as pillars that held up the firmament (raqia), a solid, inverted bowl that was over the earth, which contained the sun and stars and was coloured blue by the heavenly ocean above. There were windows (or floodgates) in this firmament that could be opened to send rain, snow, hail and any other precipitation.
The image below gives a summary of how the ancient near east viewed the world (3).
The same view of the cosmos can be seen in the Genesis 1;
“And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas.” – Genesis 6-10
Now, years later, we know this in fact is not the true picture of what our world and the cosmos looks like. The earth is round, there are no waters above the earth being held back and the earth and sky are not held in place by columns. But, here, in the bible, it is being spoken by God as if that were the case. I must ask, rhetorically, does that mean God got it wrong?
Of course not. He was communicating the message that God created everything we see and saying it any other way would have resulted in a message that would not have been understood by the original audience.
Communication always has two sides; the one who sends the message and the one who receives. One of the first rules of communications is that it is always the responsibility of the person trying to send a message to ensure it is sent in a way the receiver will be able to understand. This means using language the audience can understand. It means bringing yourself down to the level of the audience and using methods of communication they use regularly and will appreciate.
God is the one who pursues us and desires to communicate his eternal truths with us. Without his attempts to reach us, we would never even begin to know how to look for him. He works with us where we are and speaks our language; he does not require us to understand him fully in order to communicate. He is the one who initiates communication and is invested in ensuring it is properly understood. As noted, this means speaking in the terms we understand and condescending to our level rather than requiring us to learn new things in order to figure out the message.
When he inspired the poet who wrote Job, he inspired him within his own cultural context and cosmological worldview. To do otherwise would render the message unintelligible to its first hearers and it would never have survived to be in our hands today.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul tells us clearly;
“So with yourselves; if in a tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is being said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different kinds of sounds in the world, and nothing is without sound. If then I do not know the meaning of a sound, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.” – 1 Corinthians 14:9-11
If the things spoken do not make sense to the listener or reader, the two will remain disconnected, which is the exact opposite of what God is striving for with us. He desires connection, and so He speaks from within the worldview we possess. When he inspires people, he inspires them to speak his words from within human circumstances they will understand. He does not override their human abilities. He works with them and allows people under inspiration to control the inspiration.
Later in the same chapter referenced above, Paul makes another comment I believe is relevant here; “And the spirits of prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32). God works with us, he does not override us. That is how he works today and is how he worked with the writers he inspired as his penmen. He is the source of inspiration, but humans wrote the words and chose the best way to express what God had shown them.
As we move into the coming posts, we will see how God’s desire to reconcile us to himself results in him constantly coming down to where we are. Throughout the bible, God frequently comes down to the level of people and uses whatever method will work to gain our attention and draw us closer to a knowledge of who he is. God works with imperfect, un-refined, flawed, limited and incomplete things. It is part of his goodness – he does not expect or require perfection and that is a real comfort to me. He allows us to make mistakes and is seemingly not too bothered when we don’t get things quite right, but rather continually works to improve our image of who he is so we can better represent him to the people we come in contact with.
That is good news!
Coming Next: Revealing God or Revealing Culture
2. A Brief History of God
3. Concentric Circles
4. Jesus & Judaism
5. As It Was vs. As We Are
7. Revealing God or Revealing Culture? (pt1)
8. Revealing God or Revealing Culture? (pt2)
9. A Gradual Revelation (pt1)
10. A Gradual Revelation (pt2)
11. Checklist Time
12. Wrath + Love
13. The Vindication of God
14. Who is God & What is He Like?
(1) Exodus 7:1 – literal meaning was “you shall be god to Pharoah”
(2) Quoted from Greg Boyd’s sermon “Solo Mojo”; 2011-10-30, which can be read here – http://media.whchurch.org/2011/2011-10-30_Boyd_Solo-Mojo_transcription.pdf
(3) Image taken from: http://www.narrowgate-rmartin.com/theo10_classnotes/images/jtot_genesis_cosmology.jpg