Numbers 23:19 God is not human, that he should lie,
not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?
The “God is not a man that he should lie” text may seem out of place on Easter Sunday. I hope to show how it fits.
Two women were having coffee on the back deck of a home overlooking a ravine. The 7-yearold son of the hostess walked out from the woods covered in mud, holding a hammer and a piece of wood and sporting a small cut on his forehead. The woman who was a guest couldn’t help but laugh at the sight, prompting the hostess to remark, “What can I say, he’s all boy.”
So was the incarnate Christ all human or all divine? I believe that scripture teaches us that the second person of the triune God was all human in that he entered fully into the human experience, but that he was supremely divine.
What does it mean to be human?
Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…
We are somehow a reflection of God, but let’s not confuse that by thinking that God is not a whole lot different than us. He is wholly different from us. (See last month’s article on Transcendence.)
Next down the list of “beings” are the angels. And then we’re third on the list:
Psalm 8:4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?5 You have made thema little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
This verse is reiterated in the New Testament:
Hebrews 2:7 You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
So the hierarchy looks something like this:
…well to some of you anyway. (I’m a cat-lover, but I know some of you feel the list is accurate!)
So the second part of God, who is three-in-one, doesn’t decide to enter our world as an angel — though some teach that this happens in what are called theophanies — but instead appears as a man.
And so we find this verse in Hebrews,
Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—
which many might quote to show the humanity of Christ, but the verse in full reads:
Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
That’s what it means to be divine.
Which is why I believe I can state with authority that Jesus was fully human, but was (and is) supremely divine.
It’s in that context that I was struck by the passage in Numbers we started with today. It’s the nature of humankind to lie. So Jesus enters in the the human condition, which is a condition filled with the vulnerabilities that led Eve and Adam to disobey. The text in Numbers, “God is not a man that he should lie;” which is a prophetic word from God given through Balaam, reminds me of two things:
- Though co-creator and sustainer with God the Father and God the Spirit of all that we see on this planet, it is contrary to the very nature of God to enter into the human condition. It would be like one of us incarnating into the form of one of the beings lower on the above list.
- Despite this, it was in the nature of humanity, the nature of us, that when one such as Jesus appeared, we killed him. If you met someone who never told a lie, would your first reaction be to kill them? I guess that depends on what they were being honest with you about!
The reason that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice is that he was “yet without sin.” Despite his humanity, despite a 40-day fast in wilderness conditions, Christ showed himself triumphant over the worst temptations his greatest enemy had to offer.
Christ became human, but God is not a man. “What if God were one of us?” is the wrong question. “How can we become like God?” is also the wrong question. The question is, and always has been,
Matthew 22:42 “What do you think about the Christ?
You can go to church when the pastor is preaching from I Corinthians 13, and totally get the whole thing about love. You can go to church when the minister is speaking from Ephesians 5 and grab on to the idea of mutual submission in marriage.
But if you only go on Christmas and Easter, you’re picking the two most obvious markers on the Jesus timeline, but also the two most difficult topics. I will never grasp the intricacies of incarnation and atonement. The more I look at these, the more I am lost in the absolute otherness of God’s ways and plans.
I stand in total awe and wonder at Amazing Love.