I ask this question in response to recent discussion in my “Basic Christian Questions” class regarding the full humanity of Jesus Christ.
It may be presumed the doctrinal assertion of Jesus Christ’s full humanity is simply based on his being of flesh and blood. And that would be, in part, correct, for of course Christianity affirms his being a real life flesh and blood human being. But is that all it means?
According to professor emeritus Daniel Migliore, author of Faith Seeking Understanding, no; there is more, much much more: “Jesus is indeed fully human, but his is a new humanity. The intimacy of his relation with God and his solidarity with sinners and the oppressed are new and offensive” (175). New and offensive? Why yes, for “Jesus extends the welcoming love of God to those who are thought least deserving of it” (175). Compassionate, forgiving, loving, tending to the sick, the discarded, those chastised and looked down upon, inclusive of others. Such would describe Jesus as presented in the gospels. “Thus when Christians call Jesus fully human, their claim is not simply that he is a human being but that he is the norm and promise of a new humanity in relation to God and others” (176).
A similar notion can be found in the Islamic tradition’s concept
of ubudiyyah, which “comprises the slavery of the heart, tongue and limbs to Allah” (sunnahonline.com). “Islam” means “to surrender/submit.” Ubudiyyah, therefore, is a state of complete submission. Such form of submission includes “love for Allah, reliance upon Him, turning to Him in repentance, fearing Him, having hope in Him, devoting the Deen sincerely to Him, having patience in what He orders and forbids, having patience with His decrees and being pleased with them, having allegiance for His pleasure, having humility for Him and humbling oneself in front of Him, and becoming tranquil with Him” (ibid.). Among some Sufi traditions, to reach a state of ubudiyyah is to achieve a state of full humanity. In other words, if one does not completely submit to God, one is not fully human and as an interesting side note, the very same sort miraculous events associated with the work of Jesus are attributed to Sufi shayks, persons who have reached the state of full humanity. Moreover, one finds similar values associated with Sufism as outlined above: intimate relation with God, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, love, and the like.
The notion of humanity is likewise a central component in Confucian tradition; some might say humanity is paramount. Embodied in the term “jen”, often translated as “humanity,” the cultivation of one’s humanity is of absolute necessity in the Confucian goal of becoming a sage. While translated as such, jen (also translated as “altruism,” “benevolence,” “perfect virtue,” and “goodness”) is a complex subject and while a detailed exploration of it rests outside the scope of this post, a few comments are instructive.
Confucianism is not, as popularly understood, simply a restrictive system designed to repeat tradition: at its heart lies the process of self-transformation, a process which de facto must be “manifested in the context of human relations” (22). “Basically linked with the self-reviving, self-perfecting, and self-fulfilling process of an individual,” the etymology of jen is “man in society” (Tu Wei-Ming Humanity and Self-Cultivation: Essays in Confucian Thought, 9 and 18). Furthermore, “one’s ability to relate to others in a meaningful way” is dependent on the cultivation of jen (19). A principle of inwardness, meaning it s “not a quality acquired from the outside,” jen describes “the highest human achievement through moral self-cultivation” (7). Intrinsic to every single human being, jen is something to be sought and cultivated. It is one’s full potential as a human being.
In Neo-Confucian thought, the “sage…is the most authentic and genuine man…which means the man who is most truthful to his humanity” and “only through concrete self-realization, which means the full manifestation of the most authentic, genuine, and sincere humanity inherent in oneself, can one become a man in the true sense of the word” (73). And whereas Christians affirm Jesus’s full divinity in addition to his full humanity, Neo-Confucians posit the following: “not only psychologically has every human being the potentiality to embody jen, but also metaphysically the moral mind, or the mind of jen, is in essence identical with the cosmic mind” (8).
While non-theistic, it is not a hard stretch of the imagination to translate (not without some misgivings) this “comsic mind” into theistic language; ie God. Essentially Neo-Confucianism posits that the process of cultivating one’s humanity–becoming, in other words, fully human–one unites with, or understands that said humanity is one with said cosmic mind. Though not exactly the same and I am not saying they are, it sounds to me that when the full humanity and full divinity of Christ and the humanity and cosmic mind as put forth by Confucians are taken into account, the two traditions have much in common. Of course perhaps the biggest difference concerns the presence, or lack thereof, of God in the respective traditions. Yet there is another difference: whereas Christianity affirms the uniqueness of Christ, Confucianism posits that the possibility of achieving of one’s full humanity is essentially universal–everyone can do it.
So I return to my original question and ask myself again, am I fully human?
According to the above, I would have to say no.
Am I loving? Yes, to an extent; I could always be more loving.
Am I compassionate? Sure.
Forgiving? Most of the time (at least I think).
Do I offer myself in service to others? Some others.
Do I have an intimate relationship with God? Working on it.
Am I God’s perfect servant, his slave? No.
But do I work on these things and strive to be better?