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Absolutely Anything But a “Good Man”

In a well-known passage, C. S. Lewis claimed that either Jesus was deluded, intentionally deceiving, or he was what he claimed to be, the Son of God, a person who was possessed of divinity.

Of course, modern sceptics and “debunkers” have a convenient and unanswerable way of dismissing Lewis’s “trilemma”: the recorded words of Jesus, and much else in the New Testament, are later fabrications invented by those extremely resourceful, crafty deceivers known as “the Early Church”.

So what do such people claim, then, concerning Jesus of Nazareth? I think they have a lot of explaining to do. Apparently, it has been argued that he never actually lived at all. But many others, wishing still to derive some kind of inspiration from him (the “real” Jesus, that is, the one found in those Biblical words and actions which require no supernatural beliefs) try to claim that, though an ordinary person like us, Jesus was somehow especially moral and spiritual.

He went around doing good, helping people, condemning bigotry, hypocrisy, and judgmentalism. He was an ethical leader whose moral teaching is all that matters (Ghandi is supposed to have said “We have the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, so we don’t any longer need Jesus”).

Some go further and claim for him spiritual gifts, that he had a developed experience of the divine, like one of the Old Testament prophets. We even hear, at times, the suggestion that this man somehow communed with God, like the great mystics. But however good or special, Jesus was just a man.

The problem with this view is that it tells us very little about this “good man”. How could it have been that all this virtue, wisdom, and spiritual charisma came out of … almost nothing? Had he emerged from several decades of moral study and spiritual direction (surely a fact to be mentioned by anyone bogusly trying to claim his special importance) we would have been able to go some way to understanding this assessment.

Had he sat at the feet of some great teacher such as Plato – the product of a philosophic school – or if he had from birth been trained by a spiritual master or guru then, in all senses, we would have known where he was coming from.

Wisdom, moral enlightenment, and spiritual insight are not gained in the workshop of a village carpenter – not in the kind of thinking that would see Jesus as purely human; for them, purely human means and methods have to be invoked. And how is it that no other village carpenter’s sons have upturned the world?

There have been many moral teachers, even a few who have founded religions (or been the origin of one), but none is remotely like Jesus. Why is this? There have been many millennia in human history, why have none of them thrown up someone else like him?

Most other ethical teachers produce a book which joins all the others on the library shelf; they’re never quite forgotten, they have their place, but human history would probably have been much the same if they’d never lived.

The reason for this is that all the ethical teaching in history has had little impact on human nature. Even those who have tried hardest to follow the highest moral teaching have not actually changed their essential self, much less that of the human race.

Only someone who was not just a good man could transform and re-make us, could secure a means by which we may eventually transcend our essential nature. Only God’s Word, made flesh, could offer us new, eternal, life.