Celebrating the Resurrection

11 04 2009

I had a conversation last night with some friends of mine, one of whom is a Muslim. I had the opportunity to explain to them the significance of the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This led to a number of questions from Fatemeh, a Muslim who is schooled in her faith. She asked how God could become less than he is by becoming a man. She asked how God could be three persons. She asked how the Old Testament prophets could have sinned. These and others are common questions asked by Muslims and are put forth as logical contradictions; however, when probed more deeply, they are not contradictions at all. First, when we say that God is one in being yet three persons, we often get confused with humans who are one in being and person for the most part. In listening to William Lane Craig answer questions of a person who was engaged in a conversation with a Muslim, he answered the question this way. God is one, yet with three separate and distinct centers of consciousness. Those centers of consciousness are the three persons of the godhead. This was a bit difficult for Fatemeh to understand partly due to her Muslim biases and partly due to language barriers, but I think she at least understood what I was saying.

Regarding the question of Jesus becoming a man, and therefore in her estimation, less than God, here is how I answered that question. As we read in Philippians 2, Jesus took on the nature of a man; however, in doing this he didn’t become less than God, but simply added a human nature to his divine nature. So, Jesus didn’t become 50% man and 50% God, or any other breakdown that would add up ultimately to only 100%. He was 100% God and 100% man, fully encompassing both natures without those natures intermixing or being in any way separable. This issue was debated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D. which produced the following statement:

Following the holy Fathers, we unanimously teach and confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, composed of rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father as to his divinity and consubstantial with us as to his humanity; “like us in all things but sin.” He was begotten from the Father before all ages as to his divinity and in these last days, for us and for our salvation, was born as to his humanity of the virgin Mary, the Mother of God.
We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division, or separation (in duabus naturis inconfuse, immutabiliter, indivise, inseparabiliter). The distinction between natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person (prosopon) and one hypostasis.

I also explained that though the Old Testament prophets sinned, for which the Bible gives plenty of evidence, they had the same opportunity as Christians do today to have their sins covered through their trust in God. They sacrificed animals at the Temple as a temporary covering of their sins, yet the blood of those animals was always temporary; Jesus on the other hand, was the final offering – the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world!

Fatemeh’s last question had to do with God’s justice. She believed that Christianity was not based on a view of a just God. I that it was quite the contrary; that every other religion is based upon works as a means of earning ones salvation; however, I explained that this diminishes God’s holiness in that we could sin against an eternal God and pay it off with finite and temporal payments. I explained that only God himself was capable of paying the debt that we owed, in that only God was capable of paying for an infinite debt. In Islam, God would have to ultimately overlook sins committed against him by accepting good works as payment. This is true of every other religion as well as all others are ultimately works based. So, it is Christianity that is built of perfect justice, as well as perfect grace and mercy.

I hope you will ponder these ideas as you celebrate the resurrection of our sin-bearer, Jesus. He is Risen…He is Risen, Indeed!

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