Sometimes, I am like the Apostle, Thomas, full of doubt. I have been told that Jesus is risen, that He is the Son of God, but I want proof. I want to put my fingers in His hands and in His side. I want to see His resurrected body standing before me.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve had your share of doubts too, or at the very least, questions about the Church and her teachings. Perhaps you’ve even wondered if Jesus really is God, and not just a “good teacher” or the figment of people’s imagination.
The Three Choices
Ask people today who Jesus is and you will get an array of answers. Some, of course, will claim that Jesus is the Son of God; but commonly you will hear people say that he was a “good teacher, a holy person, or a prophet. C.S. Lewis, in his famous book Mere Christianity, explains that we really only have three choices when it comes to Jesus’ identity–either he was a liar, a lunatic, or God. He writes the following:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Either Jesus was a liar, falsely claiming to be God, and thus not a good person; Jesus was crazy — falsely believing that he was God; or Jesus truly is who He claimed to be: God.
Recently I was talking to one of my friends about his religious beliefs. “If someone asked you who Jesus is, what would you say to them?” I asked.
He paused for a moment. Then said, “Well, I would say he is the person we should use as the ultimate guide for how to live our life, a holy man, the perfect teacher.”
I nodded, but prodded further, “but would you say that Jesus is God?”
He sat quietly, sipping on his tea. “No,” he responded, “I suppose I wouldn’t.”
Unwilling to let our discussion end there, I challenged his beliefs again. “How would you reconcile His claim to divinity with your definition of Him simply being teacher? If He claims to be God, but isn’t, doesn’t that make him a liar? And if He is a liar, why should we model our life after him? How can he be a perfect teacher?”
My friend smiled sheepishly at me. Then admitted that he hadn’t thought about it like that before and would need to spend some time reflecting on this.
Fr. Mike Schmitz, in his video “Belonging — Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” breaks down this component of C.S. Lewis’ argument, commenting on the fact that someone who knows they are not God, but dedicates his life to proclaiming this lie, would have certain character traits. They would have to be extremely narcissistic, lacking compassion and selflessness. Fr. Mike goes on to point out that when we study the life of Jesus, we someone who is anything but narcissistic. Instead, we find a person who is loving, merciful, creative, self-giving, and compassionate.
Considering all of that, it’s hard to say that Jesus fits the profile of a liar.
If not a liar, then perhaps, a lunatic.
Have you ever met or worked with someone who suffers from extreme mental illness, someone who is truly insane? People who have such a severe illness, often say things that are incomprehensible, have difficulty connecting with other people and forming meaningful relationships, and are detached from reality. Furthermore, they tend to make wild claims, which one could argue Jesus does. But unlike Jesus, a lunatic cannot follow through with such claims.
Time and time again, we see that Jesus proves to be the opposite of a lunatic. He forms deep friendships with His Apostles, Lazarus, Martha, and Mary; He uses parables as a means to teach and connect with people’s everyday lives; He claims to be able to heal the blind and raise people from the dead, and then performs the very miracle so that others may come to believe in God.
Moreover, it’s hard to imagine that a lunatic would have the historical impact on society that Jesus has had. In case you haven’t noticed, Jesus is kind of a big deal in our society and around the world. Even those who do not believe in him, are directly impacted by his life.
Perhaps one of the biggest ways in which we can see his cultural influence on the world is by the fact that we center our calendar around his existence. There are two distinctive time periods – “BC” (meaning “Before Christ”) and “AD” (Latin for “In the year of our Lord”). The major event that determined these two periods? Jesus’ birth! How incredible is that? Can you imagine if the entire world based their calendar around your existence? People would certainly pay attention to you. Today, many people have tried to remove the religious connotations by using the terms “BCE” (Before the Common Era) and “CE” (Common Era). But one thing remains—the event that marks the change from BCE to CE is still Jesus’ birth.
His life permeates our culture other ways as well. The influence of Jesus’ life on literature, art, music, language and architecture is immeasurable. Christianity has been the source of countless pieces of writing–both fiction and nonfiction. From Michelangelo’s “Pieta” to Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”–the world has been beautified by works of art from artists who have drawn their inspiration from the life of Jesus. And music…where should I even begin? Some of the most renowned musicians like Handel, Bach, Haydn, and Beethoven, wrote their music in an attempt to glorify God.
Throughout Scripture, Jesus makes numerous claims to his divinity, a claim no other world religious leader has ever made: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30); “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Not only did he claim to be the Son of God, but he exhibited incredible authority over nature, life, and even the Devil.
Imagine being in the middle of the sea in a small boat. Suddenly a storm comes, waves are crashing, rain is pouring down, the winds are howling. You fear that the boat will sink and that you and your friends will die. You cry out desperately to one of your friends “save us,” and with that he stands and commands the sea and the wind to be calmed, and they obey him. Would you not stare in amazement? Would you not ask who is this man? I know I would!
Or imagine your best friend died and a man commands him to rise, and he is brought back to life. Would you not be tempted to fall at his feet and worship him?
This is exactly what the Apostles and countless people experienced when they came to know Jesus. In Scripture we read that Jesus had the power to forgive sins (Luke 7:48-50), calm seas (Mark 4:35-41), and raise people from the dead (John 11:38-44).
The Most Important Question
Perhaps the most important question you will ever have to answer is one that Jesus asks his Apostles: “Who do you say that I am?” There will always be people who say Jesus was merely a good teacher, a prophet, or a figment of people’s imagination. The disciples experienced this too, sharing with Jesus “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” But Jesus challenges each of us to answer this question on our own, to not be influenced by society: “But who do YOU say that I am?” Peter, in an act of faith, responds: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Ultimately, we all have to answer that question. May we all have the faith of Peter and the courage to declare Jesus our Lord and our God.
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