The other day I was singing through the album Jesus Christ Superstar with my atheist housemate. It’s something I like to do around Easter. The musical speaks to me strongly and forces me to really think about the Easter story and my own beliefs. This year the thought occurred to me: I think we do ourselves a disservice by not imagining Jesus as a human. Jesus Christ Superstar very much paints Jesus as someone who is fully human, who doesn’t clearly understand God’s purpose for him, who hopes he’s getting it right and, ultimately, someone who fears death. The pain Ian Gillan expresses as Jesus is clear, and horrible. To see Jesus as God who knew what was coming and could expect to wind up in heaven as basically a prince at the end, misses a huge part of the story. Seeing Jesus as human allows us to imagine that it could be us there on that cross, in pain and dying, wondering what it all was for. Seeing Jesus as human lets us feel his death in a more real way.
But wait, I can hear you saying. Most Christians make a point of saying that Jesus was both God and man! True. But conceptually this is not an easy thing to understand. The early church worked itself into hysterics trying not to swing too far in either direction. Since then the terminology has always been along the lines of “fully God and fully human”. But in taking this superposition-like stance I think we lose something. When we try to see Jesus as both God and man, we wind up seeing him as neither. Jesus death as death is almost a revelation to us. I think we need to try to see Jesus as merely human at least once in the course of our faith journey, if for no other reason than to remind us how barbaric the human race can be. Once upon a time we considered questioning the established rules as so dangerous, that we tortured and killed a man over it. Have we come far enough since then? Putting aside the foreordinance of Jesus’ death, it becomes a great tragedy, one we must avoid repeating. Putting aside the idea that Jesus was God, the story is still terrible; the story of a human who died, in great pain, believing himself almost completely friendless. Putting aside even the emotional agony, Jesus’ death is still a death, and one that was orchestrated and carried out by humans on purpose to another human. We need to be more shocked by this, and by the knowledge that even two thousand years later we haven’t completely figured out how to stop killing each other.