Was Jesus divine? This question appears to be important. Some Christians believe it is the ultimate question and that your answer decides whether you are saved or damned. Almost everyone has an opinion one way or another. Countless books and essays have been written on the topic. It is at the heart of why Quakers split into different acronyms.
Traditionally there have only been three discussed beliefs concerning the divinity of Christ. The first being Christ is infallible, holy and is to be worshiped and accepted as Lord. The second is Christ was a good man with some good ideas, in the same realm as many peaceful leaders. The third argument says if you do not believe Christ to be divine, then you must see him as comparable to a modern cult leader because he claimed himself to be a savior. We are left with the options of god, martyr and liar.
Consider what it would mean if the question did not matter at all? How liberating would it be if the divinity of Christ was never called into question, not because the answer was so certain, but because the answer was completely and utterly irrelevant? I believe this to be true. The best example of how little it matters whether Jesus was more than human is found in the New Testament itself.
One of the most interesting parts of the resurrection story is often the most over looked. The part of the story between Christ’s last words on the cross, and his first words out of the tomb should be the most relatable to us. This is where Jesus is no longer bodily available to people. They have heard what he said but now, at least physically, they are on their own. This is the point his followers are most like us, seemingly alone and unsupervised.
You may believe bible to be literal fact, complete fiction, or somewhere in between. Regardless, this one part of the story is universal. What do we do when we become convinced that our past beliefs were completely wrong?
New Testament gives us a few different versions of what happens. What we can generally conclude is this: Jesus is taken down from the cross the day before the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene or some other woman goes to the tomb first thing in the morning the day after the Sabbath and she sees Jesus is not there. There is discrepancy in the details but these points seem consistently represented in various versions of the story.
We are also told that the woman is going to prepare a body. She has spices and oils and all the things needed in her traditions to ready a corpse. She believes completely and without doubt that Jesus is dead. She would have been there earlier but it was Sabbath. So, first the thing the next morning, when it is still dark, she leaves her home to go the place where she saw the body was laid.
Why is this woman doing this? Why hasn’t one of the disciples taken care of this? Where are they? The New Testament gives us different versions here as well. They were in their homes. They were hiding from anyone who might want to persecute them as well. They were going back to their lives. They too believed Jesus was dead. They certainly were not waiting for him to reappear. They knew where his body was but they were not concerned with making sure this man they claimed to love had a proper burial.
Maybe the disciples were embarrassed. They had been following this man, proclaiming him the messiah, and now he was dead. He did not seem so special once he had died like all men die. They had been mocked and they had nothing they could use to prove they were right. They may have felt as if they had been tricked. They may have been angry. They certainly were not concerned with his body. They were trying to protect themselves from further humiliation.
Then there is this woman. She does not care whether Jesus was divine or not. In fact, she has every reason to believe he was just a man. Despite this, at her first opportunity, before the sun even rises the day after the Sabbath, she races back to his tomb. Perhaps she thinks to herself: This man deserved better than this. He was kind. He treated me like an equal. He was a good man. He spoke the truth. I could not save him from being killed but I can do this. He was my friend.
She gets to the tomb and he is not there. She believes someone has come and stolen the body. This is the only logical explanation because she knows he was dead. She is horribly upset because someone has taken away her opportunity to properly mourn her friend. Here we are told Jesus comes to her. She is the first person to talk to him. He comforts her. Then she goes back to let everyone know Jesus is alive. This has the interesting effect of making the first Christian preacher a woman.
Now whether you believe this to be literal, or a story with a good moral, there still must be a reason that this woman, and not one of the surviving disciples, was the first person Jesus talks to. It wasn’t because she had the most faith. She thought he was dead. She didn’t believe he would rise again anymore then anyone else. She was there because he was her friend. She was there because she loved his actions and his message, not because he was divine. Who he was as a man, what he taught, was enough.
There was a letter to the editor in an issue of Quaker Life. The letter was from a group of people who were angry because something in a previous issue had suggested maybe Quakers didn’t necessarily have to believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ. The group of people said if Quakers did not believe in the resurrection, then the best course of action would be to lay down the meeting and open quote-“something useful, like a box factory”. I found this to be incredibly sad. The thought processes here is, if Christ is not divine, then why believe or practice a word he said? If he is not be worshiped, why practice what he taught?
The short answer is because what he taught was true. Peace, love, equality and tolerance are good principles, no matter who teaches them to you. When truth comes to you, it is true, regardless of the source. Truth does not need to be proved.
Regardless of Christ’s divinity, love is better than hate. Peace is better than war. Tolerance is better than persecution. If we can agree on that, then all the theological details are irrelevant. If Quakers can agree that this all-important question, this cause of so much division and strife, simply does not matter, then what else stands in the way of unity? What other differences can Friends not overcome?