Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection... (Hebrews 12:1b-2a)
Did Jesus have faith? If we can believe the words from the Letter to the Hebrews just quoted, there seems no question about it. Yet how few Christians (and I include translators of scripture among them) have been able to take this testimony at its worth. Instead, we have hedged around the subject, more often than not to the detriment of our own faith. A typical example sticks in my own mind.
Some years ago, an elderly aunt of mine who was broken in health and quite out of her senses had to be confined to a convalescent home. I attempted to console her daughter who was very upset and angry with God for allowing her mother to suffer so. When I tried to point out to her that her mother really didn’t seem to realize where she was, or even who we were, and that she (my cousin) was in fact suffering more than her mother, she couldn’t accept these remarks. So then I added, “But see what God allowed his own son to suffer on the cross! What did Jesus do to deserve that?” To that she replied, “Oh but that’s different, after all, he [Jesus] was God!”
Her response has been on my mind ever since. Did the divinity of Christ somehow diminish his sufferings? Or were his pains purely a physical ordeal that he had to go through, even while remaining secure in the certain knowledge that in a few hours his agony would be all over and that in a few days he would rise triumphantly from the dead?
If so, then I began to wonder just what relevance Jesus’ life and death really had to ours? Was it some kind of charade meant simply to reassure us with the certainty of another world beyond, and if so, why would it be necessary for God to actually become a human to give us this reassurance? Would not a prophet displaying a few miracles, perhaps raising a few more people from the dead, be enough? Or how about just someone returning from that other world now and then to remind us that there is another life beyond? All or any of these alternatives would seem good enough for me.
What about the millions upon millions of people in the world who find the Christian belief that Jesus was (and is) in fact God in human form to be a claim that is simply incomprehensible, if not blasphemous as well? Are they not, at least in some sense, correct? How can we make any sense out of the assertion that he is both fully God as well as fully man? We may feel put out by such attempts to stress the humanity of Jesus, as for example, Martin Scorcese’s infamous film based on the Kazantzakis novel, The Last Temptation of Christ. Many deemed it heretical, even if blasphemy was not intended. But does not our tendency as Christians to hedge around and avoid the full implications of his humanity, if not blasphemous, amount to heresy as well?
It is questions like these, and experiences like that with my cousin ¾who after that incident, lost two of her four children in tragic circumstances and who had to face a prolonged illness before her own death¾that have convinced me that for far too many Christians the belief in the true humanity of Jesus has been all but eclipsed by belief in his divinity. And with that eclipse has come the diminishment of our ability to appreciate and identify fully with what God has accomplished for us in Christ, including leading us personally in the path of faith.
If this overall approach still bothers some readers, I would suggest that perhaps they should read the final chapter (subtitled “A Christological Postscript”) first to decide whether it can be squared with Christian faith. Beyond that, I can only plead again the case of so many others who, like my cousin, have found little or no consolation in a divine Christ who dominates over humanity rather than suffers with us. It is to those like her, and perhaps even more, to those who struggle to help those in similar situations, which this book, which grew out of workshops and retreats based on my earlier book, Faith: Security and Risk, is dedicated.
Richard W. Kropf