The early Church wrestled with the Christological controversies like their lives depended on it. The truth is that our lives (and salvation) do. Unless Jesus is fully God, we are not saved. Unless Jesus is fully human, we are not saved. The chasm created by our turning away from God (because it is God we have turned from) is impossible for any creature (human or angelic) to bridge. Only God can heal that divide. Hence, the savior must be fully God. The original offense – the turning away – is on our part. We are the ones who turned our back on God. We must be the one who makes amends. Hence, the savior must be fully human. The savior must overcome our prideful disobedience by his humble obedience to the Father. Jesus – fully God and fully human – did this.
For centuries the Church (guided by the Holy Spirit) wrestled this out and from this effort and inspiration was born the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds – guardrails to keep us on the way of truth. But guardrails are not the road nor are they meant to be. Guardrails serve their purpose by keeping the traveler on the right path and protecting the traveler from the misfortunes and the dangers of going off course. This is their purpose and the creeds do this but they do not answer every single question nor are they meant to. There is still so much more to learn and to be brought to deeper understanding on.
Being fully God and fully human, how does the savior overcome our disobedience by his obedience? Both in the emptying of his divine sonship and in the humility of his humanity, I believe.
Here, the Christ Hymn of Philippians 2 (a hymn sung by the first generation of disciples) is of critical importance.
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness,
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth
and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:5-11, NAB)
The glory of the divine Sonship is present in Jesus but it is an emptying presence. It is freely let go of. This letting go allows Jesus, in the humility of his humanity, the “space” to fully exercise his will in obedient response to the prompting and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit – who is the love of the Father and the Son – fully indwells within Jesus who is without sin. And Jesus (without sin) in the humility of his humanity continually and fully makes the choice to respond to the prompting and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
In this the salvation won by Christ is an exercise of his divine Sonship in the sense of continually emptying himself of the glory of God in order that in the humility of his humanity Jesus might authentically exercise that human obedience in which we failed.
To be fully human means to grow in understanding and therefore not always fully know and comprehend, to authentically exercise trust and faith even in the darkest and most despairing moments, to be guided by the Holy Spirit through one’s own prayer, scripture, worship and the Spirit speaking through other persons and circumstances. Jesus did all of this even to death on a cross.
The miracles of Jesus (the signs) can be understood then not as the exercise of the power of his divine Sonship in the worldly sense of “will to power” but rather the exact opposite – an emptying of his equality with God in order that in the obedience of his sinless humanity the Holy Spirit might fully work through him and now, through Christ, even in others. In the Last Supper discourse, before the promise of the sending of the Holy Spirit, Jesus says, Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these because I am going to the Father. (Jn. 14:12)
It is only in Jesus’ ascending to the Father, that the Holy Spirit (who had been fully indwelling in the Son) can now be poured forth upon and begin to dwell within us who have been washed clean through the obedience of Christ. Now the Holy Spirit can begin to work through us if we take on the same attitude that was in Christ Jesus. If we learn (through grace) willed self-emptying, then the Holy Spirit can move through even the humility of our own humanity and we can learn to hear and be docile (obedient) to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
In the self-emptying of his equality with God and in the humility of his humanity Jesus exercises the obedience that overcomes the effects of our original disobedience.
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.