Updated: Sep 2, 2021
It's that time of year when confusion often reigns. Or tendencies. Easter and Christmas get more attention than the other Christian feast days, thus the confusion seems more pronounced – though it is pretty much out there all the time. We tend to get confused about the nature of Jesus Christ. Or should I say the natures?
That's the thing. Jesus is the unique Christ, the unique Messiah of God. He is one Person with two full and distinct nature – a human nature, and a divine nature. Though we have trouble with this notion, these natures are not confused; they are not jumbled together; they are not partial (something like a cyborg – half man, half God – Jesus is not like that); they are not switched out from setting to setting (one minute he's God, the next he's a man). It isn't that he is only divine in nature and just appears to be human (like God is wearing a disguise that makes him look human). He is actually fully God. And, he is fully human.
This is a mystery, but our faith and the Church call us to uphold it as the Truth. There are other great mysteries of the faith as well – the Trinity, the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, what the Spirit does in Baptism, the divine and human authorship of the Scripture. And more, of course. There's always mystery when God is personally involved. And let's just say that with Jesus, it's pretty personal. But we moderns (or are we post-moderns) don't care much for mystery. We like nice, tidy, understandable explanations.
But come on now. When it comes to God, who are we fooling? Do we really think we can figure out the Infinite, the Almighty, the Eternal? Perhaps we can learn to tolerate a little mystery. At least, I hope so.
Which brings us back to where we started. Confusion at Easter.
There was an early heresy in the Church known as Docetism. This was the idea that God couldn't suffer. He didn't have passions, there was no “movement” in the nature of God. He didn't change. He was everlasting. He didn't, and couldn't, die. And material stuff was evil. God couldn't be involved with that mess. So the talk at the time was that if Jesus was really God, then he couldn't really have a human body. He just appeared to be human. He couldn't suffer and die. He just appeared to do so on the cross.
There was a similar notion called Adoptionism. In this view, God took on the body of some Jewish peasant, ministered His grace and power through him, but then abandoned him on the cross, leaving the frail human to die while the Divine remained unscathed.
You should know that the Church rejected both of these teachings.
But though I would never want you to forget the divine nature of Jesus Christ, at Easter I especially want you to remember his humanity. All of it. There were three early Eastern fathers of the church, collectively known as the Cappadocian Fathers, that stressed the full humanity of Jesus. He wasn't mostly human but lacking a human will (replaced with the divine Will) or a human mind (replaced with the divine Mind). He wasn't devoid of human emotions or human pain receptors. What the “Cap Dads” taught was that whatever of our humanity was not assumed by Jesus in his Incarnation could not be redeemed. If Jesus was lacking some aspect of our human nature (sin was not part of how we were originally made by God), then that part of what we are would be left unrenewed, unconverted, unredeemed – in short, still lost and under the devastation of our brokenness. If some part of what we are as human beings was not also in Jesus, then we were ultimately lost.
All to say – Jesus really suffered. Horribly. In every conceivable way: physically, emotionally, relationally, psycho-spiritually. He was betrayed, denied, and abandoned by his closest friends. He was mocked, scorned, and rejected by his own people. He was brutally tortured and hung on a cross to die an excruciatingly painful and agonizingly slow death. He was violated unimaginably by having all the sin of all humanity thrust upon and into his person. He knew the utter darkness of feeling abandoned by God.
Never forget his true and full humanity, because Jesus is a friend of sinners, a friend of the broken-hearted, a friend of the friendless and despairing. If anyone understands the pain you are going through, he does. And he offers Himself to you if you will have him. He is the greatest friend and the greatest comfort our souls can ever find.