Dissecting the Divine Element

At least since the Scientific Revolution, Christians have been on the spot to explain how, exactly, the soul coexists with the body. Should we try to locate the divine element in a specific organ, as Descartes argued for the pineal gland in the brain, or in a behavior supposedly unique to humans, such as abstract reasoning or moral sentiments? Suggestions abound, their common feature being the attempt to separate some pure substance from the biological muck. We find it difficult to picture spirit and matter truly commingling.

The Incarnation poses similar imaginative challenges. I believe in the “wholly divine/wholly human” character of Christ, partly because the church has fought to keep alive a belief that so fundamentally disrupts our preferred dualistic thought patterns. There must be something in this concept that we really need, that keeps us searching for truths beyond our current evolutionary level of understanding.

Yet we often put Jesus through the conceptual centrifuge, once again wishing to sift out the human features so that the divine element can be untainted and obvious. Did Jesus sweat, pee, lose his temper, have sexual feelings, misjudge people, make factual errors? The gospels themselves suggest that he did. If he was human, he must have done.

The more we admit this, though, the more we become anxious that we can no longer isolate the “God part”. And if we can’t isolate it, we worry it doesn’t exist — never considering that perhaps the overcoming of dualities and the all-pervasive sanctifying of mortal existence is where God resides. This is what God is most passionate about communicating to us status-obsessed monkeys.

I was led to these thoughts by my ongoing conversations with Christian friends about the authority of the Bible. As I study how women’s inequality has been built into the societies that wrote Scripture and is perpetuated today by communities that cite these texts, I feel strongly that we must not gloss over the Bible’s embeddedness in all-too-human hierarchies. Then where, my friends might ask, does the Logos come in? By what standards are we to pick and choose the passages that are “more inspired” than others?

I have some ideas about this, centering on the ethics of Jesus as the standard for our interpretations, but I’m beginning to wonder if we’re asking the wrong question. If the Bible is a gateway to divine connection — as it continues to be for me — perhaps that connection does not reside so much in any particular passage, least of all in the effort to shield the text from political critique. Could it not reside in the truth-seeking passion that motivates us both to learn gratefully from the Biblical writers and to challenge their limitations? Could it be something that proceeds from the loving, reciprocal accountability of believer and text, the way the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son?

One comment on “Dissecting the Divine Element

  1. Andy Winternitz says:


    Tibby must have some insight on the good Pauline epistolary stuff vs. the human non-inspired Pauline stuff.

    In any case, you put forth good questions

    In hope, faith and Nooma fellowship,

    (A form of Agape/love)


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