My son asked me to discuss the theological problem of dual nature with him. H. The divine and human nature that coexist in the person of Jesus. He asked me first to assume that 1) Jesus was a real, historical person and 2) Jesus was both human and divine. The question then became: “Did Jesus know that he is God?”
As a theologian, I was of course delighted to have this conversation with my son. It was fascinating to see how his mind worked, to hear how he assessed the strengths and weaknesses of high and low christologies, to hear how he solved the question himself, and to have the opportunity to share my own thoughts with a really committed, really curious people to share and listening attentive dialogue partner in the person of my young son. Not a shabby victory for a parent!
While we were talking, he continued to provide context for the question that began as a class debate in his high school theology seminar. Apparently, the students were asked to take an element from their discussion in the classroom, evaluate it, and then apply it practically through a double retrospective reflection in which the student identified 1) a particular situation in their life that could have gone better and 2) Share how their class insights would have made the difference. Now my son expressed a little frustration with this task because he would have preferred to talk about how today’s knowledge could help him in the future rather than linger in the past. As his wheels turned, I left him alone to clarify his task, with the promise that I would eagerly return in an hour to see what he produced, accompanied by my own essay on the same task.
Given his criticism of the job, I set out not only to find out what I could have done better in the past, but also how I could be strengthened in my future efforts. Since the subject at hand was the personality of Jesus, I used this as my subject. It was not difficult to come up with some theologically (incorrectly) informed behaviors of the past and the possibility of future improvements in the light of theological reformulations. What was my christological insight that would have made the difference?
As a child, I always wanted to be “good”. It was something like my thing. I wasn’t good for the show. I was never a treat or a pet, so to speak. But I was serious, simple, decent. I was a good student, a loyal friend, a peacemaker. I sometimes helped with the housework without being asked. I prayed specifically for people I didn’t like. When I thought about my most sincere desire for my life, it was to be essential, existential, good with God and never go to bed without saying that I love you.
This attitude carried over to my friendships, where I couldn’t see them, for example, when a girl named “Misty” stole my sweatshirt from my locker. It was a novelty, a souvenir item, so I knew she couldn’t have exactly one like mine, especially when mine was gone the day before she was worn. However, I couldn’t admit that she would take it. It was a symbol of my childhood friendships. Was I a fool? Not if I know the truth, do I? But was I a fool who allowed her to take advantage of me? Or the other friends like her who behaved similarly? I didn’t think that before. I just thought I didn’t mind because I was committed to letting go of such things. Obviously, however, I had thought of it because I’m writing about it here. You see, over time I couldn’t deny hurt.
This type of thing, which I now understand as massively distorted relationships, rooted in fundamentally different value systems, has shaped much of my life. I didn’t know how to get up for myself because I wasn’t worth doing. I felt a full love instead of anger and purposely forced myself to see and remember the weakness and needs of others. My stepfather, who had verbally beaten, sometimes sat in the driveway after a run. I once noticed that his eyelashes were long and lovely and that he looked like a confused, awkward child to me. I felt a wave of sadness for him because I saw him like this, and so I excused his cruelty for years because he looked weak at that moment.
Reader, I am not copying or exaggerating. I felt a kind of innate, unearthly call to goodness, and that was the result. I cannot say whether this disposition in me specifically attracted people in my life who would be naturally advantageous, or whether it only brought about the advantageous in otherwise average personalities. Whatever it was, I was increasingly wounded over the years as the problems with personal, professional, marital and parental effects became much more serious than with a stolen sweatshirt. I also didn’t know for a long time that I had become angry and disgusted with the whole, lousy charade.
My theological problem became almost unsustainable when I offered a Christology course a few years ago, and I had to decide for myself whether I had actually piled up theologically. After spending some time researching the insidious nature of internalized Christianity in controlling enslaved Africans and dehumanizing women in Western theo-philosophical discourses, for years I had come to the difficult observation with which I personal abdication had confused kindness. I had to deal with whether kenotic self-giving was ever a manifestation of divine love or just an opportunity for the gullible’s vampirism. I accepted Nietzsche, Lawrence and Dostojewski as my conversation partners. Was I really an idiot?
Without revising my process, I came to some christological insights that made a difference to me. The first came from Matthew 10 in this passage:
 And if the house is worthy, leave it Your Peace come over it; but if it’s not worthy, leave it Your Peace come back to you.  And who does not receive you and does not hear you Your Words when you go out the house or the city, shake out the dust of your feet,
This is not a doormat philosophy, but a limitation. “Leave it alone and protect your own being,” it seems to say, “where you are not properly received.” For me, this is a very helpful rewording of the boundlessness of Jesus’ mission. “Goodness” or whatever other names we attribute to self-giving and love here exists where it is dignified. If this is not the case, distortions will inevitably manifest themselves both in the one who takes and the one who offers.
This idea also accompanies the larger, indeed gigantic, claim that Jesus is divine. However, one analyzes the idea of man as divine, whether in Jesus or in anyone. The claim suggests a degree of power and innate dignity in freedom of choice. You can give what you have in a self-pouring way, even until death, but only from this place of self-confident, deliberate vision. I think that has to be how you can at least partially shape the world according to the divine image. I think that’s at least partly how resurrections from the ashes of life could arise.
I am not here to preach Christianity or make any claims about Jesus. The hard-won discovery is simply that a good religion, a good theology, especially a good christology, should aim to encourage people to find the divine within them and to carry this light with somber responsibility. Real unearthly goodness requires a certain degree of interrelational accountability, time for yourself in the dessert of your own distinction, self-confidence for personal power and clear freedom (not the requirement or usurpation) of freedom of choice and self-giving. I think I would have been much “better” at being “good” if it had been my childhood theology. I am happy to inform you that there are hardly any possibilities for future constructive applications.
As for “Misty”, I would confront her today about my shirt. I would tell her that I would have loved to give it to her and that she could still keep it. I would ask her to be honest with me and I would tell her that it hurts my feelings and confuses me. I would continue to offer my friendship to her, and if she behaved strangely with me about the whole thing, I would go on. Not too shabby either!
Christology is defined as the study of Jesus the Nazarene (or Jesus Christ) and his identity, mission and saving work. Modern christology has two main lines of thought, high and low christology, which form their respective theological opinions from different perspectives regarding the nature of Jesus. In essence, Low Christology “begins” with Jesus as a fully human figure who understood his identity and mission as a fully incarnated God throughout his life and trials and then ascended to heaven. In contrast, High Christology “begins” with the idea of Jesus as the divine, constant and eternal Word of God, which existed before his incarnation as a full human being and thus understands his identity and mission, which was sent to Earth in human form at Christmas . It is important to recognize that these two approaches to understanding Christianity are neither in conflict nor should they be in conflict. The final beliefs of the Christian faith contain and use elements of both perspectives.
I personally struggle with this concept, not because it is fundamentally difficult, but because it is a challenge to formulate a personal opinion about the central figure of faith that I did not know and that I see in texts that are not firsthand . I see this element of Christianity as a selection of perspectives to hold on to so that you don’t get into any kind of heresy, both doctrinally and mentally. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the struggle to know who Jesus is is mostly less a “mystery of faith” than a deterrent and source of confusion and possibly even fear. It is undesirable to mislabel the figure perceived as God, let alone misinterpreted. Still, I am firmly convinced that Jesus was not a blazing idol that was imprinted with alpha and omega on every hand and led mankind to salvation, but at the same time I have the feeling that Jesus was not a person who was not of his nature was aware. I don’t deny that he was not confused or troubled in life – and all the other human feelings – possibly angry that he even existed. I suppose I console myself with the idea that you could talk to Jesus about everyday things in a personal way. In this way, I can only see two moral options that do not involve an external philosophy: the first is to be right in the middle of the Christological spectrum, and the second is to reject all formal ideas of Christology and simply to reject Jesus and the Trinity consider that that’s me.
In this sense, I relate the knowledge of high and low christology to my first communion as a second grader. The tradition of receiving the Eucharist at the age of eight is based on the belief that at such a point children understand reason and begin the prerequisites for their critical mind. Still, there was almost no reason why we received the Eucharist in second grade. Our instruction went as deep as Jesus love is and we eat Jesus. While these two statements are Catholic, there was no idea why. It is not necessary for 8-year-olds to think about theology in a wide range, but if I had understood the principles of Christology in second grade, my first communion would have been much more meaningful. I remember most of all that I was taught whether the way I reached for the chalice was consistent with what we had practiced every day for months. If not, I should be sure that I have fixed my hands before drinking anything.
Natalie Kertes Weaver, Ph.D.. is a professor and professor of religious studies at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike, Ohio. Natalie’s academic books include:: Marriage and Family: A Christian Theological Foundation (Anselm, 2009);; C.Christian thinking and practice: a foundation (Anselm, 2012); and Theology of Suffering and Death: An Introduction for Caregivers (Routledge, 2013), Natalie’s latest book is Made in the Image of God: Intersex and the Revision of Theological Anthropology (Wipf & Stock, 2014). Natalie also wrote two art books: Interior design: spaces of a half-life and baby’s first Latin, Natalie’s areas of interest and expertise include: feminist theology; Theology of suffering; Theology of the family; Religion and violence; and (inter) sex and theology. Natalie is a married mother of two sons, Valentine and Nathan. For pleasure, Natalie studies classical Hebrew, poetry, piano and singing.
Categories: Bible, Christianity, Christology, Church Teaching, General, Theology, Women’s Voices
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