Less than a year into my walk with the Lord, I sat in my friend’s living room with other kids from my high school (including a girl I’d never met) for Thursday night Bible Study. My friend began his opening prayer, speaking in an unusually forceful tone as he praised God for becoming a Man. He managed to find at least four ways to reiterate the idea.
Before he could finish praying, the visiting girl lept up, covered her ears and ran out of the house shouting, “Blasphemy!”
Baffled, I asked the leader what had just happened. He explained that she belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a cult that denied Christ’s deity.
At that point, my confusion intensified. I knew that Jesus was God’s Son, and that He was the Lord, but I’d never realized that He was God Himself. That night, as my friend took us through Scriptures demonstrating the Lord’s Incarnation as Jesus Christ, I developed a fascination with the doctrine that continues to this day.
Perhaps the fascination with lies in the whole concept of God taking on human flesh. That idea goes far beyond our comprehension. Christ’s Incarnation, like the Trinity Itself, bypasses human intellect, leaving us uncomfortable with our inability to comprehend the Creator of all things “reducing” Himself to inhabit His virgin mother’s womb. Offended by this apparent assault on our reasoning capabilities (as if we have some sort of right to equality with God), many of us invent false theologies that deny Jesus’ deity…or badly distort it. Ever prideful, we demand a God that yields to our understanding–not one Who confronts us with our cognitive limitations.
Interestingly, Jesus never used appeals to human intellect when He declared His deity. Instead, He simply stated the fact using words and idioms that First Century Jews completely understood. As a 17-year-old girl, I found John 8:48-59 riveting. Here’s the passage in the ESV:
48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
Notice verse 58. When Jesus said, “I AM,” He referred back to God’s words to Moses from the burning bush:
13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” ~~Exodus 3:13-14 (ESV)
The Pharisees, having great knowledge of this passage in Exodus, instantly caught Jesus’ reference, as evidenced by their attempt to stone Him in verse 59. They had no difficulty recognizing the fact that Jesus had very openly claimed to be God.
Our intellectual pride demands to fully understand Christ’s Incarnation, leading to many heresies in the first few centuries of the Church. Cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses have brought those heresies into the present day. Astonishingly, Jehovah’s Witnesses honestly admit that they object to the Incarnation because it doesn’t make sense.
But I would counter that truth (particularly in relation to God’s nature) doesn’t depend on human reason for validation. In fact, the very transcendence of God beyond our intellectual capabilities causes believers to worship Him with a sense of wonder. The wonder I felt that Thursday night.