Every three years I do a seminar format with my senior catechism students. Each of them has to do a presentation on a Lord’s Day of the Heidelberg Catechism. It gets them to work doing some research for themselves. Last time around one of the students did a presentation on Lord’s Day 14 and she shared what she’d learned about Christ’s two natures. She spoke about those two natures as being inseparably united. Then she used a term I never thought I’d hear from a catechism student: the hypostatic union. I was so impressed!
What is the hypostatic union? It’s simply the union of Christ’s human and divine natures in one person. ‘Hypostasis’ is the Greek word for “nature.” Hypostatic union is the union of the two natures. Just as you can’t divide the persons of the Trinity from one another, so also you can’t divide the two natures of Christ. We distinguish them, but we can’t separate them, and they never are separated. Thus the one person of Christ is always true God and true man at the same time.
The hypostatic union has been taught in the Christian church for centuries. You can find it in article 19 of the Belgic Confession of 1561. You find it in the Athanasian Creed dating back to the first half of the sixth century. Before that, it’s the doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. But most importantly of all, this is the teaching of Scripture. Scripture teaches us to confess that the Son of God, who is and remains true and eternal God, took upon himself a true human nature in order to rescue us. As Philippians 2:6 puts it, he was in the form of God, he was equal with God – in other words, he was God. But he set aside his heavenly glory and took on the form of a servant – in other words, he became one of us. His incarnation was his humbling, but it was our salvation.
Now in saying these things I don’t want to leave you with the impression that it’s all so easy to make sense of. There are mysterious aspects to the hypostatic union.
I remember hearing a Good Friday sermon on Matthew 27 from Rev. Richard Aasman when I was a university student. He preached on the suffering and death of Christ on the cross. It struck me that Christ cried out about God forsaking him, quoting from Psalm 22. I thought, “How can that be possible if Christ has a true divine nature? How can God forsake God on the cross? Was there a break in the fellowship of the Trinity? Was the Son excluded from the Trinity for a time?”
After that service I went up to my pastor and asked him about it. Rev. Aasman said, “I don’t know. It’s a mystery how the Son of God could be forsaken by God on the cross. I don’t know how to explain it.” Since then, I’ve done a lot more thinking about it. I’ve done a lot more reading about it. The truth is that I can’t get any further than my old pastor did. When we try to consider how these things work, we run up against a wall. We run up against a wall because God doesn’t explain these things in the Bible.
We have to hold to what we know from the Bible without having an explanation of how it can all be so. As the Belgic Confession says, the hypostatic union wasn’t even broken by Christ’s death. The human nature and divine nature were still joined in the one person of the Son of God. The hypostatic union wasn’t even broken with Christ’s burial. His human body was lying in the grave, his human soul was in heaven with the Father, and yet his divine nature was united with both. Can I explain that? No, I’m sorry, I can’t. The suffering and death of Christ involve a great mystery.
The Christian faith includes things we can’t understand, things that haven’t been revealed to us by God. As Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God…” And as God says in Isaiah 55, “…my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” Our Creator has a right to reserve certain things for himself and we have no right to demand it otherwise. He’s God, we’re not.
But someone might say, “Does that mean we just have blind faith?” Blind faith is when you’re told to trust someone on something when you have no basis for trusting them. Let’s say I meet a stranger on the street and he tells me, “I have a deal for you. I’m going to sell you a certain bridge for $200 and then you can put a toll booth on it and make millions.” If I believe that stranger and give him my $200, that’s blind faith. When we talk about the mysteries of Christianity, we’re not talking about blind faith.
Instead, we’re talking about what’s called “warranted faith.” There’s a basis for trusting what God says. If he’s revealed so much about himself in the Bible that you know what he’s like, then you know you can trust him on the things he holds back. Your warrant for faith is that you know him personally. God isn’t a stranger on the street trying to sell you a bridge. He’s your Father. You’re not blind to who he is or what he’s done. He’s revealed himself to you in the Bible.
In his book Do You Believe?, Paul Tripp tells of how he had to say ‘no’ to his children when they were small. He had to say ‘no’ at times when they wouldn’t be able to understand why. They’d get upset and ask, “Daddy, why? Why?” Then Tripp would say,
Daddy would love to help you understand why, but if he told you why, you still wouldn’t understand. Does your daddy love you? Does he want good things for you? Does he want to keep you safe? Then trust your daddy. Walk down the hall and say to yourself, ‘I don’t know why my daddy said no to me, but I know my daddy loves me. (p.147)
Tripp goes on to say that “Rest of heart is always personal. Peace of soul is always relational.”
We rest in who God is. We have peace because we have this relationship of fellowship with him through Christ. He’s our Father. That’s true for everything God holds back from us, including how the hypostatic union was preserved in the suffering and death of Christ. We have faith that it’s so, but it’s not blind faith. It’s warranted faith.