Guest Post – The Opening of Arms Toward the Other: A Cruciform Phenomenology of The Humanity and Divinity of Christ
Today I am happy to offer yet another wonderful guest contribution from a friend over at Theopoetry, Michael Dise!
* * *
“Open arms are a gesture of the body reaching for the other. They are a sign of discontent with my own self-enclosed identity and a code of desire for the other. I do not want to be myself only; I want the other to be part of who I am and I want to be part of the other.” –Miroslav Volf
For two thousand years Christians have debated over how to intelligibly conceptualize and reconcile two descriptive categories of Jesus in the canonical Gospel traditions on philosophical grounds. One category meets us in ordinary immanence: the humanity of Jesus from birth in a feeding trough to bloody death on a wooden cross, with heaps of sorrow and grief in between. The other category meets us in mythical transcendence: the divinity of Christ that arrives to us in the power and influence of Jesus, exploding through resurrection and transforming the consciousness of an expanding community called the “body of Christ.”
Several councils met throughout the first five centuries to accomplish this reconciliation. There was the Antiochene School consisting of those who sublated the divine aspect through totalized humanity, arguing that Jesus was created and specially empowered to reveal God’s wisdom and intentions through the indwelling Spirit. Then there was the Alexandrian School where advocates argued that the divine Creator took on fleshly form to accomplish our salvation. The ongoing tension terminated with the acceptance of an unresolvable paradox: Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.
What if the paradox only exists in an outdated metaphysics? In both the Platonic and Aristotelian paradigms of that age, incarnation was a problem. The divine essence was seen as totally transcendent of this world by necessity. But we know now, via quantum physics, that all matter is constituted by relationships of energy. The old problem of incarnation is how two essences can occupy the same space. But from the quantum perspective, incarnation is ubiquitous if God is understood as “light” (a mythic archetype for divinity), which in physics amounts to pure energy: the very basis of matter. God then must be incarnate in all being as its very ground and future. The new question then is not how God’s incarnation in Jesus is possible, but how it is unique.
The incarnation of Jesus would have to be different by degree, not kind. What is this degree? It is Jesus’ full unity with the divine that makes him fully human, and it is his full humanity that makes him fully divine. This stands over and against the multifarious forms of alienation in the general anxiety of the human life. Jesus is more human by degree, but not other than human.
How does he accomplish this union? Unlike the Antiochene Jesus who becomes superhuman by making a special claim on the being of God that you and I cannot, and unlike the Alexandrian Jesus who is the God-in-flesh making a special claim on human being that we cannot, Jesus spreads open his arms toward both poles of being as a meeting space. With one arm reached toward divinity and one toward humanity, he simply makes himself a space of near-nonbeing—an open convergence between the divine and the human. He becomes not a demigod but a space between being itself.
The symbol of Jesus spreading out his arms is found on the cross itself. In Golgotha, a cursed “outside” where tribal identities no longer persist, Jesus becomes subject to nonbeing and otherness. In this place of self-emptying, he opens his arms toward the other, welcoming the other into a cruciform way of life where identities are crucified and transformed so that each person may embrace the other.
Through the embrace of the other, self-alienation is dissolved into holistic completion. It is here that one may become “fully human.” And it is only as one becomes fully human that she may become “fully divine,” for the divine is the space where being leaves itself to join with the other toward the creation of fuller Being. It is the sacred space of emerging wholeness wherein alienation is traded for loving embrace, and it is the sacred, differentiated unity of beings in love.
Christ hangs at the intersection of two lines: one is vertical (divine), and the other is horizontal (human). As such, the cross is the place of intersection, staked into the very ground of nonbeing and nonidentity. The cross “crosses out” tribal identity insofar as it honors the human as human, allowing us to flourish as more fully human and thus become more fully divine.