THE AUTHOR OF the Epistle to the Hebrews describes Jesus as "one who in every respect has been tempted as we are yet without sinning"—tempted to be a demagogue, a spellbinder, a mere humanitarian, we are told in the account of his encounter in the wilderness with Satan, who offered him all the kingdoms of the earth if he would only settle for them and no more; tempted to escape martyrdom as Peter urged him to, saying, "God forbid, Lord. This shall never happen to you," to which Jesus replied, "Get behind me, Satan. You are a hindrance to me"; tempted, ultimately, to doubt the very faithfulness of God as he howls out his Eloi, Eloi from the cross.
And yet without sinning, Hebrews says. However great the temptation to abandon once and for all both his fellow men and his God—who together he had good reason to believe had abandoned him—he never ceased to reach out to them in love, forgiving finally his own executioners. He addressed his cry of dereliction to a God who, in spite of everything, he believed to the end was near enough, and counted him dear enough, to hear it. The paradoxical assertion that Jesus was both fully man and in some way also fully God seems to many the unnecessary and obfuscating doctrine of later theologians, but the truth of the matter is that like all doctrines it was an experience first, in this case the experience of the simple men who had actually known him. Having talked with him and eaten with him, having seen him angry, sad, merry, tired, and finally dead, they had no choice but to say that he was a man even as they themselves were men. But having found in him an undying power to heal and transform their lives, they had no choice but to say that he was God too if only because there was no other way of saying it.
If the doctrine of the divinity of Christ is paradoxical, it is only because the experience was paradoxical first. Much as we may wish it otherwise, reality seldom comes to us simple, logical, all of a piece. Man is an animal, we must say if we are honest, but he is also more than animal. In honesty we must say that too. If we are determined to speak the plain sense of our experience, we must be willing to risk the charge of speaking what often sounds like nonsense.
- Originally published in The Faces of Jesus