Human and Divine: Jesus—and the rest of us??

7 Sep

This semester I’m teaching a unit called Who is Jesus?
It’s a good sized class and I am really enjoying them. I think they are enjoying the class too.
This week’s topic is ‘Human and Divine’ and it takes us right to the heart of Christology. Here’s an outline of what I am going to present.

To begin with I am inviting the class to think about what we mean when we say things like, ‘He’s only human’ or ‘You have to allow for the human factor’.
What do we mean by ‘humanness’ and by ‘divinity’ and do these very concepts create some kind of difficulty with the thought that a person might embody both? Where does that leave the rest of us?

We then look at a string of biblical passages to ask what they suggest to us about human-ness, and especially to challenge what we might mean by that term ‘human nature’. Genesis 1. 26f; Genesis 2. 4 – 7; Genesis 3. 8 – 4.1; Psalm 8; Psalm 104. 24 – 30; Romans 1. 16 – 23; Romans 7. 14 – 25; Romans 12. 1 – 8.
I want to evoke a recognition that humans are everything from sensual and sexual to creative, loving, with seemingly infinite possibilities, as well also as cruel, manipulative, greedy and destructive, and all that mixed in together. And what do we make of this ‘image of God’ aspect?

I will then introduce a phenomenological approach, describing through literature and story the nature of facticity. Our lives could be otherwise.
I will also spend some time presenting Paul Tillich’s immensely insightful account of human life under his concept of estrangement. We experience, in what he calls the ‘conditions of existence’, polarities which indicate that our existence is estranged. These tensions are dimensions of life which belong together, but we just can’t ever get it all together. For Tillich these are: individuality and community, freedom and destiny, and dynamics and form.
All this in human experience calls out for what Tillich calls ‘new being’ and this becomes the basis for his presentation of Christ, the New Being.

Tillich’s account of Jesus’ life as a human person sees him as experiencing and showing all the signs of finitude. The Christ appears to us in a genuinely personal life. If it is not so, then we have no basis on which to identify with him.
But in that human life, that finite life—a single person, in one place, of a particular race and gender, etc. etc., Jesus also experiences aspects of our lives such as loneliness, and temptation. It is crucial for him that the temptations of Jesus are real. And Tillich exegetes these temptations in terms of the alluring prospect of being ‘God’ without being human: for him, to escape the limitations of our life, and thus to give up on us, and on his calling to be the God-man.
But he does not. He combines in his life a continuous obedience to and responsiveness to God (ultimately in the cross), and this is how the polarities of our existence are overcome.
One of the great strengths of Tillich’s Christology is that he shows how Jesus offers a new humanity in his living, not just in his dying. He gives full and deep meaning to the life of Jesus, to his life-style, not just his death. But I hasten to add that he also gives full and salvific meaning to the cross—but that is for a later class.

The final segment of this class is spent on a very brief introduction of Rahner and Macquarrie on the subject of ‘transcendence’. This topic makes up the reading material for the tutorials. It’s exciting stuff, all this.

I have wondered if some of this may be a bit gloomy, in its picture of human life. In reading Macquarrie, I think not. He gives a helpful account of the positive background and purposes in these approaches.

I have personally gained so much from the existentialists and from Tillich. I consider that I am alive today because of the help I found in reading Tillich’s The Courage to Be when I was a seriously unhappy member of the youth counter-culture.
I wonder how the bright young people of this class will see all this. I look forward to finding out!

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