It is too often the case that when people talk about the divinity of Jesus, they imply that his divinity either overwhelms, supplants or destroys his humanity. Often, in fact, people will defend their devotion to the saints because they are “not God like Jesus is.” Well intentioned, it is a way of speaking that too easily undermines a central tenant of the Christian faith: that being fully God, Jesus is also fully man.
This problem was the subject of many intense theological debates over the early centuries of the Church and still plague us in the context of certain modern questions. The issues surrounding this are: If God becomes man, what of man remains? Does the divinity in any way replace the human? Does the human in any way limit the divinity?
To answer this problem, the Fathers of the Church developed a principle that helped guide our understanding of Jesus: “That which is not assumed is not redeemed.” If there is anything of our humanity that Jesus does not possess, then that aspect is not redeemed. If he has no body, the body is not redeemed; no will, the will is not redeemed, etc. If there is an aspect of our humanity that is not redeemed, then Jesus did not really accomplish what he set out to accomplish. If Jesus has not accomplished our salvation, then we are still in our sin, and more pitiable because of it.
Perfect harmony and communion
It is for this reason the Church confidently affirms the full humanity of Jesus and applies the following principle when speaking about Jesus’ humanity and divinity: The humanity of Jesus in no way limits his divinity, and his divinity in no way overwhelms, destroys or sublimates his humanity. They are in a perfect harmony and communion. The divinity dwells in his humanity as the burning bush appeared to Moses: It was aflame but not consumed or destroyed. The divinity is always greater, but never in a competition with creation. No, God himself is always seeking to lift creation to its perfection.
Thus we must affirm that Jesus does have a humanity exactly like ours. He has a body, soul, mind, memory and will just like ours. If we believe that the divinity being united to humanity in some way makes us less human or less ourselves, then it betrays an unbiblical view of God. The biblical view, definitively revealed in Jesus, demonstrates that humanity is most itself when it is closest to and rooted in God.
There is one thing we have that Jesus lacked: sin. “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin” (2 Cor 5: 21). We might respond to this by saying: “This makes him difficult to relate to” or “Then he really isn’t like us, then.” But instead of the earlier error of overemphasizing the divinity to the neglect of his humanity, we now fall into the opposite error of over emphasizing his humanity to the neglect of his divinity. It is because of sin that we are, in fact, less human!
Sin destroys the image of God in which we have been made, it makes us subject to corruption and death and it dulls our mind towards God. But if God is the source of our dignity, freedom and identity, it follows that the more God is present, the more human we are. In Jesus we find God most relatable because he is most human. When we buy into the idea that Jesus is difficult to relate to because he is without sin, we are giving power to the forces of sin and death and see God in a competitive, instead of perfecting, fashion. The humanity of Christ is of supreme importance because it shows us both what true humanity looks like and gives us a pattern and way to follow, but it also is in the humanity of Jesus that we are born into a redeemed humanity. Without this humanity, we have no hope of eternal life, because it is in the humanity of Jesus that we are truly alive.
Father Harrison Ayre is a priest of the Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia. Follow him on Twitter at @FrHarrison.