This quarter, my pastor is teaching a Sunday school class called Veiled in Flesh. It's an intro class about Christology, that is, understanding who the Bible says that Jesus is. We talked for weeks about the Virgin birth, what it is and what it isn't, arguments for and against, the logic of it, and its doctrinal importance.
All in a Sunday school class?
How does that work? Well, my pastor loves teaching (in his "spare time" he teaches at a local seminary) so it's all kind of like cat nip to him. He encourages questions and loves discussing things that aren't on the 15-page hand out. Because of this, sometimes we end up on very interesting scholarly bunny trails. The one that is on my mind still today is this: did Jesus ever get sick?
Through the discussion of the Virgin birth, we had to grapple with the concept of Jesus being fully God and fully man. Of course, that is a loaded thought. People have been discussing and dissecting this concept for years. How does it all work? Can it work? What are the implications?
We started yesterday's class looking at the outcome of The Chalcedonian Confession from 451. In it, they discuss their understanding of what Jesus being both human and divine means for faith and understanding of the scripture. One of the things that really stood out (maybe because it was also the point my pastor was trying to make) was that they didn't define the nature of Jesus as what it was, but rather, what it was not: "One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being by no means take away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved..."
How else do you really explain something you can't fully understand? Never mind for a moment the actual theological ramifications of this technique, on a political level, this very smart. The way I see it, if you come out and say "Jesus was both divine and human and was like THIS..." you are tiptoeing (if not crossing completely) into heresy. I think if you take time to observe Jesus and his nature as a whole, you might being noting that to be "confusing" and "changing" is against his nature; therefore, to be both God and man he would necessarily have to be so without confusion, change, division, or separation.
With that knowledge swimming around in our brains, we then started to discuss that troublesome question: did Jesus ever get sick? My pastor opened up the floor for perspectives from the class, prefacing the discussion with the comment that there are scholarly arguments for both sides of the question.
One response was that according to scripture, Jesus was hungry and thirsty, so his divinity didn't keep him from suffering those human issues. Why would he also be kept from a sinus infection or cold?
A few brought up that Jesus' body might have been like Adam's was before the fall: perfect. If this is true, and if we view disease and sickness as part of the fall, wouldn't he necessarily be exempted from those effects from sin?
Others brought up his suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. Those are the sufferings of a human being: broken bones, bloody body, sweat drops like blood. Divine yes, but, as the class title references, with human skin on.
I loved the debate, the back and forth from the different minds represented in the room. You could tell everyone was thinking about the question and the ramifications of the answer, even if they didn't have a seminary degree (which, most of us did not). I think the bottom line came down to this: if Jesus was human and got sick, he wasn't very divine, was he? Only a weak god gets the sniffles. However, if Jesus was divine and didn't get sick, how can he be the savior who understands our human struggles, hurts, and suffering? He doesn't understand the human condition.
As the arguments, each with merit, continued to be discussed around the room, I realized we weren't actually going to agree on a verdict as a class. Honestly, it felt a little like philosophy class from my college days. "Yes, but is Descartes right in his way of thinking, in his way of understanding what is real?" My philosophy professor would never say!! It drove the whole class nuts, and prompted me to change my minor to philosophy. A minor where there was no right or wrong answer? Sign me up!
I started to wonder why such a simple question couldn't be answered. I think maybe the reason we couldn't agree is because we were approaching the question with our own version of humanity and deity. I think we look at the situation and say, "If I were Jesus, my humanity would look close enough to the worlds to be accepted, but just shy of actually suffering." Or, of course, on the flip side, "If I were Jesus, my divinity would allow me to live a super hero type existence, where the heat, cold, hunger and thirst wouldn't bother me." I'm not saying the question was wrong; I'm thinking that in our human existence, without full understanding of what it means to be both divine and human, we will continue to ascribe our version of humanity and our version of deity on Jesus that pales in comparison to the actual truth.
My thoughts? Did Jesus ever get sick? Maybe he did. Maybe he didn't.
I know he was concerned for us in our fallen state. He prays for us. He struggled with hard decisions and prayed, that if it was possible, for things to be different. He suffered personal loss of family and friends. He suffered spiritual and physical temptation. He suffered spiritual and physical torment.
And really, sickness comes and goes. Even in those first few days, when you feel terrible, you know that it won't last forever. Loss of a loved one, however, kind of sticks with you. Anniversaries and memories hit you, and you realize that however much time passes, the hurt never really goes away. Emotional pain has the tendency to stick with you for a long while and can affect how you process and understand your world. I am comforted in the fact that the pain of loss is something Jesus understood fully.
No, it doesn't clear up the whole, "How can he be divine and human at the SAME TIME?!?" question for me. But it helps me understand a little bit more of his nature and character and I think that is the most important thing.