This past week while traveling, I started reading James Carroll's Christ Actually: The Son of God for the Secular Age . While I spend most of my time on planes writing - emails, mostly, occasionally a post, not nearly enough just writing - I like to have a book with me during takeoff and landing, those times when "laptop computers must be shut."
Carroll, NY Times bestselling author of Constantine's Sword picks up in this book his exploration of the relationship between Christians and Jews. But this time it's less historical investigation than it is personal memoir combined with some biblical study informed by history. I'm not that far into it, yet, but I came across these two statements on page twelve that struck me and I thought I'd share them with you.
"Jesus is elusive. If he were not, he would be useless to us."
Carroll's talking about the church's confession that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. The mystery of the Incarnation that we sing at Christmas with little awareness of what we're actually confessing.
Jesus is elusive.... If we can pin Jesus down, that is, how can he possibly help us, let alone save us? If we can understand him, comprehend just what God was up to in him, then we are lost. Because we need something beyond us, something bigger than us, something just beyond our grasp. It's back to Auden's "Nothing which is possible can save us. / We who are about to die demand a miracle."
I love that kind of thing. Mystery, that is. The sense that there is something beyond us and we trust it not because we've mastered it or comprehended it but precisely because we haven't.
But then Carroll goes on to say something else, something worth pondering for a moment. Because whatever difficulty we may have with the fourth-century metaphysical language in which the Nicene Creed was written - you know, "eternally begotten of the Father,God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made..." - (and, believe me, I've got more problems with 4th century metaphysics than most), nevertheless we still confess that Jesus is, somehow, both fully human and fully God. And that matters.
Carroll puts it this way:
If Jesus were not regarded as God almost from the start of his movement, he would be of no interest to us. We would never have heard of him. Nothing but his divinity accounts for his place in Western culture - or in my heart: not his ethic, which was admirable but hardly uncommon; not his preaching, which was firmly in line with Jewish proclamation; not his heroic suffering, which was typical of many anti-Roman Jewish resisters; not his wonder working, which was attributed to all kinds of charismatic figures in the ancient world. Nothing but a two-thousand-year-old divinity claim puts Jesus before us today.