John 16: Relatable

How relatable is John’s Jesus?

“Fully human and fully divine” is one of those Christian doctrines that is really hard to wrap your head around, and for me it usually devolves into a “What did Jesus know, and when did he know it?” musing that doesn’t have much of a resolution. 

On the one hand, if Jesus is God become fully man, then that should bring with it the limits of our finitude. He can read people’s hearts, but that’s something other wise people can do. He can heal people and perform miracles, which sounds pretty freaky now, but at the time, there were lots of other non-deity folks walking around who claimed to do the same. (I think there was even a kind of union or guild of wonder workers mentioned in Acts.) A fully human Jesus is a baby like other babies, a kid like other kids, a teen like other teens, a young adult like other young adults. If part of our takeaway from the faith is to follow him, it’s important to know that following Jesus doesn’t require us to have divine powers. Human Jesus shouldn’t already know who’s going to win the Super Bowl, for instance. Because if that’s where his identity lies, how can we really follow him?

On the other hand, if Jesus is still fully God, doesn’t that mean he brings whatever is most divine into his human life? Knowledge, power, goodness, all that? Divine Jesus can calm the storms, can evict the demons, can know how his story ends. If Jesus isn’t God, then all of us Christians have been seriously punk’d, and are possibly in deep deep trouble with the real one God to boot.

We claim that Jesus is both at the same time, but I sure can’t figure it out. If Jesus knows all the things and can do it all, he’s not really human. If he’s clueless, he’s not really God.

John mostly leans into the divine side of Jesus. While it’s true, John’s Jesus weeps, for the most part he is the man with all the answers. And that makes it hard to relate to him.

John 16 is a lot. I was comforted to read that one of the passages here was so confusing that Augustine skipped it and Aquinas refused to weigh in on it, beyond citing what others had said. But it’s a lot of Jesus-with-all-the-answers. About the future. About the Holy Spirit. About what’s going to happen, not just to him but to the people who follow him. It’s a separate question whether I would *want* to know what he knows, but for sure, I can’t relate to having that peek behind the curtain.

One remarkable thing about the Bible is that there weren’t chapters and verses until the 16th century. The myth was that they were done by a guy while he was riding a horse; that’s to explain why there are some pretty random lines of demarcation. Horse hit a pothole, and there’s your chapter break.

But even so, the guy got John right pretty often. I say that because the unifying element to John 16 is how it opens and closes: Jesus tells his disciples that they are going to get tossed from the synagogues and so vilified that people will kill them, thinking that doing so honors God. And John 16 closes with Jesus saying, look, this life is going to be rough on you. But have no fear and be of good cheer, because I’m going to go through that desolation first, and I’m going to win this thing.

I still don’t understand Jesus. The whole fully-human, fully-divine thing remains a riddle. But, know-it-all that John’s Jesus is, he makes a point of comforting his friends for losses they don’t even know they will experience. And he comforts them by telling them not only that he’ll have been through worse, but that he knows he and they will see the other side.

I can relate to that Jesus. 

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