11. Body theology

Ted Grimsrud—Purpose vol. 44, no. 7 (July 2011), p. 28.

Christians have tended to be much more concerned about their belief that Jesus is fully divine than that Jesus is fully human, though Christianity’s main creeds have insisted on both beliefs.

Christians have also tended to affirm participation in warfare—to the point that in the United States people who identify themselves as Christians are more likely to support war than non-Christians.

Is there a connection between these two points—the tendency to emphasis Jesus’ divinity over his humanity on the one hand and the tendency to support warfare on the other?

Clearly there is not a necessary connection. I know of many Christians who do downplay Jesus’ humanity and still are pacifists. And of course, many warists don’t believe in Jesus’ divinity.

However, I suspect that there is a connection in a general sense. The Christians who have been the least likely to support warfare tend also to have been Christians who pay closest attention to the actual words and deeds of Jesus. Those words and deeds, spoken and performed by a flesh and blood human being have always been the strongest bases for people saying no to violence.

It has always been a profound challenge truly to hold together in a sustainable way belief in Jesus as fully divine and fully human. Quite likely, parts of the New Testament itself were written to challenge Christians who tended to diminish Jesus’ humanity (most obviously the letters of John).

One key point, it would seem, is a human tendency to want to diminish our embodiedness. We tend to want to escape our physical existence, the flesh and bloodness, where we suffer and hurt and face our mortality.

I think Jesus’ point in his own teaching, echoing the Old Testament prophets, was that if we genuinely want to know God’s shalom, we must do know in the here and now, amidst the brokenness and suffering of flesh and blood, embodied life.

The genius of the message of Jesus as fully human and fully divine is not that it is a paradox or that it provides a doctrinal boundary marker that will enable the church to identify and eliminate heretics.

No, the genius is that this message states with clarity and force that God is here with us in our embodied existence. And that the way of peace that God Incarnate followed is the norm for all human beings.

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