The aim of this essay is that you will take the time to consider Jesus as he is, which can be done only from the pages of the New Testament itself. My experience has been that most people who reject Jesus, either consciously or by default, know little about him. What they reject is the caricature of him that they have perceived from one or more of several sources:
- Their own, or their parents', rejection of the church for one reason or another, often unconnected with Jesus as he is;
- Their own lack of "religious" emotion, perceived by them as lack of need;
- The faulty teaching of Sunday School or other Bible teachers who teach the Bible third-hand rather than from their own direct reading of it;
- One-sided, dull, or thin preaching that filters out the biblical Jesus for the sake of the preacher's point (or the avoidance of one.)
- The absurd reports on sources like The Learning Channel and The History Channel, which concentrate on obscure and secondary sources rather than on the coherent body of material that forms the New Testament;
- Outright, intentional, and mocking versions of him. A comic version of Jesus is an unlikely candidate for Lord of earth and heaven.
You get the idea. Those of us who declare publicly that Jesus is God himself as a human being, come to earth as the full and complete answer to the search for meaning, are not asking others on the search to believe us except as a stage of the search; we are asking you to believe us enough for you to pick up the Bible and read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John until you get a clear picture of Jesus as he is. You can test what you read against this assertion: No single person in the history of the world has claimed as much about himself as Jesus has. No single person has modeled his claims as consistently as Jesus has. No single person has put himself forward as both perfect human and infinite God, the One who gives his life for the sins of the world and who takes it up again in Resurrection.
In summary, I propose that Jesus is the one who meets the criteria stated in essays seven and nine:
- For God to be known, He must reveal himself and everything about himself; he is not open to our discovery without this revelation.
- God must be known on his own terms, not ours.
- As God enters our reality from outside, so we must enter his from outside.
- We cannot impute more than the idea of God's existence; we cannot assign any meaning to him that goes beyond his self-definition.
- We believe in order to know; we learn in order to believe.
It's either true or a tall story. The awareness of that choice makes people tend to believe him when they get to know him for themselves. If you reject him anyway, you will not find anyone to replace him — that is, one covers so much ground so coherently in what he says and does. The primary word of most religions is "I'll fix you up so you will have a better life." The primary word of Jesus is, "I forgive you, and give you eternal life." The difference is huge.
Mark Van Doren was not writing a Christian apology but stating an ontological fact when he wrote, "There are no substitutes for God." Atheism is both brave and sad, because it has no adequate substitutes for what it denies. It must settle for less because it does not believe in more. The search for meaning is aborted because there is no ultimate meaning to hope for.
Van Doren had by all accounts a much healthier mind than the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, yet Kierkegaard engaged the search at both length and depth. I do not agree with everything he said, even the parts I understand, but this this isn't about mental health; it's about meaning, and the faith required to lay hold of it. So I agree with these words of Kierkegaard, and have for the forty years since I first read them.
Thou plain man! The Christianity of the New Testament is infinitely high; but observe that it is not high in such a sense that it has to do with the difference between man and man with respect to intellectual capacity, etc. No, it is for all. . .
—"My Task," published after his death, 1855. http://sorenkierkegaard.org/kw23c_2.htm
Like many believers before and after, Kierkegaard goes on to point out how difficult Christianity is. So we'll end this series on a lighter note from the Roman Catholic wit G. K. Chesterton.
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.
—Chapter 5, What's Wrong With The World, 1910
8. Dialogue with a Postmodern Nephew
9. Why the Bible?