Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Discussing Jesus with Al Franken

In a sketch from "Lord Save Us From Your Followers", Al Franken describes his encounter with a zealous Jesus-follower. Mr. Franken didn't (and I suppose still doesn't) think Jesus is God, and his interlocutor said he was calling Jesus a liar.

Not knowing exactly what was said, I nevertheless can imagine someone being quite obnoxious about this issue. I don't even have to stretch very much because I've been that obnoxious myself in the past. But though I don't think my brother in Christ provided Mr. Franken with a winsome appeal to the facts, I nonetheless agree that Jesus really doesn't give us the option of thinking he's "just" a great teacher. He made it quite clear that he was claiming to be equal to God in a way that merely human beings like you and I are not.

Back to Mr. Franken's story: my brother in Christ apparently told him, "Jesus said, ‘When you look upon me you look upon the face of God.’ What do you make of that?"

Mr. Franken replied, "Well, maybe he was misquoted. Maybe he was saying that when you look upon any man you look upon the face of God." (These quotes are approximate, as I'm working from memory.) Nobody had a successful rejoinder to Mr. Franken, and I think this a shame.

It's a shame not because it would have been possible to "win" the argument -- nobody has ever come to hope in Christ because she or he "lost" an argument -- but because I think it important that we present our faith winningly and also intelligently. It doesn't really dishonor God if the world thinks Christians are silly ("We are fools for Christ" - 1 Corinthians 4:10, etc), but it doesn't honor him to present our faith as something we just made up.

As a matter of record, Jesus was not ambiguous at all in his claim to be special. Here's John's record of just one occasion:

"My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one."

Again the Jews[1] picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?"

"We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."

John 10:27-33
  1. ^ I should mention something here about John's use of the phrase "the Jews." It is a shock to some people, but Jesus grew up as a Jew; so were all the disciples. John himself was a Jew. What he means by "the Jews" is "the religious leaders." Really, John is really not anti-Semitic.)

Jesus is talking with religious leaders here, and they are quite clear about what he meant. Even if we don't have the exact words (this conversation most likely was in Aramaic, whereas the text is written in Greek), its import was unambiguous.

So Jesus really did claim to be equal to God, which leaves us, as Lewis said, with three possibilities:

  1. He was some sort of nut-case, rather like someone who claims to be a poached egg;
  2. He was a liar (or worse) -- claiming to be God when he wasn't;
  3. He really was who he claimed to be.
Jesus doesn't leave us the option of thinking of him as a merely human philosopher or teacher; if he was merely human then #1 and #2 above are our only options. This line of thought won't, of course, convince anyone to follow Jesus, but I hope it can help people to be willing to take another look.

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