Was Jesus God?

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luk 1:30-33 NRS)

It was a cold crisp fall evening in the mountains outside of Asheville where my son went to college at Warren-Wilson.  My husband and I had the habit whenever we visited him of taking him and dozen or so of his friends out to dinner.  These were not your average group of college kids.  Their families were quite affluent – some of their parents were even famous.  But they had chosen to go to a school where you worked 15 hours a week doing everything from raising livestock, tending the vegetable farm, cooking and cleaning in the cafeteria, or maintaining the facilities.  The students were also required to do 40 hours of community service.  They volunteered in the local elementary school, the homeless shelters, or the food bank – to name a few.  The school was a community like nothing I have ever encountered.  I longed to be 18 again and attend!  The thing that I noticed more than anything else was that their experience there instilled in them both the desire to make the world a better place and the confidence that they could do it.

I was a pastor at the time and that fascinated my son’s friends mostly because I wasn’t anything like the pastors they had encountered before.  Pastors were supposed to preach fire and brimstone, be anti-woman, and most certainly be against the LGBT community.  The Christians that they had encountered were against protecting the environment, caring for the vulnerable people in the world, and having any kind of real fun.   These kids weren’t enamored with the church at all.

But oddly – they had no argument with Jesus.  Love your enemy.  Take care of the least of these.  All of this was simple truth to them.  And they longed for a mystical experience of the numinous.  They weren’t afraid of believing in the supernatural.  Some of them even practiced praying daily to a God they had not yet named.

That night, as I sat at the long table in the storefront window of a downtown Asheville restaurant all eyes turned to me when someone asked me to tell them about Jesus.  In other words, they liked Jesus’ teachings so now they’d like to learn about him.

This question jolted my thoughts back to an older man – an ancient man, really – who had been in one of my congregations.  I had no idea of his real age, but he was old.  He did the opposite thing these kids were doing.  He was from India and had converted from Hinduism to Christianity as a young man.  He, like these kids, had been looking for an encounter with God.  He told me that he went on a quest as a young man and studied all the major religions of the world.  In the end, he decided on Christianity because we believe that we follow the teachings of a living God, not the teachings of prophets long dead.  He said that only a living God was worth worshiping.  It was after he made that decision that he found a church and started attending.  Unlike these kids, he liked Jesus’ claims of deity and then decided to study his teachings.

But either way you approach Jesus, he had many good teachings that regardless of his divinity, if followed, would make the world a better place.  But he also made some outrageous claims about himself.  In the Gospel of John alone, he says some incredible things.  In Chapter 4, he confirms to the Samaritan woman that he is the Messiah.  He claims to be from heaven and eternal – having no beginning or end – in Chapter 8 of John.  He claimed to be equal with God in Chapter 10.  He claimed he was the complete revelation of God and the way to God in Chapter 14.  He claimed to be more than just a prophet. He claimed to be both God and the Son of God in some unearthly relationship that we can’t entirely understand.

I think we have three conclusions that we can come to about who Jesus was.  The first is that Jesus’ claims are true and he is both God and a great teacher.  The second is that Jesus was a religious-demagogue, who set out to control people for his own personal gain and failed.   However, this isn’t remotely in line with his teachings and life.  He never seemed to seek to please those who could have made him more popular – nor did he seek any personal gain whatsoever.   Finally, he could have been a nut case believing himself to be God, but in reality just being one of us.  His closest friends (and one of them was a doctor) never give us any hint of this possibility.  And all but one of them were tortured and died for their faith in Christ.

I believe Jesus was God.  But in honesty, my belief doesn’t come from reasoning it out.  It comes from experiencing Christ in my everyday life.

My ancient friend from India told me once that every morning he goes into a quiet room in his house, lights a candle, and prays.  He said this time of being in the presence of Jesus is more real to him than what the rest of the world considers reality.  He experiences God every day.  And he has named the God he prays to: Jesus.

*****

April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.  

15 thoughts on “Was Jesus God?

  1. And I have yet another slant on things that I won’t expound on here, but to have the dialogue and to at least consider that there are different interpretations and ways of approaching Jesus and/or God (now that was awkward) is a good thing. I don’t think we can go too far wrong while we keep seeking. It’s when we think we already know the whole truth that we’re actually furthest from it.

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  2. I can’t reply to Arkenaten for some reason… but Jesus explains this. He says “the Father and I are one.” He often spoke to the other members of the trinity. There is a famous icon showing the members of the trinity around a table having a chat.

    This quote does not mean he considered he was god at all. In fact, it could be interpreted as meaning a number of things, like we are family, for instance. It is only Christians ho wish too read into it that he was god because without this heir religion is meaningless.
    The Jesus./God concept is man-made and was hammered out beginning with the Council of Nicea. You do know your history I take it?
    There was much dissent concerning the nature of Jesus hence the decrees and the declaration of heresy directed against Arians for one.Really, you can doff your cap at Marcion for forcing the Church to get it ass into gear re the gospel and Constantine for at least demanding unity regarding your god and his nature.

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    1. Actually – Jesus’ divinity was not what was in question at Nicaea. It was how he was God – whether he was created divine by the Father or if he always existed as part of the God head. Arius didn’t doubt that Jesus was God – he just disagree how Jesus was God.

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      1. Arius didn’t doubt that Jesus was God

        Lol…what a load of nonsense. Let me rather quote Wiki instead of getting involved in a long dawn out semantic debate. And then , please stop being silly and go and research some history and stop trying to present some warped christian interpretation, okay?

        The Arian concept of Christ is that the Son of God did not always exist, but was created by—and is therefore distinct from—God the Father.
        Wiki

        Actually – Jesus’ divinity was not what was in question at Nicaea.

        The council settled, to some degree, the debate within the Early Christian communities regarding the divinity of Christ.
        Wiki

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  3. “The Christians that they had encountered were against protecting the environment, caring for the vulnerable people in the world, and having any kind of real fun…But oddly – they had no argument with Jesus. Love your enemy. Take care of the least of these.”

    Reminds me of: “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”–attributed to Gandhi, though a little Googling shows the origin is fuzzy.

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    1. Sure he does. Read John 5 starting with about verse 19. And again in John 11 and 17. Jesus refers to himself as both the Son of God and Son of Man illustrating his divinity and humanity. He calls God “father” and Mary “mother” in John too. It is pretty straightforward.

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      1. Nope. He didn’t. This is merely Christian interpretation; something they were forced to do to combat the various interpretations that abounded prior to the Nicene Creed and there are many more examples in the bible that clearly illustrate that he did not consider he was god’ not least his forlorn cry on the cross:

        Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do. Luke 23:43: …

        Matthew 27:46: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

        If he wasn’t calling out to god who was he calling to? Himself?

        The Church made him god, plain and simple.

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      2. I can’t reply to Arkenaten for some reason… but Jesus explains this. He says “the Father and I are one.” He often spoke to the other members of the trinity. There is a famous icon showing the members of the trinity around a table having a chat.

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  4. “I believe Jesus was God. But in honesty, my belief doesn’t come from reasoning it out. It comes from experiencing Christ in my everyday life.” Or is it the other way around–you experience life with Jesus as God everyday because you first believe Jesus is God? If this is not right, and I have it backwards, then you have an extraordinary story to tell. Your post only barely touches that ground.

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    1. Please expound. I am not sure where you are going. Isn’t the Bible is full of stories where people experience Jesus before they can name him. I think of Paul (aka Saul) on the road to Damascus – he didn’t believe in Jesus until he experienced him. Or the guy in Corinth who was worshiping, praying, and doing good deeds for a God he didn’t know – then Peter was sent by God to tell him about Jesus. Or the people in Rome (?) who worshiped “the Unknown God” and God sent Paul to tell them his name was Jesus. As a Presbyterian pastor, whenever I would baptize a child, I would say something along the lines of “one of the reasons we baptize infants is to remind us that God’s grace is at work in our lives before we are even aware that God exists.” Thanks for your comment. Not sure I am lining up with what you were commenting on! April

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  5. I know so many who are like your son’s friends, who often associate Christians and “religion” with exclusion and judgement, so radically different from what Jesus teaches. When I imagine God, I see and hear Jesus.

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