(photo credit: Arno Gouldor/Flickr)
Wandering Ex-Churchgoer: I believe that there is a ‘God,’ but I think Jesus was just a man. I think the church just kind of deified Jesus over time, and raised him up higher and higher until they thought of him as God. So I can still sit through my church services and stuff, and appreciate it, because Jesus was a great teacher. Whether or not I think of him as God really doesn’t affect anything. Does it?
Me: Well, I think it actually does. If Jesus is not God in the flesh, then how is God fixing the evil in human nature?
Wandering Ex-Churchgoer: Huh? I don’t follow you.
Me: The earliest understanding of Jesus being God was that God wanted to solve the problem of evil in human nature. We had corrupted ourselves. So God took a human body, and along with that body inherited the human disease of sin. He fought against the sin and never committed a sin. So in his death and resurrection, he killed the sin and raised his humanity new, cleansed, and God-soaked.
Wandering Ex-Churchgoer: So you don’t think the church deified Jesus over time?
Me: From a historical standpoint, no. The church didn’t actually deify Jesus over time. They started out that way. New Testament historian N.T. Wright points out that the Old Testament longed for the hope that YHWH would return to Mount Zion, and Jesus personally embodied YHWH. In John’s Gospel, one of the first disciples, Thomas, says to Jesus, ‘My Lord and my God.’
Wandering Ex-Churchgoer: Maybe Thomas was saying that Jesus could represent God without actually being God?
Me: Well, just for a moment, imagine if you separate Jesus from God. What are you left with?
Wandering Ex-Churchgoer: You’re left with a God that can still serve as the Creator, and Jesus can serve as a teacher.
Me: But then they both become hypocrites.
Wandering Ex-Churchgoer: What? Why?
Me: Because God becomes a hypocrite, because He claims to be a good Creator, but doesn’t do anything about human evil. And to do nothing about human evil is to be evil. Wouldn’t you agree?
Wandering Ex-Churchgoer: I’ll think about that.
Me: And Jesus becomes a hypocrite, too, because he taught that we could become joined to God, and share in God’s goodness and life and love. He wouldn’t give us forgiveness from God, because he couldn’t really speak for God. He wouldn’t be the fulfillment of the Old Testament, because the Old Testament hoped for God to heal the problem of human nature and reunite people to God. Jesus might still seem like a cool guy, but only if you compartmentalize him. He would really fail in some key ways.