If you ask most Christians if they believe that Jesus was divine, you should get a resounding yes. They believe in the miracles, in the authority of his preaching, and, most of all, in the Resurrection. (For the record, so do I.)
But if you asked whether they really, really, believe that Jesus was fully human, as most mainstream Christian denominations hold, and whether he embodied all the things that make up a human being -- the worries, the fears and even the doubts -- you might get some strange looks.
At heart, some Christians have a tough time believing that Jesus experienced the same emotions that believers are afraid of admitting to themselves. During Lent and Easter, this becomes more evident as Christians meditate on what it meant for Jesus to have suffered during his crucifixion. The early Christians struggled with these ideas, too. For many people curious about Christianity in its first few centuries, there was an obvious roadblock: If there is only one God, how could Jesus be divine? And if Jesus was divine, did that mean that he wasn't human? And if he wasn't human, why did the Gospels talk about him suffering during his Passion?
To settle these disputes, the Emperor Constantine, a recent Christian convert who was frustrated with the disunity in the church that threatened the unity of his empire, convened the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. The assembled bishops found a theological middle ground: Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. Anything else was considered a "heresy" (which comes from the Greek word meaning "to choose.")
Jesus, for instance, was unable to predict the future accurately at all times. He tells his disciples that he will return before some of them have died (which didn't happen). Jesus shows the human characteristic of not knowing what the future might hold. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus also says that even he doesn't know when the end of the world will be. And, early in his ministry, he even seems somewhat unsure of his mission. At the wedding of Cana, in the Gospel of John, his mother has to encourage him to perform his first miracle. This may indicate the human trait of growing in an understanding of one's identity.
The "closet heresy" among some Christians is not that Jesus isn't fully divine, but that he isn't fully human.
That view may influence how Christians view holiness in the lives of the saints, and in everyday lives, too. Some imagine that the saints were perfect: never having difficulties in prayer, or losing their temper, or suffering a moment's doubt. But their real lives reveal otherwise. Take Mother Teresa, now known officially in the Catholic Church as "Blessed Teresa of Calcutta." There is an astonishing secret about Mother Teresa, revealed only after her death in 1997, which casts light on the humanity of the saints.
After her private papers were opened, it was discovered that for long periods of her life, Mother Teresa suffered from an intense spiritual darkness, which included harboring doubts about God. "In my soul," she wrote, "I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not existing."
Some believers think the saints spent their days in blissful awareness of God's presence. But, as Mother Teresa's life demonstrates, the saints were remarkably human -- even in their doubt. In time, Mother Teresa saw those times of doubt as God's invitation to share in the feelings of abandonment that Christ had on the cross, and in the abandonment felt by the poor today.
Jesus Christ, fully divine, was also fully human. That means he experienced some painful emotions on the cross. "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" he cried. And while Jesus trusted in God, he might not have known precisely what would happen after he accepted his fate under the Roman soldiers.
And perhaps on Easter morning, the human being most surprised by the Resurrection was an unlikely one: Jesus himself.