When I first started dabbling in Christian theology, I read a book by renowned theologian Raymond Brown on Christology. It was an introduction to the subject, and one that I will most certainly never forget.
The thrust of the book was this: Did Christ come to understand himself as the Son of God over the course of his life, or did he always know? Of course, it’s impossible for us to get inside the mind of Jesus Christ, but theologians nonetheless infer from action and commentary what his process of self-understanding most probably was.
The ironic thing about Christology and all of its theories is that it takes away the focus on human beings. Surely, because he was the Son of God, we want to understand Christ and grow closer to him. But attempting to understand Christ as Christ understood himself is really a waste of time. It speaks to the inability of certain theologians to let mystery be mystery and faith be faith.
Now I’m not saying that Christology as a study is bunk. I am saying, however, that I think a theology of the self is a more practical pursuit. That is to say, why have we not spent more time on coming to understand Christ as manifested in and through us? Part of the reason certainly has to do with the tremendous variance with which Christ is manifested and the relativity with which it is understood. But I’m not asking for a universal theology that describes precisely what Christ does through everyone. I’m suggesting we take the teachings that he gave us and the actions that created his character and ask ourselves how these apply to us.
I have heard many a sermon that lingers on a Jonathan Edwards-style rant. Frankly, I’m not interested in condemnations; I do well enough on my own with that. What I need is to know the redemptive parts of me—the evidence that Christ is alive and well even when I think everything is going to hell. And while, as a Roman Catholic, I was convinced I had to seek that outside myself, begging God to enter into my life for redemption and healing, I now know that seeing Christ already always within me is perhaps the greatest healing I could ask for.
Let’s face it: As human beings, we desire tangible comforts. Yes, we are able to hold onto faith without proof and yes, we are most certainly encouraged to trust in God though we know not what God is all about or what he/she is up to. But we are also obliged to recognize our humanity. Now we can condemn ourselves for needing the sensual, physical, tangible presence of God or we can embrace who and what we are. Certainly we cannot make the tangible everything, but we can recognize it as part of our graced humanness. For part of the theology of self is recognizing the Christ that works in us and through us in concrete ways as well as spiritual ways. (Though I submit the one is rarely, if ever, without the other.)
My urging for everyone—including myself—is to spend less time on theological questions that hover around Christology, and more on a theology of self. Where does Christ live in and through us? What sort of redemptive and healing power can that give? How can we learn to recognize Christ more fully within us?
I do not mean to debunk the work of scholars like Raymond Brown; Christological questions are perfectly natural to a curious mind and spirit and have helped us look more closely at Biblical narrative. But we take it sometimes too far. Who cares how Jesus came to understand his own divinity? The fact was, he was human and divine and showed us how to be both. He wasn’t concerned with sharing his own theology of self with us because it didn’t matter; he was only concerned with urging us to follow the path to self-discovery. It is a supreme letting-go which allows us to see God in humanity—those two things which are, together, paradoxical. And yet, God lives in the most uncanny, unlikely places. After all, Jesus wasn’t much of a deity as all-powerful deities go. Doesn’t that tell us something about the sureness of God in us?