I admit the title’s clickbaity. That was intentional. Is it irreverent? Maybe. Although I don’t think there’s anything irreverent about natural bodily functions. And if you’re offended, I’m sorry. But try to hear me out.
Because the fact of the matter is, if the Incarnation is true — if Jesus really was fully and truly a human being — then he did poop. And pee. And burp and fart. And hunger. And thirst. And laugh and love. And cry. And everything else we humans do and experience.
I think we struggle to entirely appreciate this, let alone accept it. I know I do, anyway. My guess is that many of us Christians give intellectual assent to the idea that Jesus was fully human. But somehow we also believe that he was really mostly divine. In the contest between Jesus’s fully human nature and divine nature, the divine dominates.
It’s not that we believe, consciously anyway, the ancient heresy known as docetism. That’s the idea, popular in gnostic circles, that Jesus only appeared to have a physical body. He looked like a human and seemed to be human, but really he wasn’t. His physicality and humanity were an illusion. Really he was completely divine.
No, we don’t believe that. We affirm the Incarnation as articulated in the historic creeds and confessions of the Church. We believe that the Word (Greek logos) became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ. It’s just that we can’t quite figure out how it all works.
And why shouldn’t we struggle? The idea of a God-man is difficult to grasp. It’s hard to accept. It’s the stuff of ancient myths.
Snapshots of Jesus’s Humanity
The Gospels portray very human moments and experiences of Jesus. Perhaps most pointedly, Jesus was born. And then later he was killed. Jesus died and was buried.
Jesus was born, lived, and died. That’s about as human as it gets.
But the Gospels tell us much more, providing vivid snapshots of Jesus’s humanity.
For example, Jesus got in trouble as a kid. This is a funny anecdote from Luke’s Gospel, and pretty much the only detail we have in the canonical Gospels from Jesus’s childhood.
Luke tells us that his parents chided him when he stayed behind in Jerusalem and they found him three days later at the temple discussing theology with the religious leaders. “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look your father and I have been searing for you in great anxiety,” says Mary (see Luke 2:41-52).
I take that as the equivalent of, “What were you thinking? You scared us! Don’t ever do that again!”
Luke tells us that after this he went back home with his parents and was obedient to them. Think about that. Jesus got reprimanded by his parents.
A moving scene that displays Jesus’s humanity is when he experienced sorrow and cried at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, even though Jesus presumably knew (in his divinity!) that he was about to do an incredible miracle and raise Lazarus from the dead. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved” and that “Jesus began to weep” (see John 11:1-44).
The Gospels also tell us that Jesus felt compassion for people. They tell us he got angry and frustrated. They tell us that he was hungry and thirsty.
Jesus was often misunderstood. His own family initially thought he was a bit crazy, while at other times some of his opponents ridiculed him as a heretic and also an illegitimate child. We can only imagine these accusations made him sad or angry or both.
Another moving snapshot. The Gospels tell us that on the night before his crucifixion, Jesus pleaded with the Father through anguished sweat drops of blood to PLEASE do some other option if it were at all possible. “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done,” Jesus prayed.
I wonder. Did Jesus summon supernatural power through his divine nature to overpower and overshadow his human nature in that vulnerable moment of anguished anticipation of the horrors to come? Was it because of his divinity that he could capitulate to crucifixion, despite having the power and ability to stop it?
Or were his divine and human natures working in conjunction and perfect harmony, even in his most vulnerable moments?
I’d like to think that Jesus didn’t draw on any superpowers from his divine nature when facing his most vulnerable, heartbreaking, and difficult moments in life. Otherwise, what help and inspiration could I possibly draw from him? I’m decidedly not divine. Neither are you. If we need a divine nature with supernatural power to get us through the devastating pain and losses of life, we’re fucked.
The Practicality of Jesus’s Humanity
Christians affirm that Jesus was a real flesh and blood human being and that within the one person of Jesus two natures — one fully human and one fully divine — mysteriously coexisted. That’s basically what the Definition of Chalcedon, adopted by the Church in 451 CE, affirms.
But how does this work? The Chalcedonian Creed doesn’t say. Theologians and philosophers have been puzzling over it ever since, right up to the present. These are esoteric academic conversations. But the implications of Jesus being fully human and fully divine are very practical for you and me.
First, if Jesus wasn’t fully divine, then his death on the cross was nothing more than a terrible tragedy and grave injustice. At best, Jesus was a martyr that we can look to as an example and inspiration of living a life of self-sacrificial love and service for others. His teachings and life example may inspire us to be better, more compassionate human beings. And that’s a good thing. But that definitely doesn’t make him the Savior of the world.
On the flip side, if Jesus wasn’t fully human, then he could never truly enter in to, understand, and experience the human condition with all of its joys and sorrows, complexities and contradictions. If Jesus wasn’t truly, fully human, then he didn’t really experience pain, sorrow, and suffering. He only seemed to. And that would be a sham.
It’s because Jesus was fully human that he can identify with us and our experiences. He knows our pain. He knows our sorrows. He knows the sting of rejection and misunderstanding. He knows the joy and beauty of friendship and good food and drink. He knows our struggles. He even knows our temptations.
Jesus knows everything about us. He experienced what we experience. And I think that’s what makes Jesus so compelling.