Why it matters that Jesus was and still is human

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The importance of Christ’s humanity

There is a doctrine inherent in Christology that some Christians have difficulty fully grasping: the abiding humanity of Christ. It seems to be believed that the Son of God came down from heaven in incarnate form, spent three decades in the body of a man, and then returned to heaven to return to the state he was in before his incarnation.

However, this is a Christological error, not to say pure heresy. The Son of God clothed himself in humanity, from which he will never depart. He became man and will remain so forever. This is also the meaning of the doctrine relating to the ascension of Christ, that is to say, that he ascended to heaven in the very body that rose from the tomb, reflecting his full humanity. Of course, he is and always has been God as well. However, his humanity, now that he has put it on, will never end. In Christ, as the Heidelberg Catechism says, “We have our flesh in heaven” (Q. 49).

Here is an implication of this truth concerning the abiding humanity of Christ: When we see the feelings, passions, and affections of the incarnate Christ toward sinners and the afflicted, as communicated to us in the four Gospels, we see who Jesus is for us today. The Son did not return to the disembodied divine state in which he existed before becoming incarnate.

And the body that the Son took on was of true and integral humanity. Indeed, Jesus was the most truly human person to have ever existed. Ancient heresies like Eutychianism and Monophysitism led some to view Jesus as a cross between humanity and divinity, a unique being belonging to another category that lies between God and man – heresies that were condemned at the fourth ecumenical council of Christianity, which was held in the year 451 in Chalcedon (in present-day Turkey). The Chalcedonian Creed that resulted from this council speaks of Jesus as being “truly God and truly man”, rather than reducing him to a mixture of the two. Everything that is included in being human (and being human without sinning), Jesus was and still is. However, emotions are an essential part of every human being. Of course, the fall tainted our emotions, as it did all dimensions of fallen humanity. Emotions, however, do not arise from the fall. Jesus experienced the full range of emotions that we experience ( Heb. 2:17; 4:15 ) . As Calvin explains: “Just as the Son of God clothed himself with our flesh, he also willingly clothed himself with our human feelings, so as not to differ in anything from his brothers, with the sole exception of sin. 2 . »

The Emotions of Christ

BB Warfield (1851-1921), the great Princeton theologian, wrote a famous essay in 1912 entitled “On the Emotional Life of Our Lord.” In this essay, he explores what the Gospels reveal about the inner life of Christ, what Warfield calls his “emotional” life. Warfield does not mean what we often mean by the word emotional – that is, unbalanced, reactionary, and driven by unhealthy feelings. He is only pointing out what Jesus felt. In reflecting on Christ’s emotions, Warfield often emphasizes the fact that his emotions emanate from the depths of his heart.

So what do we see in the Gospels about the emotional life of Jesus? What does a godly emotional life look like? It is on the one hand a perfect inner life in terms of balance, proportion, and control; but which on the other hand also nourishes deep feelings.

Then he goes on to cite specific examples of Christ’s compassion. Each time, he wants to help us see that Jesus did not just perform works of compassion, but that he felt inner turmoil and seething emotions of pity towards those most in need. When the blind, the crippled, and the afflicted implored Jesus for help, “his heart moved him to have deep pity for them. His compassion was translated into a concrete act; but what the term used to express our Lord’s response highlights is […] the deep inner turmoil of his emotional nature4. » The fact, for example, of hearing the supplication of the two blind men wanting to recover their sight ( Mt 20.3031 ) or of the leper wanting to be cleansed ( Mk 1.40 ), or simply of seeing (without hearing a supplication) a widow in distress ( Luke 7.12 ) “moves the heart of our Lord full of pity5”.

On each of these occasions, the Bible says that Jesus is moved by the same inner reality ( Mt 20:34Mk 1:41Luke 7:13 ). The Greek word used is splanchnizomai, which is often rendered “to be moved with compassion.” This word, however, evokes more than a passing pity; it designates a depth of feeling according to which our feelings and our desires stir our insides.

See Jesus through his compassion

Warfield is particularly insightful, however, when he discusses the importance of compassion in our understanding of Jesus’ identity and the nature of his emotional life. Throughout his essay, Warfield reflects on the fact that Jesus is the only perfect human being to have lived on earth. And he comes to ask himself this question: How then are we supposed to understand his emotional life, and an emotion like compassion? What it helps us see is that Christ’s emotions surpass ours in depth, because he was both fully human (as opposed to a cross of divine and human) and perfect.

An example might clarify things. I remember walking the streets of Bangalore, India, a few years ago. I had just preached at a church in town and was waiting to be picked up. Just outside the church grounds stood an elderly man, apparently homeless, sitting in a large cardboard box. His clothes were torn and dirty. He was missing several teeth. And the most disturbing thing about him was his hands. Most of his fingers were partially chewed off. It was obvious that they had not been damaged by injury, but simply eaten away over time. He was a leper.

What happened in my heart at that moment? In my fallen and wandering heart? Compassion. A little, at least. But it was lukewarm compassion. The fall caused the ruin of my entire being, including my emotions. Fallen emotions not only cause us to react with outrageous impiety, but they can also blunt our reactions. Why did I feel so little sympathy for this poor man? Because I am a sinner.

What could it mean for a man without sin and with perfectly healthy emotions to look at this leper? The sin in me has restricted my compassion; what could constitute having unrestricted compassion?

Now, this is precisely what Jesus felt. Perfect compassion, unadulterated by anything. What would such compassion look like in him? What would perfect mercy look like, announced not by a prophetic oracle as in the Old Testament, but by a real human being? What if this human being were still human, though now in heaven, and looked upon each of us spiritual lepers with undiminished compassion, overflowing affection not limited by the godless self-centeredness that restricts our compassion?

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