What would be truly dramatic and eye-opening would be a film that compellingly shows that the carpenter from Nazareth is also God. In Ewan McGregor’s characterization, we see Jesus as a good, decent, honest man who is earnestly seeking his path. There is nothing miraculous, distinctive, or particularly supernatural about him. He is like any other religious founder, indeed like any spiritually alert person you might run into at church. Fine, but so what? Why, one wonders, should we pay any attention to him? Why would this figure be remembered after 2,000 years? Why would much of Western civilization be grounded in him?
There has been indeed, throughout Christian history, the temptation toward a monophysite reading, according to which Jesus has only one nature, namely divine. On this interpretation, the Lord’s humanity is a simulacrum of a real human nature, as though God were merely donning the appearance of a human being. The orthodox Christian tradition has always stood athwart such a view. In fact, during the eighth century monothelite (one will) controversy, the Church held that Jesus has a fully-constituted human nature, endowed with a human mind and human will. Therefore, it is perfectly permissible to speak of real development within Jesus’ human nature, as does the Gospel of Luke: “and Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” It is even appropriate to speak, as the letter to the Hebrews does, of Jesus being “tempted in every way that we are.” Thus Last Days in the Desert is certainly justified in portraying the Lord as subject to temptation and discouragement. So far, so orthodox.
In a very real sense, the comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell was right: in all of the cultures of the world, one great song is sung and one great monomyth is repeated. But the Bible is not one more iteration of the monomyth. It is the deeply disorienting account of how the creator of the universe hunts us down, finally coming after us personally in Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is not one more man looking for God; he is God in the flesh, searching for his people: “It is not you who have chosen me; it is I who have chosen you.”