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God’s Power and Christ’s Divinity

by Mark

The divinity of the Christ has been a difficult point in the Christian church almost as far back as we have records. Jesus says very little about it himself. He says “I and my Father are one” but then goes on to include his disciples in that oneness as well as promising the disciples that they will also be one with each other. He said, “before Abraham was I am”, taking the name reserved for the God when he led the Israelites in the wilderness. The Jews understood this to be a claim to divinity and picked up stones to kill him. However, the interpretation of the Jews is not conclusive. One of the most interesting times when he seems to accept the label of divine is when the question is put to him directly during his trial. His only reply is “As you say”, but this seems to be a tacit acceptance of the charge that he claimed divinity. At the very least he did not take the opportunity to deny it.

But if we accept that Jesus was in fact the third member of the Godhead we still have trouble understanding how it could be. Could a man who walked and talked among us, who got tired and hungry and cried over the loss of a friend possibly be the God? After all, when we think of God we immediately think of his power, his majesty, and his glory. We associate “divinity” with these tokens of what we want our God to be. We want a powerful God, one who can protect us from the unknown. So, when we see “God” walking around, asking for a drink of water and saying “the meek shall inherit the earth” we have trouble seeing God in there anywhere.

Now without a doubt the God described by the Bible has power. As the creator of the universe he has ultimate power. Nothing is beyond his capability. “Now that’s more like it” we say. This is the God we expect. This is the God we want. This is the God we need. We live in a world where all is not as it should be. We live in a world in which much happens that ought not to be. We live in a world in which we are all too often powerless to ensure that the right thing is done. And so we want—we need—a God of power who can do it for us, who can see to it that justice is done, that things turn out right in the end.

Our society, government, church, even our families are based on the structure of hierarchical power. We are, in short power addicts. And so, when God deals with us it is very often from the standpoint of his power. Throughout history God has had to deal with the problem that without the use of power, he will not be taken seriously. We like to point back to the Israelites coming out of Egypt as the prime example of this addiction to power. Neither they nor their masters would have had the slightest bit of respect for a God who was not powerful. So, God dealt with the Egyptians on a level they understood. He sent plagues which were designed to show how powerless the Egyptian’s gods were, one after the other. The Israelites were no different. When God had gathered them around Mount Sinai, he meets them with thunder and lightning and dire threats of death. They were terrified and they loved it. “Ah, now that’s a God I can worship and admire!” I can just hear them saying.

Of course, we’re not so much different today. Oh, we are much more sophisticated, we don’t fall for the cheap tricks. But we still choose the most powerful leaders, we aspire to power, and we honor those who have it. In short, we worship power! “Power corrupts” we quote, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Yet we pursue it in all of its many forms, high office, money, position, authority, secrecy… the list is literally endless. We justify whatever means are necessary to achieve whatever power we can.

God has power, but is it God’s power that best reveals his true nature? Is God best understood through his power? At the suggestion of a friend of mine I went to see an “OmniMax” show about our Sun. At the end of the show they had a close up of the Sun which covered the entire screen. It was done in time lapse so that you could see the surface of the sun writhing in an intricate dance. Its power was clearly awesome. And when you think that our sun is just one ordinary star our of a trillion in our galaxy alone and that there are billions of galaxies in the universe and that God created each and every one of those… well, you start to understand the overwhelming power of God. It is easy to worship that power.

Now I am somewhat of a romantic, I like stories where animals talk and we get to “see inside the head” of other creatures. So when I see a picture in glorious detail of some “grand design” galaxy I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t somehow “alive”. Surely that would not be beyond the capability of the God who could create creatures as odd and as wonderful as the platypus and human beings! And as I watched that picture of the surface of the sun dancing before me I could not help but think “it is alive”! Nor could I help but understand how one might be a sun worshiper, especially since we are so inclined to worship power.

But as I watched that seething sun, wondering if it was somehow alive, I also thought “If the sun is alive, I wonder what kind of a being it is? What does it think? What might it feel?” And as I looked at that image the question came to me. “What if, behind all that power, there dwelt the soul of a poet, a philosopher or a lover? How could we ever know?” Because we are addicted to power, when we face a being with great power we can hardly see anything else. We crave power, but we are also afraid of it. (Remember what the first words are whenever heaven interacts with humanity? “Fear not.” “Don’t be afraid!”) We fear anything powerful and so there are three things we try to do. First, we try to control it. Much of heathen religion (and much of the superstition in the Christian religion too I suspect) is based on this attempt control some deity. Second, if we cannot control something with power we try to destroy it. Finally, if we can neither control power nor destroy it there is only one thing left to do, we worship it.

Because of our difficulty in dealing with power, God faces an interesting dilemma in revealing himself to us. First, he must use power in order to be taken seriously. But the moment he does this he runs the risk, almost the inevitability, of being misunderstood, of being worshiped merely for his power. The fact that he really does have the power only makes the situation more difficult. Somehow, he has to get us to see past the power, past the majesty and the glory to the real God behind the power. How does the God whose glory outshines the Sun reveal to us the “soul of a poet”?

There is only one way. I started this essay talking about the divinity of Christ. I have not forgotten where I was going when I started talking about God’s power. For it is our misunderstanding of God’s power as his primary attribute that makes our understanding of Jesus’ divinity difficult. I believe that the primary mission of Jesus’ life was to reveal the Father to us, to help us see past that power, majesty and glory to the “soul of the poet” which is God’s most true self. If God is going to reveal himself to us as a poet or a lover, he cannot do it in his power because we will be blinded by that power and worship him for it alone. Nor can he have someone else do it for him; he must reveal himself through himself in order to be understood, in order to draw us to him. (This is further evidence that Jesus as a divine being is not unreasonable. For God to reveal himself to us he would have had to do something like the very thing Jesus is purported to have done – become man and show us what God is like.)

So, Jesus comes as a human. He is born of a woman in the usual way. There is no mark, nothing that would draw us to him because of his beauty, his majesty his glory. He is “just” another human being. So where is his divinity? It is still right there. Jesus came to show us that when you take away (veil) God’s power, majesty, glory – when all the things we associate with the divine are no longer visible, then what you have left is still completely God. That is because God is not defined by his power and majesty. Those are only properties that happen to belong to him (and they do belong to him!). Jesus walks among us without those things and is completely, completely God because he has the exact same character as God. When we can see that God is not his power but the character that is behind that power then we can take Jesus very seriously when he says “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.”

The paradox between Jesus’ humanity and his divinity evaporates. A paradox is always an indicator that we hold some false assumption. And so it is with this. Our false assumption is that God’s power is definitive for God’s character. Jesus came to show us that this is not the case. God’s power is undeniable and awesome, but it does not define who God is. And because of our problem with power, our addiction to it really, God’s power may even get in the way of our understanding who God is. This is most apparent in the reaction of Jesus’ fellow Jews when he walked among them. They were not looking for someone who said “blessed are the meek”. They were looking for someone who could help them beat the Romans and reestablish Solomon’s kingdom. They were looking for someone powerful!

Are we that much different now? I would wager that 99.9% of all prayers that we pray, after a suitably respectful introduction, are requests for God to use his power in our behalf. Does God ever do that? Yes, I think he does. But I have to wonder if that might actually be getting in the way of our coming to understand God as he really is, as he desires that we should understand him. When we worship God because of his power we are hardly better than the sun worshipers who bow before that life-giving sphere because of its power. God will accept even that worship, but how much are we missing when we do not ask him to show us his soul, to read us his poetry, to take us as lovers and to whisper to us of his joy.

All these things I believe Jesus came to do for us. He came to “show us the Father” in the only way possible, by becoming Emmanuel, “God with us.”