John Behr gave an excellent and challenging lecture today at Wycliffe College. It was on ‘Becoming Human’. Basically, it was a run down on theosis or divinization: God became man that man might become God. The premise being that man was created for participation in the divine life. OK, if that’s confusing, never mind. He of course relied heavily on the patristics, particularly Irenaeus for much of this. There is much I could reflect on from his lecture, however, one of the matters that stood out to me most was a hermeneutical point from the gospel of John.
One of the underlying themes of the lecture was that to be human is to die. Christ tramples down death by death and in so doing transforms death into a entrance to life. Baptism, initiation into the Christian community, is itself a baptism into the death of Christ. The call of the disciple is to pick up ones cross and follow Christ. Christ is the true Adam, the spiritual man. We see what God is really like in the death of the man Jesus, and thus we see what it is to be truly human.
OK, to John. The synoptics all have Jesus crying out to the Father on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?” (ex. Mark 15:34). John does not have this. Instead, John has Jesus calling out, “It is finished!” (19:30). This of course begs the question, what is finished? Behr here makes an interesting note that relates to theosis, and the point that to be human is to die. As noted above, Jesus is the second Adam, the true man. In John, just prior to the crucifixion Pilate proclaims, “Here is the man!” (19:5). Now, the gospel of John has clear allusions to Genesis (i.e. see 1:1 of John – in the beginning…). Behr believes that the proclamation “it is finished!” harkens us back to Genesis 1:26-27, the divine project, the human creature. In the beginning God made man but man was not perfect. Man was an infant and infants need milk. Infants cannot handle meat. Thus, the human creature had to grow up into perfection, into participation in the divine life. For Behr, in Christ’s death on the cross the human project is complete.
To be human is to die, and in death to enter into true life, eternal life. In baptism, in discipleship, the Christian dies and learns to die daily as the apostle Paul says.
Forgive me if this seems incomplete, it probably is. There is much more that could be said here!