Welcome to the website of a retired United Methodist pastor! This corner of the Internet continues nearly fifty years of a weekly column in a church newsletter, on topics ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. The opinions expressed are the author's and represent no institution, although it is hoped that within these pages you will find a reflection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who, in his own borrowed words, insists that we love God with, along with all the rest of what we are, our minds. "Critical" as used in the title does not mean being nasty or grumpy; it means using intellectual faculties in the service of God. Your reactions, rebuttals, comments, and questions can be addressed to: BobHow9846@comcast.net.
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November 6, 2014 - Essays: Cheap Hope
December 1, 2014 - Essays: Locating the Divinity of Jesus
December 12, 2012 - Personal Matters: Christmas Card 2014
Locating the Divinity of Jesus
Locating the Divinity of Jesus
For love of Jesus followers have laden him with honorifics and exaggerations
which, when all is said and done (as with an eighty-three year old brain like
mine, said and done, that is), is a disservice to the savior of the world.
The Galilean rabbi, son of Mary and Joseph, has from the beginning of the
Christian Era been touted for his miracles. Walking on water, for instance, has
entered the public consciousness as an epitome of divinity… as if defying
gravity proves anything in this age of weightless space travel. Or the healings
– of leprosy, blindness, hemorrhaging, lameness, even death, impressive in the
age before penicillin and laser surgery – as if they might wow anyone in
the current generation, like CCRWH, with his two prosthetic knees.
Still many, if not all, of those of us who love Jesus feel obliged to
embellish his life from virgin birth to resurrection with tales of his
supernatural powers, as if therein lies the proof of his divinity.
Oh, the irony! Christians celebrate the Incarnation, God becoming flesh in
Jesus, and immediately do their best (or worst) by seeking to prove he isn’t the
same kind of flesh as the rest of us.
In a Sunday School book, written for the Presbyterian curriculum by noted
historian Roland Bainton, the Danish missionary Ansgar is quoted in his humble
dismissal of the legendary miracles that were credited to him, with the
observation that the greatest miracle would be that God could make him a good
Therein lies the essence of Jesus’ divinity, that he was a good man. Or as the
Chalcedonian Creed (451 A.D.) puts it, “true man.” Yes, yes, the church leaders
there in ancient Turkey phrased it “true God and true man”; but then as now and
all the ages between the friends of the Galilean carpenter have pushed and
sometimes pushed very hard (think Gnostic Gospels, recently in favor) to elevate
him beyond mortal capacity.
Though not beyond mortal capacity, the achievement of true humanity, a truly
good humanity, has been accomplished in one soul alone in the history of the
world. Right, the one whose birthday is celebrated on December 25th.
Two measures tell the story of his unparalleled excellence. First, his love of
God, thorough and full, in keeping with the commandment he named the first and
greatest, loving God with heart, mind, soul, and strength. The cross stands in
every corner of the world as a testament to the completeness of Jesus’ loving
faithfulness to God. There is no need to belabor this point. It is reflexively
granted by nearly everyone, including those who cannot comprehend why so many of
us make a fuss over him.
The second measure you have already guessed. Right, that he loves you and me
and everyone else who has ever drawn or will yet draw breath, with a love
celebrated in I Corinthians 13, the love that has no end for all its
self-giving; a love that bears all things, including the shame and forsakenness
of the cross, those two crossed beams of wood he took from, for, and because of
us. Macho men in the modern age shrink from any accusation of being a bleeding
heart. Jesus embraces it, and those who follow him soon learn that his kind
of love for all its softness is harder and sturdier (and more precious) than
At the healing of the paralytic at Capernaum, echoed in the healing referenced
above reported in the Gospel according to John, Jesus typically minimizes the
physical miracle enabling the invalid to take up his mat and walk. The
greater miracle he claims is God's forgiveness of sins, divinely more difficult
than the restrengthening of muscles and bone.
Divinity does not consist in the rearrangement of physical facts by mysterious
means. Divinity consists in the quality and the quantity of our loving.
By this measure Jesus, in whom the two great commandments are perfectly
manifested, deserves the title Son of God.