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Jesus Evolved Into Everything He Became

 

Who was Jesus?  This simple question continues to fascinate both Christians and non-Christians.  Beyond being an utterly remarkable human being, the pre-Easter Jesus (the historical Jesus) was a spirit person and mystic, a healer, a sage and teacher of wisdom, a social-justice prophet, and a movement initiator (These designations were identified by Marcus J. Borg over the years in his various books on Jesus.).

However, it is important to note that Jesus wasn’t born any of these things.  These were all qualities and skills that grew in Jesus as his life unfolded.  In this sense, Jesus evolved into everything he became.  This is a profound statement and may well be unsettling to conservative-evangelical Christians.  However, if we can wrap our minds around this notion, it is a very liberating way of thinking about Jesus.

To imagine Jesus growing up and evolving through his formative years into all he became is an exciting prospect.  It presents us with a Jesus who is wonderfully real.  Knowing that Jesus, as a fully human person (Jesus was not God, nor did he ever claim to be God.), has feelings, like we have feelings; realizing that he struggled with questions of personal identity, just like we struggle, makes it easier for us to identify with him, while making his example to us more meaningful.

The importance of the idea of evolution.  In 1859, Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) momentous book on evolution was published, On the Origin of Human Species by Means of Natural Selection.  His work marked a radical break through in human thought and immediately posed a new challenge to traditional Christianity’s view of God and, specifically, to a literal understanding of the creation story in Genesis.

In the larger scheme of things, Darwin’s theory of evolution enlightens us about the importance of the idea of evolution.  Just as creation and the universe are in a constant process of evolving, everything else in life is evolving as well.  What this suggests is that evolution is definitive, and therein normative, for all of life.  Simply put, evolution is the way of things; it is the way things are for life in the universe (In our most professional academies of learning, evolution theory is accepted.  It is not a debated topic.).

For context, a general sketch of the evolution of human beings is as follows:

  • Approximately 13.8 billion years ago, life-less physical matter exploded into space in what is known as the “big bang.”
  • 3.8 billion years ago, life evolved out of this matter.
  • Hundreds of millions of years later, plant life and animal life emerged.
  • About a billion years ago, a major barrier was passed as consciousness evolved out of these life forms.
  • Around 600 million years ago, these life forms came out of the sea onto dry land from which–over time–dinosaurs eventually evolved and dominated the earth from 180 to 65 millions years ago.
  • At some point, some monumental event involving planet earth occurred and the dinosaurs became extinct, allowing mammals to evolve.
  • From the primate family, some 4 million years ago, human-like creatures evolved, like homo-erectus.  Then, some 100,000 to 250,000 years ago, self-conscious creatures emerged, the first human beings, who are still evolving.

No perfect creation.  According to Darwin, there was no perfect creation.  It was all part of an unending process of evolution.  Therefore, there could not have been a Fall because there was nothing to fall from.  Jesus did not come to rescue fallen sinners from a fall that never happened.  (The idea of the Fall, to begin with, is based on a literal interpretation of Genesis 3.  The Genesis creation stories were never intended to be read literally.)  Human life emerged in a natural selection process taking place of billions of years.  Again, there was never any perfection from which to be corrupted.

Darwin’s revelations radically crush the traditional Christian view of salvation.  Human beings are not born in sin.  Indeed, such a strange notion (Does anyone really believe an infant baby is born in sin?).  Therefore, we humans do not need to be saved.  Nor do we need to be rescued or redeemed.  What we need is to be loved, encouraged, forgiven, and to become more whole.

Jesus’ evolution.  Back to Jesus; again, Jesus evolved into everything he became.  He wasn’t born a Jewish mystic or spirit person; he wasn’t born a healer, wisdom teacher, social-justice prophet, or movement initiator.  Over time, he became all of these things.  However, this does not mean Jesus was not born with a unique pre-disposition for these things.  He probably was.

Once we are able to relieve Jesus of the burden of being God and accept him as a human being, he is free to be the very real human person who evolved into everything he became.  We can’t help but wonder what Jesus thought–or what his siblings, parents, and wider family thought–as these qualities and skills became revealed in him.

Just as Jesus evolved, we, too, evolve into everything we become.  Indeed, the Christian life is about an ongoing process of personal transformation.  As human beings–and certainly as Christians–we are constantly being transformed, forever in the process of becoming the “more whole,” more complete, and more self-realized person God created us to be.

 

The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Frantz is a retired church pastor who began his ministry in the Baptist tradition before becoming a minister in the United Church of Christ. He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from the Pacific School of Religion. He is the author of The Bible You Didn’t Know You Could Believe In and his just published book: The God You Didn’t Know You Could Believe In. Dr. Frantz and his wife, Yvette, are now retired and living in Boynton Beach, Florida.

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