The “Jesus as Both God and Man” Dilemma

Right off the bat I want to say there are things we humans will never understand completely. There’s no sin in trying, but if it concerns God’s ways we must concede limits to what we’re capable of comprehending this side of heaven. This can be frustrating when skeptics ask Christians difficult questions like: “If Jesus was omnipresent why didn’t He preach in several places simultaneously?” and “If He was omniscient why’d He say there were things He didn’t know?” We can construct an airtight case confirming the authenticity of the Scriptures citing indisputable archaeological evidence, scholarly research and referencing outside sources. But Jesus’ claims to be God transcend what solid data alone can tell us. Thus we must rely on common sense and reason (plus our Holy Spirit-fueled faith) to argue intelligently that Christ was both God and man. A good place to start is by showing that Jesus possessed the attributes of God as revealed in the Old Testament. Because on the surface it’d seem Christ hardly resembles the stern, jealous, wrathful God of Abraham. But, as most adults have learned, initial impressions can deceive. Therefore we must expend a bit of time and effort in order to arrive at the truth.

 

The majority of non-Christians won’t be swayed by things like the miracles Jesus performed. They’re likely to label His Resurrection “hearsay.” It’s worthwhile to note at this juncture there are folks who’ll steadfastly reject Christ until the Holy Spirit intervenes to open their eyes and ears. For them a “lightbulb moment” is necessary. But when it comes to fence-straddlers who are truly open-minded and willing to admit they just might be wrong about Jesus we believers find ourselves blessed with an opportunity to lead a soul to Christ. For those individuals the fact our Lord said He had the authority to forgive sin should give them a lot to ponder. Look, logic says if someone sins against me I have the right to forgive them. That’s a given. However, if a stranger shows up, butts in and tells the sinning party they forgave them for what they did (without consulting me first) it’d be an extremely presumptuous act on their part, no? But not if that person was God Almighty. That’s because sin, at its core, is a slap to the face of God and His laws. King David did some awful stuff to people around him yet he addressed God in Psalm 51:4 with Against you – you above all – I have sinned; I have done evil in your sight.” He was pleading God’s forgiveness. Skip ahead about 1,000 years and we find Jesus of Nazareth forgiving folks right and left. The Jewish bigwigs were appalled, saying Who is this man who is uttering blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?(Luke 5:21). As if His assertion of being God wasn’t enough, Jesus goes on to ask them Who among you can prove me guilty of any sin? (John 8:46). Even an agnostic admits only God is without sin. In my previous essay I proved Jesus wasn’t insane. Thus we must give credence to His bold, public claims of deity. For example, if one of your friends or family members said they were God you could cut them down to size in a minute simply by bringing up their sinful past. But the Pharisees were stumped. They had nothing on Jesus.

 

As I referred to earlier, we must address the “Omnis”. We know from reading the Old Testament that God’s omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. Yet we gather from the Gospels that Jesus didn’t come off as one having any of those characteristics. Not 24/7, anyway. To the man on the street He seemed to be “normal.” How could that be? Dr. D.A. Carson said, “These questions have no simple answers. After all, they strike at the very heart of the Incarnation – God becoming man, spirit taking on flesh, the infinite becoming finite, the eternal becoming time-bound. It’s a doctrine that’s kept theologians busy for centuries.” Some events in the life of Christ positively reflect His deity. His doing things like weeping for Lazarus reveal His humanity. Some smart-alecks say this dichotomy indicates Christ was schizophrenic but they’re only exposing their reluctance to get in the deep end of the pool where intelligent contemplation occurs. Some scholars propose that Jesus, while definitely one person, had two distinct minds. In other words, He had both an earthly mind and a heavenly mind. That idea deserves consideration. Another perspective comes from the Apostle Paul who wrote that Jesus, “…who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature (Philippians 2:6-7). Paul’s implication is that, by “emptying himself,” Jesus became “everyman.” But, if so, He’d no longer be God and therefore He’d be unable to display any attributes of God. Attributes and reality go hand-in-hand. Therefore if Christ looked and acted like a man, doesn’t that indicate He was just that? I mean, if a creature quacks like a duck and waddles like a duck it’s a duck, by golly.

 

This conundrum has, understandably, generated tons of speculation. Some say Christ didn’t empty Himself of his attributes but only the use of His attributes. However, that doesn’t explain how He was able to forgive sins, an indispensable attribute of deity. Other experts opine He merely emptied Himself of the independent employment of His Godly attributes. That He functioned as God only when His Father’s will allowed Him to. Yet doesn’t that deprive Him of His uniqueness? He said, “…I always do those things that please him (John 8:29) but there’s no record of Him pausing every time to ask permission before performing miracles and healing the sick. The bottom line is that Paul never explained precisely what it was the Messiah emptied Himself of. It could be the wise Apostle knew better than to attempt to explain the inexplicable. As Lee Strobel wrote, “If the Incarnation is true, it’s not surprising finite minds can’t totally comprehend it.” So, while Jesus didn’t regularly exhibit omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence per se, the proven-reliable New Testament clearly states He was in possession of all those attributes. I don’t mean to spout clichés but one either trusts God’s Word or not.

 

If you believe Jesus is God it follows you believe He’s always existed. But the Scriptures tell us Christ was the “…only begottenSon of God (John 3:16) and that He’s “…the firstborn over all creation (Colossians 1:15). Those verses make it sound like He was created, no? Slow down. The former is a translation problem. The original Greek term means “unique one”, not someone who’s been ontologically sired in time. In the case of the latter, firstborn was a legal designation that primarily had to do with succession. The firstborn male inherited all the rights of the father. 2,000 years ago the word firstborn had little to do with being born so its connotation in modern lingo is misleading. Experts consider “supreme heir” to be more fitting. Plus, if we read on a bit further, we find Paul stating of Jesus, For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form (Colossians 2:9), confirming he harbored no doubt whatsoever about Jesus’ eternalness. Some skeptics point to Mark 10:18 as an example of Jesus’ denying His divinity (it’s where He responded to a fellow who’d casually addressed Him as good teacher and then asked Him how he could inherit eternal life). Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” But, since Jesus had proclaimed Himself absolutely pure, it’s unlikely He thought He wasn’t a good man. Don’t overlook that in other parts of the New Testament He’s called “sinless,” “holy,” “righteous,” “innocent,” “undefiled” and “separate from sinners.” So contextually it’s more plausible Christ was questioning the questioner’s sincerity. Notice He didn’t say “Don’t call me that.” Rather it’d seem He was trying to make the guy seriously consider what he meant by good as well as the profundity of what he was inquiring about.

 

Critics also cite John 14:28 wherein Jesus is quoted as saying, “…the Father is greater than I am and pose the query, “Doesn’t that mean Christ was a lesser God?” Once again they’re taking something out of context to suit their fancy. In the verses leading up to this one Jesus’ disciples have been expressing their displeasure over their Master’s announcement that He’s going away. The complete sentence includes Jesus saying, If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I am.” In light of what He’s proclaimed and demonstrated to them about Himself it’s much more likely He’s saying they should be elated He’s returning to the glory that’s properly His and to the realm where He literally is greater. In John 17:5 our Lord prays, And now, Father, glorify me at your side with the glory I had with you before the world was created.” What Jesus isn’t saying in verse 28 is “The Father is greater than I am because He’s God and I’m not.” The comparison He’s making only has merit if He and the Father are already on the same plane but that there are necessary (albeit temporary) limitations involving the Incarnation miracle in play. Understand that Jesus knows He’s headed for the cross where He’ll suffer physical death. He also knows He’s about to return to the Father and the glory He had with His Abba before the universe began so He’s telling His disciples they should be happy for Him because He’ll successfully finish His mission soon and get to go home.

 

Many folks justify their rejection of Christ by saying something along the lines of “I can’t believe a loving God would create a person knowing full well they’ll end up in hell.” They know the Bible teaches that Jesus is God but also that He never shied away from preaching about hell so they put two and two together and pronounce Jesus’ kind and compassionate persona a cruel hoax. However, they’re refusing to acknowledge the severity of the core problem – sin. Let’s review: God creates man and woman in His image. God provides everything they could possibly need. They enjoy mutual love and fidelity so the first couple’s relationship with God is perfect. But eventually it’s not enough. (It never is.) Adam and Eve want more. They invite sin and rebellion in to liven up the party. They start thinking the universe rotates around them instead of God and everything tumbles downhill from there. War, injustice, envy, resentment, pride and bigotry take over and spiritual angst becomes the norm. God’s rightfully disgusted because He hates the sin that’s so thoroughly corrupted the children He adores. Now, if there was no moral judgment involved wouldn’t that mean God doesn’t give a hoot about sin? Or us? Why not just flick the planet out of orbit and write us off as hopeless ingrates instead of doing everything He can to save us from ourselves? Get this: Hell’s not a destination for people God decided not to love. It’s for those who want more than anything else to dethrone Him and be God. The God of their life, of their family, of their career. Ironically, their wish gets granted and they’re allowed to be their own God forever. Alone. Dr. Barry Bailey once preached, “I can’t imagine a worse hell than spending eternity with no one but myself for company.” Carson mused, “What’s God to do? If He says sin doesn’t matter to Him, God’s no longer a God to be admired. He’s either amoral or positively creepy. For Him to act in any other way in the face of such blatant defiance would be to reduce God Himself.” No justice, no peace.

 

The idea God would banish a soul from His presence for all time to come bothers some Christians. They’d prefer He give the damned just one more chance at redemption after they’ve gotten a taste of hell. Again, it depends on what hell really is. Some folks actually desire eternal isolation! Then there are those who think this world’s hellish enough as is. There’s a sizeable amount of truth in that statement but I also believe that if God were to ever completely remove Himself from this planet and let mankind’s wickedness run amok without restraint the hell we’d create would shame the devil. But God isn’t finished with this world. Contrary to popular belief He’s still in control. He’s told us through His Holy Word that in the end not only will His justice prevail but His justice will be seen to prevail and“…every knee will bow before the Lord (Philippians 2:10). It’ll be obvious to everyone. Therefore all arguments about whether or not He’s just will cease to have purpose. Carson said, “At the time of judgment there’s nobody in the world who’ll walk away from that experience saying that they’ve been treated unfairly by God. Everyone will recognize the fundamental justice in the way God judges them and the world.” Hardly a day goes by without something happening somewhere that we unanimously deem unfair. But on the glorious day when Christ returns (and His unblemished, shimmering righteousness overwhelms our puny senses) justice will not only be done but no one will say “No fair!

 

There are those who surmise since Jesus didn’t rail against the morally abhorrent practice of slavery He isn’t the perfect, merciful and loving God we’ve made Him out to be. History shows that slavery was common in His era. The Romans had slaves. Middle class Jews owned them. Even the High Priest had them. One snarky know-it-all wrote, “If Jesus had denounced slavery or promised liberation, we should almost certainly have heard of his doing it. We hear nothing, so the most likely supposition is that he said nothing.” Well, I hate to sound like a broken record but once again proper perspective is essential to gaining understanding. The ugly-but-true fact is that every major world culture up until about 250 years ago, without exception, condoned slavery. Some of it resulted from military conquests but mainly it served an economic function. While there was nothing attractive or desirable about being a slave it frequently was the only option available for a person to keep from starving to death. Unlike the horrible scenario of the inexcusable North American version, for eons slavery was something desperate folks entered into voluntarily. And it must be emphasized that Jesus’ mission had nothing to do with overhauling economic or political systems. Slavery was just one item in a long list of society’s ills. He came to free all men and women from the bondage of sin. He came to change people from the inside out so they’d begin to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and start loving their neighbor as themselves. Truth be known, He preached a permanent solution that would’ve stopped slavery dead in its tracks. Only by mankind’s acknowledgement of Christ as king can we overcome the scourge of racism because, as Paul told the church, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

 

When it comes right down to it how God became a flesh-and-blood man is and will remain a mystery because there’s no precedent and there’ll be no repeat performance. So it’s a matter of trusting in the one who proved His trustworthiness by dying for all of us on the cross. In John 14:7 Jesus said, If you have known me, you will know my Father too. And from now on you do know him and have seen him.” Did Christ display the attributes of the Heavenly Father found in the Scriptures? Indeed He did. Strobel wrote, “The Old Testament paints a portrait of God by using such titles and descriptions as Alpha and Omega, Lord, Savior, King, Judge, Light, Rock, Redeemer, Shepherd, Creator, giver of life, forgiver of sin, and speaker with divine authority. It’s fascinating to note that in the New Testament each and every one is applied to Jesus.” But in the midst of all this postulating about Christ we believers must never overlook the jaw-dropping, unconditional love of the Father He illustrated so plainly in His scandalous parable of the Prodigal. The late Brennan Manning “got it.” He wrote, “Jesus is the human face of that suffering, loving, forgiving Father.” Me? I don’t have questions. I have trust.

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