FROM CHRIST TO GOD
THE PROPHET THAT BECAME THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE
It is most certain that his young childhood playmates must have been very surprised to learn that they had been playing with the Universe’s creator. That would have been something to boast about in the sleepy little town of Nazareth, where almost nothing ever happened. However, could Jesus have been both a man and God at the same time, and led a normal human’s life for thirty years, without attracting much notice? Would his behavior as a child and then as an adolescent and as a young man have been normal? It seems hard to believe, yet this is the christian position on this matter.
To be a man and god poses significant challenges. It is difficult to feel what it is like to live the life as a human if you:
- Have a human mother but no biological human father;
- Your mother is an Eternal Virgin;
- Know that you are not going to die, at least not permanently;
- Heal people, see the future, levitate, and turn water into wine;
- Talk directly to God;
- Read the minds of people;
- Cannot commit sin. In fact, you are incapable of sinning;
Incarnating under such circumstances would not give God a true feeling of what it is to be a human, for no human lives under these conditions. If we say that Jesus, besides being fully god, was fully human, that poses a big problem, since just the knowledge that he was god would make the development of his human personality radically different from any human that ever lived. He may have been as much human as a god can be, but certainly “fully human” is stretching it too far.
To be “fully god” has its own set of problems, since the Bible declares that there is only One God. The christians wanted to consider Christ as god too. However, if Christ is God and prays to God the father, are there two gods (plus the Holy Spirit)? This dilemma led to the development of the Trinity doctrine, which made its triumphal entrance by proposing the concept of a Triune God, with three persons, but only one substance (nature, essence, or maybe being). So there you have it: only one God, but consisting of a tightly knit three “God persons” which are equally God. This composite God is regarded by Christians as fulfilling the monotheist requirement, while the “Three Persons” concept allows considering Christ as God too.
If there are three persons, is then the Triune God, by Himself, a person too? Not according to mainstream christianity, which allows at most to call the triune God as a “personal divine being”, but that just means a divine being constituted by persons, so that the “Triune God” in fact cannot be said to be “one person” in any sense. When you pray to the Triune God, you are not praying to a person, so to whom or what are you praying? Are you praying to “three persons and one substance”? In practice, when most people pray to God, they just think about a Divine Person, the Supreme God. This means that in common use most christians basically ignore the trinity, even if they are not aware of it. That the Triune God cannot be defined as a person is a big and dramatic trinitarian failure.
“God is one immaterial soul (substance) with three distinct centers of consciousness,
rationality, will, and agency (persons) who are deeply and necessarily interconnected, and they share the same unique divine nature.”
The definition of person, as we understand it today, is different from the meaning the word had when the dogma was created. Person would then be understood as meaning character or perhaps personality, and certainly was not an ontological category. In our times it refers to a self-conscious unit, and has an ontological significance. Substance (nature, essence, or being) is a concept no one really understands in the trinity context. The original greek terms hypostasis and ousia, have shifted meaning through time, besides no one knowing precisely how they were understood at the time, at least not by every participant at the council of Nicaea. All this could have been avoided by accepting that the word “god” means, “divine being” and although there is a Supreme God, allowance could be made to other divine beings besides Him, without violating the Shema.
Perhaps the Trinity doctrine withstood the test of time because, on one hand, it was difficult to oppose, as it was not really understood. On the other hand, many could see in it what they wished to believe. This could be called victory by non-definition or vagueness.
In a broader sense, we know we are persons, because we have individuality, self-awareness, a mind, a soul, a personality, a history, memories, wishes, affections, joys and regrets. We want to relate to other persons, and have an emotional feedback from them. We feel, on a higher level, capable of relating to divine beings, and especially so with the person of Christ or the person of God the Father. With the Triune God concept, how do you establish a personal relation with a being that is made of three persons? It is not only that you cannot understand the proposed mystery of the Trinity, due to the limitations of the human mind, but the same limitations makes you unable to enter in one personal relationship with a three-personal being. Therefore, the consequence of trinitarianism is to remove you from a personal relation to the Supreme Deity as a whole.
All religions have as starting point the notion of the two worlds. One is the world of humans, physical, material, a limited world of bodies, objects, things, shapes, mass, volumes, and dimensions, all of that subject to decay, destruction and/or death.
The other world is spiritual, magic, massless, invisible most of the time, not constrained into shapes and volumes, populated by “divine” beings that are, in general, immortal and have powers that violate the laws of physics of our material world, which, by the way, they rule.
We tend to understand the word “god” within a culturally established Trinitarian bias, due to our upbringing. However, the word “god” and its equivalent in other languages, is always very general and just means broadly “divine being”, or simply “divine”.
Religions are mainly concerned with practices and rituals that perform mediation between the two worlds. The first world is the world of humans and the second the world of the divine beings, i.e., the gods. Certainly the Abrahamic faiths have a more restrictive use of the world ”god”, and its equivalent terms in other languages, giving to the expression “GOD”, an unwarranted specificity.
It is most likely that Jesus was referring to himself as “divine being” and not as “God”. The expression “divine” identifies who belongs to the realm of gods, or more broadly, someone possessing a superior soul. In the known gospel utterance “You are gods, too” it would really mean, “you are divine, too”, pointing to the fact that we should be a part of the realm of God.
We can escape the Trinitarian confusion by simply recognizing Christ as a the created son of God, the greatest of all the divine creatures of God, the Great Mediator between God and humanity, the Lamb of God, the Redeemer, the Messiah, who was given command of our world. This would also allow us to understand the subordination of the Son to God the Father.
The trinitarians argue that the subordination is real, from the Son to the Father, but only in a functional way, while the equality is real on an ontological perspective.
To simplify, the Son acts as a subordinate to the Father in the incarnation and redemption, a role that requires subordination, while, at the same time, remaining in essence equal to the Father. If you found this contradictory, you are not alone. Of course accepting that the Son is ontologically subordinate to the Father would greatly simplify the issue.
When Christ says, “The Father and I are one”, we do not see a Trinitarian admission but rather that Christ is in a total submission, adoration and union with the Father, so much that through Christ you see God (“He who sees me, sees my Father”). Worshipping Christ becomes the same as worshipping God. He is truly the door and the way to God. Christ in the Gospel asks the apostles to become one with himself and God and in that case the trinitarians have no trouble understanding “become one” as meaning “be in union” even though the greek words are the same.
In the Bible, several times, God speaks through an agent, mostly called The Angel of Lord. But this agent or representative of God speaks as “I”, giving God’s command and acting like him, and being received in reverence and awe, although clearly not being God himself. Therefore Christ as the ultimate agent of the Supreme God, was entitled to speak as “I” on behalf of God, and to receive reverence. In addition, when Thomas says “My Lord and my God" what he admitted was more like “I recognize you as the Son of God, and through you I see God”. As if Christ was, in a sort of way, “transparent”, and you could see God behind him, or feel his presence close to him. Not unlike seeing a burning bush, and kneeling in front of it and feeling God’s presence. However, the burning bush is not God!
As God’s agent, Christ was able to explain:
(John 14:9-10, NIV) 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.
The “indwelling” of Christ and God just means how trusted the and intimate was the relation between God and his Ultimate Agent, as in in ancient middle east culture a preferred son was understood to be able to speak and make deals as if he was the father himself. Or a legate of a king to give orders and receive reverence as if he was the king himself. This was of course necessary due to poor and slow communications, but the theologians simply decided to ignore that.
Christ as God’s representative has been granted full authority and to speak in the Name of God, who has sent him. People could feel God’s presence surrounding the actions and the utterances of his Ultimate Agent. In addition, that explains why seeing Christ is compared to seeing God, since they were, at that moment, perceiving and feeling the power of God.
Of course, a literal meaning would be absurd here because seeing the figure of the man Christ can in no way be equal to see the real figure of God himself, something that even Moses was not allowed to do and, anyway, might not even be possible. In human terms, seeing God’s agent would be the closest you could get to “seeing God”. This is what Christ’s audience would have understood, and recognized Christ as God’s representative.
To avoid the logical “death lock” created by the Trinity dogma, we have only to consider Christ as the created Son of God. We also need to address the difficulty of the “fully god, fully man, at the same time” proposition.
The best solution is the idea that Christ existed as a Divine Being prior to the incarnation, suspended that divine status while on earth as an human (or partially disconnected himself from that status), and finally reassumed full divine condition when he returned to heaven. This is also the only way to make sense of the story. This is, however, unacceptable to most christian theologians who insist on the “fully man, fully god, at the same time” concept.
The third point that needs to be reconsidered is the sacrificial death of Jesus. Did God require the blood sacrifice of his Son to restore his connection to and save humanity? Although animals were sacrificed at the temple, no humans were. Why would God now require a human sacrifice? In religious terms a tortured, humiliated victim, would be most unfit as an offering to the Lord. In fact, it does not fit any of the regulations for the ritual of sacrifice. The atonement sacrifices did not "punish" animals in the place of humans; rather, they purged sin from the holy places. The best explanation is that it was taken as a metaphor. There is also the question of who is requiring the sacrifice, is it God the Father or the Triune God? If it is the Triune God, then the sacrifice is from one Person of the Trinity to the entire Godhead, and in that case, the Son is sacrificing to Himself, which makes no sense.
To better illustrate the different possibilities, we shall concentrate on two christological alternatives, one trinitarian and the other non-trinitarian:
a) Christ, a.k.a. God the Son, is the begotten second person of the Trinity (“The God”). The other two co-equal persons are God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Christ has two natures, divine and human, but is only one person. He was incarnated as a man and died (his human nature only) as a sacrificial offer, to free us from sin, eternal damnation or the wrath of “The God”, and was resurrected.
b) Christ, a.k.a. the Son of God is a created divine being, who only has above him “God the Father”. He was incarnated as a man, has two natures, is a Divine Person, but for a while became also a human person, who died at the Cross, to free us from sin, eternal damnation or the wrath of “God the Father” and then was resurrected and rejoined/fused with his Divine Person.
These two positions give a very coarse description of the Trinitarian vs. Non-trinitarian debate, which has so many detailed variations and subtleties. It is just an oversimplified scheme to allow us a broad look at what is at stake. It is a good starting point for the discussion, but along the way, we will have to refine it to do justice to the enormous complexity of the issue.
Remember that according to traditional christian theology, Christ has two natures, one divine and one human, but is one person only. How could the divine nature of the person Christ die at the cross? If it is only the human nature that suffered, can we say that Christ (the person) died at the cross?
Against the conceptual difficulties of being both god and man, we propose the transformation process “god-then-man-then-god- again” as solution. For troubles you get into by a “fully human and fully god Christ, at the same time” idea, see the text below:
(…) Have you ever wondered how Jesus could say that He did not know the day or hour of His return (Matthew 24:36) even though He is omniscient (John 21:17). If Jesus is God, why didn't He know the day of His return? (…) Since the two natures are united in one Person, the fact that Christ's human nature did not know when He would return means that the Person of Christ did not know when He would return. Thus, Jesus the Person could truly say, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone" (Matthew 24:36). At the same time, by virtue of His divine nature, we can also say that the Person of Christ did know when He would return. (…) In His human nature, the Person of Christ was ignorant of when He would return. In His divine nature, the Person of Christ did know when He would return. Thus, Christ Himself both knew and did not know when He would return. (…)
At this point we must consider why did christianity choose to enter such a convoluted theological path as proposing a “two natures, one person, fully human and fully god Christ” and the “three persons, one substance, in one God” while there were so much simpler and obvious alternatives.
One reason may have been to remove the debate from the commoners. Another is that “Mystery” and “Faith” runs together, and by stressing the mystery, you reinforce the faith.
No religion becomes great by being obvious and self- explanatory. The “illogical” makes the brain function in a religious mode, while rationality moves away from it. The human, real world is constrained by physical laws and biological causes and consequences. The human mind senses the divine world when these rules no longer seem applicable, where divine orders and wishes appear to make things happen and not nature.
In that sense, paradoxes and apparently non-sensical facts may transmit a feeling of divinity. This was certainly not lost on early christian theologians. Another reason may have been political. Constantine wanted a united church, and the trinitarian approach may have thus evolved to allow a middle ground between the parties involved. There is also the ill advised infiltration of Neo- platonic thinking into the Early Church which, in the long run, proved intellectually devastating, since neo-platonism has been very much discredited by its arbitrary creation of categories.
The list provided at the end of this chapter is not complete, but it is useful to show some significant points. We can see that the non-trinitarian option uses mostly clear phrases attributed to Christ himself. The trinitarian option, however, tends to use more ambiguous and cryptic phrases, which may or not originally refer to Christ, or whose meaning is very dependent on difficult translation problems, complex interpretation and speculative context analysis.
We understand that a gradual theological divinization process was going on since Christ resurrection and culminated in the Trinity dogma in the fourth century. Paul’s position is much stronger than Peter in that direction and exaltation increased systematically from the early church to the Athanasian Creed.
We must bear in mind that the disciples of Jesus were, at first, left with a dead prophet in their hands. Resurrection barely made things even. To turn the sacrificial death of Jesus into a crucial event of human history, the crucifixion had to become a triumphant act of redemption of humanity.
We must assume that along this process a logical line was crossed, and led to Mystery overcoming Revelation. Why such an extreme divinization process took place, tearing apart the logical simplicity of the Bible? Probably the reasoning that only the sacrifice of God himself would be worthy enough to redeem humanity. That made appear what has been called a “defensive theology”, aimed at protecting the status of its central character.
Extreme exaltation of the central figure required that all efforts be put into promoting and defending the divinity of Christ, even at the risk of creating, as a secondary theological effect, a triple god. It is maybe time now to reconsider these extreme efforts, and put back christian theology on the common sense tracks.
We consider that from a sociological, but not a religious, point of view, christianity’s formation process was akin to the establishment of a new sect. Everything turns around a particular event and a particular person, and all that happens in a short period of time. After some time, if successful, the original sect then turns into a full-fledged church.
We can watch the rise of the divinization of Christ in Hebrews 1 but, at that point, without a trinitarian accent. Christ is here portrayed as a divine being, but not God himself. The unknown writer uses a superb greek, and apparently is not too well acquainted with judaism practices, except in a literary mode.
Hebrews 1 New King James Version (NKJV) “God, who at various times and in various ways, spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they."
It is hard to give a trinitarian reading to this text. The sentence “...having become so much better than the angels…” implies a gradual exaltation, so that the Son is glorified, but is acknowledged as having begun at a lower (or equal) status than the angels.
Christianity is absolutely centered around the worship of one divine being, the Son of God, incarnated as Jesus. All else, the people of God, The Law, the rituals of sacrifice, the history of the israelites, the temple of Jerusalem, all becoming secondary or obsolete, a fading mythological background.
As much so, that if the Son had incarnated somewhere else in another nation, the results would have been very similar, since the New Testament pretty much dismisses the original people of God, who had lived and struggled for hundreds of years and that for a single event, that could have happened elsewhere.
From an eschatological perspective, if the world was coming to an end, that could have made sense, since nothing would be the same again. However, two thousand years have passed and nothing significant happened, the world is not better, nor did it end and neither has the Kingdom of God arrived. While the jews still wait for the Messiah, the christians still wait for the Kingdom of God. Brothers in waiting, we could say, then. The Trinity dogma is an intellectual elaboration. If it was true, it should have been revealed in direct terms by the prophets, for God talked to the faithful through his anointed messengers. However, the hubris of the first centuries theologians allowed them to speculate and elaborate deeply about God. Using the tools of philosophical logic, deduction and inference, but unaware of its pitfalls and shortcomings, these self-appointed interpreters did their work unhindered, because of the lack of a consolidated theology in early Christianity. Through their obsessive zeal and intellectual creativity, the galilean prophet was slowly and deliberately shaped as the Creator Himself.
The problems of the triune god concept start with the question of why God has to be three “persons”, all of them fully God. If God has to be three “persons”, and it could not be any other way, as trinitarians argue, that must be considered a limitation of God’s power, which supposedly has no restrictions. The determination that God must exist in a three persons mode, seems to put a constraint on the omnipotence of God. What would happen if the Father was the only “person”, and the Son and the Holy Ghost did not exist? Would the universe not exist then? How would the Creation be affected? Since the Father “person” is fully God, the world could be exactly as it is now. In that sense, the two other “persons” seem superfluous. The incarnation and redemption could have been be performed by a lesser divine being, created for the occasion. At this point theologians would be screaming that only the sacrifice of a fully god could atone for humankind sins, but how do they know the mind of God so completely to say that no other redemption scheme would work? Moreover, how can mere men pretend to define how and what the Supreme God can do or not do? If God had proclaimed that the sacrifice of a hundred virgins was required to amend for Adam’s mistake, who would have the authority to say, “No, you cannot do that, you have to sacrifice a co-equal God to yourself”? Trinitarians should understand that they are forcing their highly speculative reasoning on the Supreme Being himself.
BIBLE VERSES USED TO SUPPORT TRINITARIAN
AND NON-TRINITARIAN POSITIONS
“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”
Acts 2:22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.”
“He who has seen Me has seen the Father”
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone.”
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
“The Father and I are one.”
John 14:28 “the Father is greater than I”
“Before Abraham was born, I am”
John 7:16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me.”
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father
1 Corinthians 15:27-28
For “He has put all things under His feet.” But when He says “all things are put under Him,” it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
But about the Son he says,“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.”
“Jesus said unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”
The puzzle of the Trinity challenged artists to create pictures that resulted in very strange, if not heretic, results.
THE TRIUNE GOD (1)