Today is Christmas Eve. Some of us celebrate that a special child was born — a divine human being that was later to be humiliated, tortured and killed. And Christ not only dies, he resurrects, signalling a deep change. Speaking to Christians, I have often asked: Why did Christ have to die in this way? The answer I typically get, is that he came to redeem us; to save our from our sins. But couldn’t an almighty and omnipotent God just make redemption happen? Why did His son need to be sacrificed? Why did he have to be sacrificed in such a brutal way? It seems utterly senseless to me. I’ve never really gotten a satisfying answer to such questions. Throughout the years, I have slowly been able to formulate an answer to my own questions.
Many years ago I had a conversation with Arnfinn Haram, a Dominican monk. This was, I believe, the last conversation I had with him before he died. Arnfinn was both warm, open, smart, funny and deeply religious. We discussed the nature of Christ. My claim was that Christ couldn’t have been 100% human and 100% God at the same time, because being human means being less than 100% God. Arnfinn agreed with this argument — to my surprise — but still claimed, as a matter of dogma, that he believed that Christ was fully human and fully God, even though it was beyond his comprehension exactly how that could be the case. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that he’d admit adherence to a dogma, but I was at also fascinated and confused, and only slightly disappointed that he accepted belief in a contradictory proposition. In my view, there is a way out of this contradiction: In order for God to become fully human, he must stop being God. He must turn away from himself. He must lose his powers. This is how I’ve view the saying on the cross, where Christ exclaims: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). God becomes human in this moment. He stops being God. Then he becomes god-like again through the resurrection. So through a process, God can be both 100% human and divine; but a concrete unfoldment of a development needs to be accounted for if we are not to end up with a contradiction.
So can we now say something more about why Christ had to go through all the utterly harsh things that happened to him? Or was his death just a morbid display of events? How is sin connected to redemption in the life of Christ?
Sin is a difficult concept. I conceive it, roughly, as failing to act in accordance with what you truly are. In the Christian view, man is inherently sinful. I imagine this to mean that without divine intervention, the human being will continue to act in a way that slowly makes it move away from itself; base acts will proliferate and slowly turn the human being into some kind of monster, an inverse image of what it could have become. Here is an analogy (presented by Rudolf Steiner in GA 123): Picture a wolf. A wolf has fangs, eats meat, is aggressive, kills to live, and so on. Image this wolf growing teeth that are larger, imagine the wolf growing stronger, more aggressive, more in need of meat and blood to live. At one point the wolf would become indistinguishable from a monster. Do the same thing with the image of a human being. Magnify all bad habits, thoughts, deeds and words. At one point the human being becomes something like Jabba the Hutt. A world without divine presence would result in a proliferation of monsters like this.
One classical Buddhist response to this, is to have the human being purify itself and leave the world behind. The Christian (and perhaps also Mahayanist) answer would be to tame the wolf. Have it play longer as a cub. Let it develop its good traits. It will become friendly, caring, and faithful like no-one else; it would become like a dog. A human being can also be “tamed”; Christ is an image of what the human being can become if it does not leave the world, but stays in it and purifies and transforms not only itself but also its immediate surroundings.
Ideas like this is what is what attracts me to anthroposophic christology. Humanity is slowly drifting apart from its spiritual origin and will continue to do so by virtue of the inertia of its lower nature. There is a possibility of reconnecting to the source, but this isn’t something God can do by simply choosing to. The best of humanity needs to come together, human wisdom, simplicity of heart, strength of character, the endeavour of self-purification, and then it needs to stretch upwards, so to speak, so that divinity can enter into the stream of earthly life. God does not know fully know what it is like to be a human. In order to be able to offer the possibility of redemption, He needs to be touched by evil. In order to fix something, you need to know how it works. What is pain? What is it like to be mocked? What is hopelessness? What is death? Try it on, if you want to fix it – if you want to show another way.
One of the most interesting thinkers I’ve discovered this years, is Jordan Peterson. He’s caused some turbulence with his ideas about gender and identity politics. I find he’s exaggerating somewhat. But his other thoughts about psychology, human development, religion, and so on, are utterly stimulating. In particular, I find his Jungian perspectives valuable – and I’m still baffled that a psychologist with Jungian affinities can find his way into the mainstream. In one of his lectures, Jordan talks about the fact that Harry Potter can talk to snakes. The ability to speak with snakes comes from the evil one himself, Lord Voldemort, and was transferred to Harry when he was attacked by Voldemort. The ability to talk to snakes becomes essential in Harry’s further quest. As Peterson points out, being touched by evil can become, in a paradoxical way, what enables us to conquer it. And so Christ enters into the human world, severs the connection to his divine roots, becomes fully human, comes to know the ways of the world, including death, and thus is able to offer the potential of transforming it. And now the choice is here. Tame the wolf or become Jabba the Hut.