With the Advent season upon us, I feel constrained to praise God for the gift of the Son. I glory in Jesus Christ and hope you do as well. I do not offer this as a definitive piece of theology; I have not conducted extensive theological research in constructing this post, and no doubt it shows. One of my classmates noted that Wendell Berry responded to a question about doing theology in his poetry by saying that if you do theology you run the risk of being wrong for all time or right for all time. This merely represents my attempt to articulate my thoughts about and express my belief in Christ. So please be charitable in your responses, critiques, or disagreements.
What does it mean when we say that Christ was perfect? I believe it means Christ was perfect in conforming his will to the will of God the Father. I believe it means he was perfect in intention and action. I do not believe that it means Christ was necessarily without flaw in body or mind or emotion or spirit. It seems if Christ was precluded from being flawed (from being imperfect) in any of these areas, he would not be able to render up a perfect (complete, whole, entire) sacrifice for sin. He would not be able to feel pain or suffer. And since pain is a condition of mortality and thus a condition of the atonement, that kind of perfection or flawlessness would not be possible for Christ.
Was Jesus both fully human and fully God, then? Must Christ be flawless in body, mind, emotion, spirit, not just action and intention, to be fully God? And if so, how would he also be fully human, fully capable of experiencing everything humans experience? Is suffering possible without having human flaws? That would seem a superhuman feat to me. But isn’t that the point of Christ? He did what no one else could do. He made the perfect sacrifice. He was the son of God, conceived through the Spirit. Does that mean he has divine DNA? I don’t think Christ’s DNA was more divine than mine.
But I do think Christ was endowed with an overabundance of spiritual gifts and in that way resembled God more than any human on earth. Christ had a perfect understanding of his relationship to God and humankind, an understanding that caused him to act with perfect faith and perfect hope and perfect love (in this way he was sinless). He knew that he was the son of God, sent to do God’s will. He was to offer himself as a perfect sacrifice for sin and to be the servant of humankind to show us the way back to God.
Consider Hebrews 9:11-15:
“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.
“Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
“For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh,
“how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
“And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”
Only Christ was called upon to fulfill the full measure of the law of Moses, which demanded blood for sins committed. So, Christ’s sacrifice was both physical, his death on an altar of pain, and spiritual, pure submission to the will of God in life and in death. We are also called upon to sacrifice our wills to God, but it is not God’s will that we sacrifice our lives to fulfill the law. Christ accomplished that. We are to follow Christ’s example by living in spiritual and moral perfection, sacrificing the natural man to live a higher law.
This is very cursory, but the point I want to make is that Christ felt pain throughout his life, and not just on the cross or the Garden of Gethsemane. He felt emotional and spiritual pain. Satan tempted Christ and told him to deny God. That must have been spiritually painful, especially given the special understanding Christ had of his relationship to divinity. Christ suffered emotional pain from the weaknesses and rejection of his friends. Even if he knew Judas would betray him, I don’t think that softened the emotional blow of the kiss, a sign of affection shared between friends. In the ways that you and I suffer, Christ suffered. Imagine the psychological burden of carrying a mission of peace and salvation to a people who steadfastly would not hear you. No amount of understanding would soften that pain.
I don’t know if I entirely agree with a low Christological approach, which I have just described, but that is a cause for more study. What do you think? Are Mormons more in favor of a low or high Christological approach? What do you favor?
Regardless of the theological construction of Christ’s divinity and humanity I believe Christ lived and lives among us. Christ travailed for and continues to travail with us. He was bruised for our iniquities, wounded for our transgressesions, the chastisement of our peace was and is upon him, and with his stripes we are healed.
Though outward ills await us here,
The time, at longest, is not long
Ere Jesus Christ will reappear,
Surrounded by a glorious throng.
Lift up your hearts in praise to God;
Let your rejoicings never cease.
Though tribulations rage abroad,
Christ says, “In me ye shall have peace.”
What though our rights have been assailed?
What though by foes we’ve been despoiled?
Jehovah’s promise has not failed;
Jehovah’s promise is not foiled.
Eliza R. Snow