READER: God is, by definition, eternal, having neither beginning nor end. Human beings are, by definition, finite, beginning at a certain point in time. How, then, can Jesus be both God (eternal) and human (finite)? Isn’t that a contradiction? Similarly, while God is omniscient, humans aren’t. How could Jesus be both omniscient God and non-omniscient human? When Jesus was a little zygote in the womb of Mary, did he also know what was happening on some planet at the other end of the universe?
GREG: Great question! Theologians have worked through the paradox of Jesus being “fully God and fully human” in a number of different ways. The most traditional way is sometimes called a “two minds Christology.” This view affirms that Jesus was, on some level, aware of what was happening on every planet in the universe while he was a zygote in the womb of Mary, even while he was completely unaware of everything outside the womb on another level. I myself have never been able to render this view coherent.
A different approach to this paradox has been labeled “kenotic Christology,” based on the word kenosis, which is Greek for “to empty.” It’s used in Philippians 2 when Paul says Jesus didn’t cling to his divine prerogatives, but instead emptied himself and became a human. The kenotic Christology says that what the Son of God emptied himself of was the exercise of all the divine attributes that are incompatible with being a human. So the Son of God divested himself of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence to become a genuine human who had limited knowledge, took up limited space, and had limited power.
This view obviously means that God doesn’t need to always exercise his divine attributes to be God. Anyone who believes that humans are created with free will, as I do, should have no problem with this notion, for the only way God could give humans free will is by limiting his omnipotence. Creating a world with free agents thus involves a sort of “kenosis” in God. The kenotic Christology simply takes this logic a bit further and applies it to the incarnation. Just as God limited his power when he created free agents, so too the Son of God limited his power, knowledge, and presence to become a full human being. What the Son of God did not set aside is his perfect divine love, for there’s nothing contradictory about a human loving others perfectly. To the contrary, teaching and empowering humans to love like God is one of God’s central goals for creation.
To me, the kenotic Christology makes more sense and fits the biblical data better than the traditional “two minds” Christology. I offer it in hope that it will help you understand how there is no contradiction involving in affirming Jesus to be fully God and fully human.