God, Man and Jesus

2022 Nov 26

Jesus was a man that was born, spent a life on earth and then at one point died. •••

And then as told in the Bible, on the third day from his death God restored Jesus to life.

Christians however say that Jesus also is God. This would mean that Jesus must have been man and God at the same time. I have heard it argued that this idea is a logical fallacy because God is inherently unlimited, but humans are inherently limited; therefore, a being cannot possibly be both God and man.

Human Limitations

However, let us look at human limitations. People are usually at their prime in the middle of their life, with greatest mental powers. At the beginning and end of life they are more limited. As an infant, people have no conscious cognitive ability because their brain is undeveloped. When aged the brain again loses capability with mental decline. Sometimes this loss can be so great that an individual has no conscious realization of the person they were even though they remain that person.

Let us assume that humans have an immaterial, conscious, intelligent and durable spirit, and let us assume the brain is an interface between the body and spirit. •••

The first assumption of humans having an immaterial, intelligent and durable spirit should be acceptable to theists. I realize it would not be accepted by a materialist (a physicalist, often an atheist). However, since the argument of this blog episode is generally not written for atheists, there should be no issue over it.

The second assumption of the brain being an interface between the body and spirit is a proposal for how the two are integrated. I expect this last assumption would also not be accepted by materialists. However for theists, I don't think it would be a huge problem even though some might not directly hold this position.

Together they are a dualist view that seems reasonable to me because it explains aspects of human experience very well. First, purely physical things are never about anything. Physical things do not have intentions; they do not have a will or any freedom because everything about them is determined. Humans, on the other hand, have ideas about other things, and they intend to do things based on choices made with (at least some) freedom. So, this perception of free will that all humans have is the most basic experience and repeatable experiment that humans can know.

If instead we take the (common materialist) position that these characteristics are complete illusion because we are determined and we have no free will, then it follows that all intellectual effort is futile and useless. There is then no value in pursing learning and development of ideas because we cannot actually pursue anything. We have no choice to do anything. We are like rain that falls out of the sky, and unthinkingly goes down-river to the ocean. The consistent materialist should logically give up and not care about anything because they are just an unthinking machine. If that is not acceptable then maybe such a model of reality is wrong.

A dualist view of humans having both body and immaterial spirit explains things that physicalism cannot, therefore, it is a better way to understand the world.

So then with these assumptions we can say:

  • The human spirit is capable of consciousness at the level of a human in their prime.
    • A spirit in the afterlife should be capable of at least that person's best experience of being a human.
  • The body does not change the spirit's capabilities, but it mediates them.
    • Does the spirit become permanently disconnected from self in the same way that we see it happening in the human physical experience? This seem unreasonable.
    • Is the observed decline in humans simply a physical effect of the failing brain interface? This seems reasonable.
    • The most reasonable idea is that the spirit doesn't lose connection to the real self like what is seen in the experience of the body.
    • Does the spirit becomes freed after the death of the body from the restrictions of the damaged body interface? This also seems very reasonable.
  • The effects of reduced capability which are physically seen in human life are only just the spirit being limited temporarily by the interface of a failing body.
    • The spirit would be released at death from the limitations of the body. If this were not true, what value would there be of any afterlife for a human spirit?

We should therefore accept that a spirit can inhabit a body with limitations that are more restrictive than the capabilities of the spirit. If this is true for all humans, then it was also true for the human person Jesus. The spirit of Jesus was attached to the body when Jesus walked on earth. Jesus’ spirit had capabilities greater than his body even though his spirit physically lived through the limitations of the body. •••

It is reasonable to think Jesus’ spirit had capabilities greater than his body at least at some times during Jesus' life on earth. For instance as a human infant he should not have been able to reason like an adult.

Curiously however, there are wild stories about Jesus from some ancient documents which suggest he did not have normal human limitations. (See "infancy gospels".) One story describes him as talking intelligently with adults while still a baby. A being that was both a God and a human might have been able to do what ordinary humans cannot, and so hypothetically, a God-human infant could have intelligently talked. I think that this story is instead legendary (instead of actually true), and I think that its purpose was to argue by hyperbole that Jesus was God.

Do note with caution that the story was written a long time after Jesus was on earth - generations even - and has no corroboration by eyewitnesses. The "infancy gospels" therefore cannot be authoritative and they should not be trusted.

Reliable sources about Jesus' life actually give no support for him ever having done something like that. One of the most reliable sources says that as a boy Jesus grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52). Therefore this logically means that when Jesus was younger, his body was less grown and his human wisdom was less matured.

If spirits can always be restricted by the physical nature of a body and yet a spirit is capable to inhabit a human body, then also there is no reason why the spirit of God could not be in a human body. There is no inherent limitation of the nature of God which makes God's spirit incapable to be in a human body. The spirit of God in a fully human body as a human would experience limitations of the human body, but that represents nothing about God’s unlimited spirit. The body represents no impossibility or fundamental restriction on the being of God. It only represents the truth of the human experience of living with physical limitations.

Therefore, there is no logical fallacy with the idea of an unlimited God inhabiting a limited human body any more than there is a logical fallacy for a human spirit to inhabit a human body. So, if the spirit of God could inhabit a human body, then Jesus could be both God and human.

Jesus' Attitude

Jesus’ own words about this made it pretty clear what he thought he was and what he believed himself to be:

Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”   John 10:32-33 NIV

Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.   John 5:17-18 NIV

But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” “I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” They all condemned him as worthy of death.”   Mark 14:61-64 NIV

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”   John 20:27-29 NIV

So, Jesus thought and believed about himself that he was God, and he did claim to be God. ••• However, Jesus was careful to not be overt about the claim because that was not initially important to his purpose. Jesus had teaching and other work goals to accomplish first. The work of Jesus did not first require the world come into agreement with him about him being God.

Here is another way to see that Jesus is God - Jesus is the King of the Kingdom of God! It was announced by an angel:

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”   Luke 1:30-33 NIV

And Jesus claimed it was his own kingdom:

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”   John 18:33, 36 NIV

Humans have been kings over the people of God (such as was told about the ancient Hebrew people). In a case like this the human king still had to acknowledge that God was the real King over them and over all. Their kingship was temporary, and they were only a trustee because the kingdom was not actually theirs. Only God can be the true King over God's Kingdom.

Jesus is the permanent King of the Kingdom of God, therefore, Jesus is God.

In fact his attitude about this was quite different from what many people might think. What individual people thought about Jesus made no difference to what and who he actually was. If someone thought Jesus was not God, that could not change the nature of who Jesus actually was. Jesus did know with certainty who he was, and (although this might be surprising to some) he could therefore be relaxed about it. Then also by being relaxed about it, he could better show the true nature of God. ••• As we are taught:

The true nature of who and what Jesus was could not be changed by the opinions of people around him. Since Jesus knew who he was, it did not matter what people thought about him. He never became offended by the disbelief or the derision of other people toward him. Jesus never became baited by people disrespecting him.

This is the true way that God behaves and acts toward us. After we choose how we think and act with respect to God, God respects our choices. These choices do result in consequences from God - both good and bad. When we seek to be like God in his most essential values-based motivation, we have relationship with him. When we diverge from this, relationship with him is cut off.

We also should follow Jesus' example of responding to people. We should not be baited by people disrespecting us because we also know who we are - made in the image of God and loved by him.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Philippians 2:5-7 ESV

The same text in a different translation:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Philippians 2:5-7 NIV

Jesus' Intent

Jesus was God's best representative to us of God's nature and what God wants from us. Jesus was the prophet who came to show God most clearly to us. ••• What God showed us about himself through Jesus was that God’s most essential nature is to love others sacrificially as a servant. We know this because that is what Jesus did while he represented God to us.

Jesus considered himself also to be a prophet:

“Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”   Mark 6:3-4 NIV

Even though Jesus definitely made the claim that he was God, he did so quietly and gently. This way he gave people the choice to believe it or to not believe it. This is because God wants his followers to choose to be like him in the way they love others, in the same way which God loves us.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 1 John 4:8-9 NIV

It is possible to compel obedience, but it is not possible to compel love because love is an act of free will. However, God desires us to love. God by his free will loves us, and he wants us to act similarly: loving him by loving others. If we love like him, our behavior will naturally be consistent with what is right, without compulsion! But to get to this, we must be in a position where we are free to choose to love.

In practice, we learn to love by experiencing love freely given to us, by finding that love attractive and then by freely choosing to make a personal effort to become more like this ideal. A very important part of what Jesus intended to accomplish on earth was being this example of love for the world.

Our Belief

Finally, can we believe this about Jesus? We have limited choices regarding what we can think about Jesus:

  • He could have been lying to us about everything. If so, he was not a servant of God and he was not a good man.
  • He could have been deluded in himself about himself. Again if so, he was not a servant of God and he was not a great man.
  • He could have been correct in what he said, including what he said about himself. If so, then he was both man and and God. And then, we must respond to him as we respond to God.