When Did Jesus Become God?

[God is another name for personhood. The Christian mutation is the development of personhood in freedom and love.]

In an article on “The Emergence of Devotion to Jesus in the Early Church,” Australian theologian Anne Hunt writes:

Our familiarity as Christians with Christian faith’s conviction that Jesus is divine, and that God is triune, tends to dull our appreciation of how utterly revolutionary and radical that development in the God-consciousness of Jesus’ disciples really was. They, like Jesus, were Jewish. Faithful to their tradition, they held an exclusivist monotheistic notion of God and  of devotion to God. Yet, their experience of Jesus resulted in a truly amazing change in their God-consciousness and a radical reinterpretation of their faith in the one God, that was eventually to come to expression in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.” [i]

I find this shift truly fascinating. How did an entirely new understanding of God emerge through the life of a young Jewish man, namely, Jesus of Nazareth? Scholars agree that the religious mentality of the first Christians was shaped by the Jewish tradition, as the disciples sought to understand the significance of Jesus’ life in relation to the Old Testament. The death of Jesus and the experience of Jesus’ resurrection led the disciples to exclaim that Jesus is Lord.  

The late Benedictine scholar, Sebastian Moore, tried to reconstruct the psychological experience of the early disciples. What accounted for this radically new experience of God in the person of Jesus was a new consciousness that no longer reflected a strictly monotheism (one God) but a new understanding of God’s power, a shared power expressed in a binitarian view of God (Father and Son) that would eventually evolve into the doctrine of the Trinity. According to the late New Testament scholar, Larry Hurtado, the early disciples underwent a mutation of consciousness that led to a Scriptural basis for the Christian revolution. Whereas the Old Testament used imagery of divine agency, such as we find in Psalm 110:1 and the Book of Daniel 7:14, so too New Testament writings such as Romans 1:1-4 used divine agency to describe the divinity of Christ, “descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.”  Similarly, in Acts 2:36, Jesus’ resurrection is seen as involving his exaltation to a heavenly position of central importance for the whole redemptive program of God. Essentially, as Hurtado points out, Jesus of Nazareth became associated with divine agency, which Paul inherited from the first circle of Palestinian Jewish Christians and in his own reflections upon the significance of Christ.  

The early Christians expressed their new consciousness of God manifested in the risen Christ through prayers and devotions, modifying ancient Jewish prayers with their belief in the risen Christ; for example, the Eucharistic prayer of the Didache adopts the thanksgiving prayer of Nehemiah 9 and adds to it the risen Christ: “We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David, your servant, which you have revealed through Jesus, your Son. To you be glory forever” (Did 8). According to Hurtado, early Christian devotion constituted a significant mutation or innovation in Jewish monotheism. By “mutation,” he writes, “I mean that earliest Christian devotion was a direct outgrowth from, and indeed a variety of, the ancient Jewish tradition. But at an early stage it exhibited a sudden and significance difference in character from Jewish devotion.”[ii] Hurtado argues for the emergence of an astonishingly close association between God and Jesus Christ and for a binitarian monotheistic pattern of worship and prayer in which reverence is accorded to God and Christ early on. The disciples experienced a new energetic presence of God in the person of Jesus, and it sparked within them a new religious awareness of God’s imminent power of love.  The transition from the Jewish Jesus to Jesus Christ, Son of God, erupted suddenly and quickly, not gradually, or incrementally or late, Hurtado writes. With its origins in Jewish Christian circles, it quickly spread.

If the disciples had a unique awareness of Jesus as God, it was because Jesus himself manifested a new consciousness of God’s presence. As Carl Jung noted, Jesus came to a new level of God consciousness within himself, undergoing a process of individuation and attaining a new level of freedom and thus a new sense of mission. Monotheistic religions have avoided the psychic dimension of human personhood, according to Jung, which has led to a thwarted understanding of God. Christians, in particular, have excluded the psychic dimension of Jesus’ life from any doctrinal consideration, but this is exactly what is distinct about Jesus of Nazareth, a new awareness of God’s immanent presence that led to his radical actions of inclusivity, healing, compassion and ultimately self-sacrifice. 

The experience of a new, immanent presence of God lies at the very origin of the development of the Jesus-devotion, which Moore describes in three stages. The first stage was an awakening of desire whereby the disciples experienced an ecstasy and joy in their interaction with Jesus in Galilee; a new and enthralling sense of God, a sense of God unburdened by sin and by guilt, a sense of God not remote or dominating, but a compassionate and loving presence. This stage was brought to a devastating conclusion with Jesus’ arrest and execution. Moore suggests that a second stage was precipitated by Jesus’ dreadful death in which the disciples experienced sheer desolation and a sense that everything was lost. Jesus’ death precipitated a profoundly spiritual crisis that was characterized by despair, desolation, shame, and confusion. Here Moore likens their desolation to the inconsolability of the dark night of the soul. It was a despair that only the experience of God could dispel; an inconsolability which only God could relieve. In a Jungian sense, the disciples underwent the death of the ego. Coming to terms with the experience of Jesus within themselves demanded a reconciliation of their own wounds with the power of God they experienced. 

Moore suggests that the death of Jesus created a sense of the death of God in the disciples and that, with the appearance of the resurrected Jesus, they experienced the risen Jesus as nothing less than a renewed presence of God in their midst. The God of Jesus, the Father who had died with Jesus and who now declares his love in the resurrection of Jesus, the God who is the author of this entire loving and life-giving plan, re-emerged in a new presence. Moore describes the initial response of the disciples to the appearance of the risen Lord Jesus in terms of a realization that Jesus is God. At first, it was a case of a displacement of divinity into Jesus who became the center of their new God-consciousness. The disciples could not apprehend the extension of divinity from God to Jesus, however, unless something took place within themselves. It is on the level of personal consciousness that a new reality emerged.  The paschal mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection, according to Moore, was the key to the radical transformation of their God-consciousness, a transformation which began with their experience of Jesus in his earthly ministry and purified by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Experience of the paschal mystery carried them into a radically new God-consciousness. Jesus’ paschal mystery emerged as the psychological pattern or the pedagogy, so to speak, through which their God-consciousness was utterly transformed. As Moore explains:

We talk about the Trinity as though it were from the start a highly recondite doctrine for which we have to seek analogies at the human level. Actually, it is given to us from the start at the human level, in a form that already contains the clue for thinking about it in itself… The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus is the estuary in which this river branches out into the Trinitarian mystery…the Father dependent for his manifest meaning on Jesus, the Spirit the abundance of this to-each-other-ness of Father and Son “poured out in our hearts.” [iii]

The disciples also experienced the Spirit as another power center for their new experience of God, a kind of “cyclic life flow” between Father and Son. This further extension of divinity emerged from a dawning realization and conviction that the oneness of Father and Son is itself a divine person, the person of the Spirit. In this way, Moore reconstructs the dynamics at play in the dawning realization in the disciples’ God-consciousness of the threefold differentiation within God. It is a pattern that unfolds in terms of firstly displacement of divinity into Jesus, then an extension of divinity from God to Jesus, and thirdly the emergence of a third divine one who is, in person, the cyclic life flow between God (Father) and Son, the Holy Spirit. The reshaping of monotheism into binitarian patterns of worship (Father and Son) and devotional practice thus became the means whereby the exalted Jesus became the recipient of worship along with God, giving way to a theological revolution.  

The appearance of the risen Lord is precisely the experience of God brought to a new light of reconciliation, forgiveness and consolation through the power of divine love. God emerged newly alive for them in the very person of Jesus, alive as never before, with a new understanding of themselves and of Jesus, radically transformed, liberated and energized. [iv] This new power propelled them to live the Gospel with utter conviction that God was doing new things, expressed by the radical newness of Christ.

The Christian mutation was a theological revolution and an evolution of the human person. The power of the monotheistic God was awakened in the human person as the shared power of new life, revealed in Jesus Christ and energized by the Spirit. The language of Trinity was shorthand for the shared power of love, extended from divinity into creation. God was the experience of a new power unlike any worldly power brought to a new consciousness in the human person and into a new level of engaged action. The transition from monotheism to binitarian theism and eventually to trinitarian theism is an evolution of religious consciousness that had radical implications for a new presence of God in the world and a new type of person on the cusp of a new world order. 

The politicization of God at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD and the marriage of Athens and Jerusalem led to the hellenization of doctrine that yielded to abstract philosophical language divested of its psychic dimension. The language of divine nature, essence, being and substance became logical semantics; the Christian mutation was aborted, and the revolution of divine power ushered in by Jesus of Nazareth never matured. Instead of a new divine power of love acting in the world in and through the human person, what emerged was the internalization of divine power expressed in a patriarchal God. As one scholar wrote, it is odd to argue that the Word become flesh to reinforce male superiority but the arguments after Nicea were philosophical differences of understanding, based on Greek terms to describe substance essence, nature and person. Emphasis shifted from orthopraxis to orthodoxy, as doctrine was institutionalized. The triumph of a patriarchal institution suppressed the human psyche and rendered the Christian mutation impotent.

Moore recognized that devotion to Jesus and creedal formulations mean little or nothing if not grounded in personal experience. The continuing vitality of Christianity in contemporary culture demands an effective mediation of the mystery of Jesus in distinctly psychological terms. In Moore’s words:

It seems to me that a primary theological need in our time is for the psychological to mediate the transcendent. Until this comes about, the psychological dimension remains subjective, the transcendent dimension extrinsic. The perennial vigor of Christianity stems from a dangerous memory, of the experience of a group of people being brought to a crisis whose issue was such a freedom in the face of our mortality as can only come from the transcendent ground of being. [v]

The only real purpose of Christianity is to awaken the divine transcendent at the level of the psyche; anything else is deadly. The divinity of the risen Jesus and the trinitarian nature of God’s being are not just theological doctrines but deeply psychological realities. The experience of the mysteries at a profoundly psychological level is necessary prior to their expression in prayer and devotion and prior to the articulation of doctrine. The task of mediating religious meaning and faith to contemporary consciousness demands an expressly psychological mediation, a deeply personal awakening whereby the Jesus story meets and transforms one’s own deeply personal story. [vi]   

If the Christian mutation had escaped the politics of power and the grip of patriarchy in the first four centuries, we probably would have an entirely different church and world. But the new movement was too young and too fragile to do so. The institutionalization of Christianity gave it the power to shape the first thousand years of western civilization, giving birth to a psyche without a God and a humanity without any real collective purpose.

We are at an entirely new level of life today in a much larger and expansive universe. We know so much more about matter and mind, and we now have an opportunity to change the course of history by bringing the Christian mutation into alignment with modern science and cosmology. Unless we do so, we face dire consequences up ahead. As long as the human psyche remains evicted from its natural home in divinity, we are empty human shells seeking our deepest ground of meaning. It is time to recognize the transcendent divine ground within us and undergo the mutation that can lead to a richer reality of planetary life, fully alive in the glory of God.   


Notes

[i]  Anne Hunt, “The Emergence of Devotion to Jesus in the Early Church:  The Grass Roots Derivation of the Trinity,” Australian ejournal of Theology 4 (February 2005). https://www.scribd.com/document/123281764/Anne-Hunt, emphasis added.

[ii]  Larry Hurtado, Honoring the Son:  Jesus in Earliest Christian Devotional Practice (Lexington Press, 2018), 103.

[iii]  Sebastian Moore, “Four Steps Towards Making Sense of Theology,” Downside Review 111 (1993):  79.

[iv]  Sebastian Moore, The Fire and the Rose are One (New York:  Seabury, 1980), 105.

[v]  Sebastian Moore, Jesus the Liberator (New York:  Crossroad, 1989), x.

[vi]  Hunt, “Emergence of Devotion to Jesus,” 12.

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31 Comments

  1. Beth on February 18, 2024 at 3:51 pm

    Thank you so much for all the thoughtful responses to this blog. Jung wrote about individuating as a process of discovering who we really are…deep in our innermost selves…divine. I am a woman, and while I acknowledge the damage done by a patriarchal view I wonder if the folks who are transgendered or non binary or struggling with their biological assignment, experience this dilemma of patriarchy. I simply don’t care that Jesus was biologically a man…it goes far beyond that for me. “God” is all in all … as others have written..it’s a Christic universe steeped in mystery

  2. Mary Jane Diamond on February 13, 2024 at 9:59 am

    A discovery: Using one’s imagination initially, to open up heart, mind, body toward a person, animal, tree, stone, or even dew hanging upon a blade of grass. Feel this in every cell of the body—opening toward and for another—allowing a connection to move like an energetic outpouring. Expect nothing in return from another. Be fully open to imagining and feeling, this energy flow to another. Relax every muscle and fiber of the body. Breathe in synchrony and rhythm with physical vibrations and heartbeat. It’s a dance. It’s Love on the move. Ego, or little self, drops away naturally in this moment of total surrendering to another. There, that moment, holds potentiality of birthing Christ Consciousness in relationship. A lotus blossom moves through dark night of deepest mud toward the Light of actuality.

    • Noel Ann Luby on February 13, 2024 at 2:32 pm

      Yes! You’ve reminded me of a line from A Course in Miracles. When we quiet and still our minds and and touch the Spirit within then “The Peace of God is shining in me now
      and from my heart extends around the world.
      It pauses to caress each living thing and
      leaves a Blessing with it that remains
      forever and forever… ACIM WB 188:3:1,2
      Thank you Mary Jane and thank you Ilia!

  3. Joe Masterleo on February 11, 2024 at 9:24 am

    Transformation (mutation) is an individual thing, and an ordeal with relatively few takers. Such involves translating one’s own local, inherited, cultural or religious story (form) into a universal worldview, updating yesterday’s outdated software (separation consciousness), making it current (unitive consciousness). It’s the only way a larger, more inclusive, loving, and forgiving story or life in oneself can come through. To make an omelette one must crack the individual eggs. Likewise, a larger form requires breaking a smaller one without losing the energy. The imagery of the Christ and Buddha narratives are two local transformations of the same (non-local/universal) story.

    • Kay Jackson on February 21, 2024 at 6:33 am

      Joe
      I resonate with all of your posts. I, too, see current Christianity offering “little” to evolving consciousness and transformation. Christianity, in its current state is too tired and too bound by a divisive orthodoxy. To “crack us open” Christ must be sought, and found, in unlikely places. After all, where did Jesus find his first disciples? In a Synagogue? No! On a beach! Seek in unlikely places and you will find.
      I would suggest,” Jesus Through Pagan Eyes” by Mark Townsend( Episcopalian Priest and Druid) with a forward by Matthew Fox( yes, THAT Matthew Fox) . I believe many eyes will open as to the prevalence of Christ, as the Universal and Cosmic Christ, in a religion so misunderstood.
      The Council of Nicea, however divine and inspired, was eons ago. While the “baby” need not be thrown out with the bath water, it is time to recognize that Christianity is just one of the many salvation stories present throughout time and place. It is not even the oldest which is Hindu.
      Jesus is 3 form- the historical Jesus, the Church made Jesus Christ, and then the all prevailing Cosmic Christ ( belonging to everyone). Until Christianity acknowledges this, change is not forthcoming. The Catholic church will continue its push for seminaries with more and more conservative views( at least here in Cincinnati) and conservative viewpoints will remain.
      The unity sought for will continue to be a distance dream except for those who “part the waters”.

  4. Brendan on February 8, 2024 at 7:11 am

    I’m loving these exchanges. Thank you
    I’m struck by Bernadette Roberts’ “The Real Christ” where she writes about Divine Nature & Human Nature (not Human Person).
    Alluding, in my understanding of her book, to Millenia of misrepresentation leading to young people she writes going East in her time for enlightenment rather than Catholic development.
    The Christ message, in gathering what she says, brought her ‘a smile’ in ‘Unconditial Love’; of everything and nothing; not the espousal of ‘knowing’, but ‘unknowing’ indeed.

  5. Joe Weber on February 7, 2024 at 4:46 pm

    “Jesus came to a new level of God consciousness within himself, undergoing a process of individuation and attaining a new level of freedom and thus a new sense of mission.”

    ••••

    Did Yeshua, through his incarnation, arrive on this planet, equipped in his human body spacesuit, with a fully loaded divine laptop computer brain, with all the wetware wisdom of the ages installed? Or did he actually acquire the wisdom he shared with his disciples, during many travels to other countries, educated by exposure to myriads of cultures and religions before he began his three-year ministry in Galilee?

    In the years we have no written records of, Yeshua awakened to higher levels of consciousness from his lived experiences of his time. There too may have been many people of his time who mentored and educated him.

    He gradually awoke from the amnesia of being incarnated, which he volunteered for, as do we also by our volunteering for incarnation, the same amnesia we all have as to who we really are.

    We each are bite-size fractals of Source, who volunteered for incarnation, embodied in human spacesuits, at this particular moment of evolving creation for God Herself to experience Her Creation in this portion of the Cosmos.

    Our soul mission is to wake up from that incarnational/birthing amnesia, then to help others to wake up, so we all help the world to wake up and become birthers of Source in the present moment.

    • Jean D. on February 13, 2024 at 9:36 am

      ” We each are bite-sized fractals of Source “. A wonderful image.. Or perhaps waves in the Ocean ?

  6. Jean D. on February 7, 2024 at 12:31 pm

    I believe many people are inhibited from opening into that Space of divinity by a false humility. Afraid to admit that the Divine is within my being. When we expand that Space to include all that is, as new science and cosmology are showing us , that false humility is lost in awe and wonder at the glory of God. God in all. God in a bird. God in an octopus. God in a mountain. God in a new born baby. Even as the depth of my being.. My dearest and closest Friend. The divine spark which added another unique dimension to unceasing creation. This is the perspective needed for our green zealots. Our destruction of Creation is the ultimate sin. .

  7. Neale Povey on February 7, 2024 at 12:16 pm

    Very timely and succinct. One can easily forget what a monumental reality shift it was for the Apostles.

    I have read, elsewhere, that it was the RESURRECTION and its witnessing by the Apostles that truly turned the corner.

    Thank you Ilia, et. al.

    Stay holy — NP

  8. Mary Friedel-Hunt on February 7, 2024 at 12:07 pm

    This is a very exciting piece for me. It puts into words the zillions of thoughts and insights I have felt, sensed and known at some level for decades. I was Raised a Roman Catholic followed by eight years in a convent as I was reading de Chardin. I feel like all of my reading and research over these years is slowly becoming the “new” thought at a new level.

  9. Susie Way on February 7, 2024 at 11:18 am

    The sun eclipsed, kissed by a ring of light, is the only limping, two dimensional image of my 35+ year old encounter I may offer.
    At 76 years I still wait for the path to fully share this experience, certainly not intended for one only.
    The experience embraces all our Cosmic Christ whispers and shouts.
    Perhaps someone at Christogenesis might guide my search for the means to share I wait for.
    I would be deeply grateful for an offer of one-on-one time to make a full disclosure that is needed to convey the gift of this experience.

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