Part 1: Fully God, Fully Human
Growing up, I really struggled with the idea that Jesus could be 100% human and 100% God. I understood that it wasn’t quite that Jesus had a human body but God’s heart, and I was completely unconvinced of any examples of fruit given to explain the Godhead’s relationship. i.e. Holy Spirit as apple seed, God the Father as apple meat, and Jesus Christ as apple skin–all of these are parts of the apple, but not each other. Somehow, thinking of Jesus Christ as an orange peel didn’t quite bring me to any deep revelations about the nature of God. The “human body vs divine spirit” and “parts-of-a-fruit” dichotomies made for too much separation, they were too easily defined. If these were parts that made a whole, how could they be separated? When you peel an apple, you don’t call the peel “the apple”–the meat is more “apple” than the peel or the seeds. And what about the stem? Sometimes the core was referred to as the third part, and in that case, are the seeds considered part of the core? I was stumped.
The first step closer to understanding was in ~5th grade, when a brilliant kid who was regularly bullied raised his hand during chapel and asked if we could think of the Holy Spirit, Christ, and the Father as different states of matter. H20 can be liquid, solid, or gas–it’s the same substance, but taking different forms, which can serve different purposes. I don’t remember the pastor’s response, but the concept definitely clicked with me. (Thanks, dude.)
The second stirring of understanding was when, as a part of a 7th grade history assignment, I had to interview people from different faiths to get their perspective on God. I spoke with a Hindu neighbor, who explained to me that though Hinduism is considered by outsiders to be a polytheistic religion, in her understanding, the same divine source flows through different channels or aspects. These aspects can be perceived as deities and worshipped/worked with distinctly. (This was one of those moments where I felt my brain stretching to accommodate a new perspective it’d been seeking.) I asked her what God looked like to her, and she said “I guess a sphere of glowing light; self-contained, but radiating outward.” That was the first time I’d heard God visualized more as a force, rather than as a very large old magic man floating in the ether. I excitedly reported this to my teacher in class, at which point it became clear that the point of the exercise was to mock other faith traditions and assert the superiority of Christianity. “And how does she expect a glowing light to protect her?” I don’t know, but I’ve never heard of a massive, wrinkly, caucasian, cisgender male hand reaching down from the sky in order to save someone from a car wreck either.
These 2 examples get at the same idea (obvious to many but, hey, I didn’t get it for a while): the stuff of God is the same, it just shows up in different ways. In Jesus’ case, God-stuff showed up *as* a human. The line between human and God is unable to be drawn in Jesus’ being, but the dynamic struggle with having fully human and fully Divine nature is highlighted in his prayer in Gethsemane. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane following his last meal with the disciples, and directly preceding his arrest. Reading this part of the Bible last year led to my 3rd major epiphany about Jesus’ nature: He did not want to do the thing he came here to do.
Part 2: Human Desire and Divine Will
Art depicting Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane often shows a pensive, kneeling Christ, hands clasped placidly, eyes turned gently upward to heaven. The verses, on the other hand, describe him sweating so hard it ran down his skin like blood, throwing himself face-first on the ground, begging God multiple times to please, if there’s any other way, let’s do that. Please, don’t make me do this–“yet not my will, but yours be done.” In this moment, that singular phrase, we see that Christ experiences a will that is on some level separate from God’s and that he can acknowledge it. He has a desire for self-preservation, security, and for connection with God. I’m certain that he was aware that in his act of sacrifice, he’d experience the feeling of separation from Divinity due to sin for the first and only time.
Christ did not want to be tortured to death, even though that’s what he came here to do, and even though resurrection was on the other side. It is not wrong to desire safety and connection. The whole reason why Christ’s admonishment to “take up your cross daily and follow” him works is because he knew what it was like to be really really freaked out about doing that literal thing, and then doing it anyway. Christ’s death and resurrection symbolizes our chance to die to things that scare us and come alive in deeper truth, gaining stronger and stronger connections with God through the process. That’s why taking up your cross is a “daily” action: we’re constantly dying to old shit and being born with new, more loving perspectives that come from a deeper relationship with God.
I spent a lot of my early life being told that my sinful thoughts and desires were enough to keep me from God, and that someone had to be tortured to death over them. It is insane that a child would be taught that. It is so wildly harmful to teach kids that they are responsible for every thought and want that crosses their mind and heart, that many of these notions and desires are evil and expressions of their inadequacy. Most human beings will never gain full control of their thoughts, and even in his final moments Christ did not dictate his surface-level desires, only his actions–why would Love itself condemn us to separation and death for something over which we have no control?
I think the difficulty a lot of Christians have with reconciling Christ’s divine/human nature lies in this belief that we are inherently separate from God, which is the idea of “original sin.” But we weren’t created apart from God. In order to experience separation (the fall), there needs to have been a state of union in the first place. The deeper reality is that we’re still connected to God–the original condition is one of union/love/honor, not separation/sin. The pain and fear we experience comes from the rupture/separation/sin, and we perceive it as painful because it is not our original and natural state! But it’s up to us to repair that relationship and seek union. If separation was and is our choice, reunion is available to us as well. We have free will and infinite chances–we asked for knowledge, and now we’re here learning how to recognize our connection with God, ourselves, and each-other.
Our perception of ourselves as inherently sinful allows us to divide Jesus; he becomes human in body, but completely divine in spirit and mind. He becomes a peel that can be separated from the rest of the fruit. A part of God, apart from the other parts. There is no clean splice, though. As Jesus says in John 14:11: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me…” The Son cannot exist outside of the Father. They are in complete union with each other, and when we see this, Christ says we also get to join in on the party: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” Seeing that someone can act in complete accord with divinity, even in the face of terror, allows us the opportunity to do the same and experience that union ourselves. Recognizing the human Christ’s relationship with God immediately brings us into that same relationship, because we instantly begin to see Christ in ourselves and ourselves in Christ. Allowing Christ humanity and divinity is an acceptance of our own and others’ combo human/divine nature. And once we see that, we get the chance to act in accord with divinity, and with acknowledgement, respect, and acceptance for our collective and individual humanity. When we recognize our own individual connection with God, it becomes impossible to see others as completely separate beings. Knowing Divinity becomes knowing the Divinity within us and others. We all come from the same Source, and we can’t exist outside of that Source. Namaste, right?
Part 3: Dealing with Desire
Acceptance of our humanity is tricky, especially when we’re told by Christ to “deny ourselves.” This doesn’t mean to deny the fact that you have human desires/needs, it means to potentially deny action upon those desires, should they conflict with deeply respecting and loving God, yourself, and the rest of creation. Luke 9:23 says that denying yourself is only something you’ll need to do if you want to follow Christ. It’s a desire that drives you to Christ in the first place. We can only act in the interest of what we most deeply want. If God themself had no desire to self-express through creation, nothing would be. But with God/Love/Source, desire=will=action=being. God by nature is in and is itself the state of complete harmony. Christ, as a human, understood what it felt like to have desires that were self-interested, but as a human in complete connection with the Divine, his deepest desires were to always act in the most loving ways available to creation, even if that meant doing something he found completely terrifying. Again, “yet not my will, but yours be done,” indicating that Christ’s deepest desire, even deeper than the individual desire to stay alive, was in connection with God’s will.
You can’t deny a desire if you don’t have the want in the first place. Judging yourself for how heavy your cross is, or how weak you are won’t help you carry it. Nor is the lesson to be silently embarrassed or deeply ashamed of your struggles. Even Christ stumbled (according to tradition, not Scripture) and had help carrying his literal cross. It’s so much easier to get past your surface desires and into the shit that really matters if you’re not judging yourself for having wants from the get-go. Desire is not inherently evil; I argue that it’s a necessary part of creative expression. God has a will, and us tapping into that will and enacting it in our own lives doesn’t always have to mean agonizing pain. A lot of the time, it can look as simple as defying a way of inauthentic, painful being that was handed to us by society, family, whatever. It’s scary and uncomfortable to move past that desire for acceptance, but the other side is peace. The other side of the cross is resurrection, after all. Suffering and torment is not God’s end game. Connection and life is.
The other side of carrying your cross every day, denying old ways of being, is resurrection into new life and freedom. There is peace to be found here, even if it feels uncomfortable at first to get this place. Even if it’s scary to ask for help with dealing with your issues. Even if it churns your gut to look at your cross, to acknowledge its existence. Your surface level desires are probably to avoid discomfort (mine are). The thing is, your deepest desires will probably lead you through the discomfort in the direction of wholeness. But you can’t figure out what those deep wants are if you’re blaming yourself for having desires in the first place (and probably coping with that guilt on some level by judging other people for wanting what they want). That’s not bearing your cross.
In Gethsemane, Jesus didn’t hold back from telling his disciples that he was “overwhelmed with sorrow;” he wasn’t trying to hide his fear of what was coming. Hell, he was having his sweaty emotional breakdown only a short distance away from his disciples, who he’d asked to stay awake to be with him. Christ wasn’t judging himself for having desires, he didn’t need to justify his request to be spared should that be an option. He didn’t try to remain as composed and meditative as possible. He allowed himself time to struggle with the incredible amount of pain that was expected of him, and I believe that allowed him to treat his torturers and betrayers with kindness and forgiveness. Treating yourself with non-judgement allows you to treat others with that same graceful understanding.
Part 4: Personal Stuff
In my life, at least, this notion that every fleeting thought and desire that passes through me is indicative of my character and grounds for rejection has been exceptionally painful. As a kid that really wanted more than anything to be good, wanted approval like air, I’d end up judgmentally fixating on thoughts and wants that I was told were sinful. Combined with a predisposition for racing thoughts that’d keep me awake for hours at night even as a young kid, I’d overthink not so much everything I did and said, but every feeling/thought/desire I had. As an adult that’s had to deal with that pattern, it’s led to a real struggle with acknowledging and standing up for things that are important to me. It’s led to me feeling bad for having any desires at all, and it’s taken so, so much practice just to get curious about my desires without immediately casting judgement on them. It’s incredibly painful to be constantly blaming yourself for fleeting emotions, in part because it’s the judgement that makes the feelings stick around! Repressing desires and thoughts is not denying yourself/taking up your cross. It’s self harm–non-erotic, punitive auto-asphyxiation. Approaching your desires with curiosity and the goal of understanding allows you the openness to figure out where they’re coming from, what level they’re on, and whether you really wanna act on them. And from that place of non-judgmental self-control, it becomes easier and easier to take responsibility for your actions. Apologies can actually be genuine, while asserting your needs becomes more natural. The cool thing is, you end up making better decisions too.
You deserve to feel comfortable with the core of who you are. You weren’t made to suffer. You weren’t designed for judgement and rejection. You’re good, yo.