Equal ultimacy

One of my favorite blog names was created by a former co-worker of mine. He named his blog “Me and you and God…makes five.”

Oh, theological humor, when are you ever note funny? (I’m not looking for counter-examples, people!)

I laugh, because his title exposes a common problem in Christian thinking that is probably valuable to bring up and discuss. (And when I say “common”, I mean “thing I do too often”.)

So, the doctrine of the Trinity is that God is One God in Three Persons. Truly One. Truly Three. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God, but they’re not the same. They are really three. Check out the Athanasian Creed sometime to watch someone circle the concept in a lot of words. It’s fun…if you’re a theology nerd like me.

Another example of this is the hypostatic union of the human and divine natures of Jesus. Basically, the doctrine affirms that Jesus has both fully God and fully man. Yes, that’s the theological equivalent of saying 1+1=1. But that’s what the doctrine says.

A while ago I dubbed this kind of paradoxical relationship equal ultimacy. It crops up all the time in Christian theology, and I think it’s so very important to get comfortable with it.

I mean, we shouldn’t be surprised that there is mystery at the core of our religion. This is a mystical religion with a transcendent God. Should we really expect to comprehend the totality of His works?

But we try to resolve these tensions by collapsing one item into the other, and this leads to problems.

For example, I think that, practically speaking, many Christians collapse the human nature of Jesus into His divine nature. In other words, Jesus gets extra superpowers or whatnot because He was God. He wasn’t really a human, just like me, with aches and pains and bad nights of sleep and indigestion and heartbreak and sorrow and confusion and frustration and failure and death. That feels…disrespectful or something. So we shy away from embracing the humanity of Christ, and, as a result, we shy away from the comfort that can be present. The comfort that Jesus truly understands and can empathize with your suffering, while being truly empowered to act on your behalf.

So, here’s one that I’m currently wrestling with. The book of Proverbs presents a worldview that says that life can be mastered. It’s possible to develop wisdom–skill at living–and maybe even to get good at it. But the book of Ecclesiastes has a fundamentally different worldview. It says that life cannot be mastered. Progress is impossible. Life is basically unjust–meaningless and vaprous. Wisdom will not save you. Pleasure will not rescue. Wealth will not satisfy. Shit just happens sometimes, and it’s not fair, except that it sure does seem like the bastards come out on top. And then you die.

Now, let me be clear. I do think that Ecclesiastes presents hope. It points to a God who knows what’s up. But that’s it. It offers no hope that any of us will comprehend meaning in anything that happens to us. Instead, it urges a form of hedonism. “Seek joy, not meaning,” Ecclesiastes seems to say.

Have we collapsed the harsh pessimism of Ecclesiastes into the optimism of Proverbs? Are we afraid to sometimes say, “Shit happens, and I don’t know why”? Is that a threat to our faith?

Should it be?


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