The Evangelization Station
Pray for Pope Francis
Scroll down for topics
Who is Jesus?
Honesty. Be honest with yourself. Dare to ask the question: Who is Jesus, really? It's Jesus, not the argument, that's important. The argument is only an arrow, pointing to him. Who is he? There's your puzzle, your challenge, if you dare to face up to it. I know you're too honest just to look the other way, Sal. You have to do something with him. Here's the man who claims to be your Lord and your God and your Savior. ("Yes and No" is Peter Kreeft's answer to so many religion texts which leave students thinking of religion as little more than a dull and boring rehash of things everyone already knows. Kreeft's book asks hard questions, great questions, which, when engaged in make religion what it is.)
Sal: Chris, you surprised me with your answer to the problem of evil yesterday. You didn't answer with God the Father in Heaven but with God the Son, Jesus, suffering evil on the cross. That makes God much more lovable — if that's God on the cross. That's the big question.
Chris: Yes it is.
Sal: lf Jesus is just another good man who suffered unjustly, then he makes the problem of evil worse rather than solving it.
Chris: You're absolutely right, Sal: You see the connection very clearly. A Jewish friend of mine once asked me, "Where was God during the holocaust, when six million Jews were put into gas ovens?" I said that God was in the gas ovens. Jesus was Jewish too, you know. But the point is that he suffered not only his own pains but ours too. But he can't do that if he was only a man, and not God.
Sal: So your answer doesn't work except for Christians.
Chris: That's right. Christianity is a package deal. It all hangs together. It's not like a supermarket, where you can pick some products and leave others, or like a smorgasbord, but like a meal at home where your mother says, "Eat everything on your plate."
Sal: Well, I just can't believe a man was God. Did Jesus get dirt under his fingernails?
Chris: He sure did.
Sal: How could that be God? That's just crazy.
Chris: I'm glad you see how amazing it is. Most Christians don't appreciate that. They just take it for granted.
Sal: You don't blame me for questioning it, then?
Chris: I'm always glad to see you asking honest questions.
Sal: Aren't you afraid someone with weak faith will read this and lose his faith?
Chris: Yes, I am; I don't want to help anyone lose his faith, because faith is a precious thing, a jewel. But if anyone's faith is so weak that he loses it just because someone points out how amazing Jesus' claim is, or just because someone says it's O.K. to ask honest questions, then I think that faith should be lost, has to be lost. It wasn't that precious jewel I was talking about. I've known some people who found real faith in Christ only after losing their old weak faith. It's like tearing down a weak old building to build another, stronger one.
Sal: So the important thing is how strong your faith is?
Chris: No, how honest it is. The one thing everyone must start with is total honesty, I think. To believe just because it's easier, or convenient — or to refuse to believe just because it's easy or convenient — that's not honest.
Sal: What do you mean, convenient? What could make believing convenient or inconvenient? Give me an example.
Chris: If I decide to stop believing just so that I can commit all the sins I want without feeling guilty, without asking what's true and what God thinks — that's dishonest. And to decide to believe just to avoid the hassle of thinking for myself or just because it's socially convenient — that's dishonest too.
Sal: Can't someone believe other parts of Christianity but not this part — that Christ is God?
Chris: No. Christ is like the front door of the house. Through it, through him, you enter all the other rooms.
Sal: I don't follow your figure of speech.
Chris: If Christ is God, then everything he teaches is true. And all the things Christians believe, they believe because he taught them.
Sal: I thought you Christians had to believe thousands of things — all sorts of doctrines and creeds and laws and commandments.
Chris: Ultimately, just one thing: Christ. Everything else is because of him. Christians differ a bit on what things can be traced to him -Catholics say the teachings of the Church, Protestants say just what's in the Bible — but we all believe his teachings ultimately because we believe him. The object of our Faith is not a thousand things but one Person.
Sal: I thought you believed those thousand things because your Church taught them.
Chris: Not my church; his Church.
Sal: But she does teach a thousand things.
Chris: Maybe. I never counted. But I'd believe a billion things if he said so.
Sal: Because you believe he was God.
Chris: Is God. He's alive. He rose from the dead.
Sal: We have to talk about that some day too. But I think you believe only because you've been conditioned to believe, by your parents and teachers and Church.
Chris: Not conditioned, like a rat in a maze. I've been taught, like a free human being in a conversation, like the one we're having now. I'm able to disbelieve; I choose to believe.
Sal: Taught, then. But you only believe because you've been taught. If you had never heard about Christianity, you wouldn't believe it.
Chris: Of course not. And if you hadn't heard about the planet Pluto, you wouldn't believe it either. That doesn't mean it isn't true, or that you believe it only because your teachers say so.
Sal: Didn't you learn Christianity from teachers?
Chris: Of course. Everyone does, except Christ himself. My teachers passed on to me what they learned from their teachers, who eventually go back to Jesus' first disciples and to Jesus himself.
Sal: Don't stories get garbled when they're handed down through the generations?
Chris: That's why Jesus' disciples wrote the Gospels. There's the story, in God's newspaper.
Sal: Well, why do you believe that story?
Chris: For the same reason Jesus' first disciples did, the same reason Christians through the centuries believed: because I've met him.
Sal: You had a mystical experience?
Chris: No, I met him in the Gospels and in his disciples.
Sal: That's too personal to argue about. Can you put it into an argument?
Chris: Yes, but the argument isn't the object of my faith: he is.
Sal: O.K. But what's the argument?
Chris: You need data first, to argue about. You get that from the Gospels. Read them. Imagine you were Peter, or John, or one of the Marys, or any one of Jesus' friends. You get to know Jesus. You live with him. You hear him reach. You see him heal.
Sal: I've read the Gospels.
Chris: Who do you say Jesus is, then?
Sal: A good man, a wise man, a great moral teacher.
Chris: Not a bad man?
Sal: Of course not. Nobody thinks he's a bad man.
Chris: An awful lot of people did 2,000 years ago. They got him killed because they thought he was a bad man — a very, very bad man.
Sal: How could anyone think that?
Chris: Easy. He claimed to be God. If he isn't God, as you say he isn't, then he isn't a good man but a blasphemer or an idiot: a very bad man.
Chris: Did I go too fast with the argument?
Sal: Yes. Let's back up and gather the data.
Chris: Good. The data is two things: one, he is a good, loving, wise, generous, trustable man. And clever — he had terrific insight into people. A cool head and a warm heart. That's the picture you get from the Gospels, isn't it?
Sal: Yes. What's the second thing?
Chris: That he claimed to be God. "Before Abraham was, I Am." "I am the Resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will never die." "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one can come to the Father except through me." He forgives sins ...
Sal: Wait a minute. Aren't we supposed to forgive sins too?
Chris: Sins against us, yes. But he forgave all sins. Can you do that?
Sal: Why not?
Chris: If you stole your sister's money, could I forgive you for that?
Sal: No. She has to forgive me.
Chris: So only the one offended has the right to forgive.
Chris: And he forgave all sins. That implies that he is the one offended in all sins. And who is that?
Sal: God. I see. But just because he claimed to be God doesn't mean he was. People claim all sorts of crazy things.
Chris: Crazy people, yes. Dishonest people, yes. Stupid people, yes. Which do you think he was?
Sal: A good man.
Chris: That's the one and only thing he couldn't possibly be.
Chris: Because if he isn't God, then he's either a liar or a lunatic to claim to be God. A liar if he knew he wasn't God, a lunatic if he thought he was. What is he: Lord, liar, or lunatic?
Sal: A prophet, maybe.
Chris: Would you call me a prophet if I said I was God?
Sal: Of course not. I'd call you nuts.
Chris: Then why do you call Jesus a prophet? None of the prophets claimed to be God. If Jesus' claim is true, he's much more than a prophet: he's God. And if it isn't true, then he's much less than a prophet: he's a false prophet; a blasphemer, a liar, or a lunatic.
Sal: That's a clever argument.
Chris: I don't want compliments.
Sal: What do you want?
Chris: Honesty. Be honest with yourself. Dare to ask the question: Who is Jesus, really?
Sal: I can't answer your argument.
Chris: It's Jesus, not the argument, that's important. The argument is only an arrow, pointing to him. Who is he? There's your puzzle, your challenge, if you dare to face up to it. I know you're too honest just to look the other way, Sal. You have to do something with him. Here's the man who claims to be your Lord and your God and your Savior. If he is, you'd better believe in him. If he's not, you'd better not call him a good man, but a bad man.
Sal: There's got to be a way out of that.
Chris: Why? Why are you looking for a way out? What are you afraid of?
Sal: Another hard question. I don't know.
Chris: Are you going to avoid that question too? The first question was about Christ, and you tried to avoid that by looking for a way out. The second question was about you: What's motivating you to run away from Christ's claim on you? Are you going to face those two questions or run away from them?
Sal: Chris, stop badgering me!
Chris: I'm just asking you to be honest with yourself.
Sal: O.K., I'll face the question. Maybe the way out is that the Bible just isn't true — maybe Jesus never existed, or maybe he was completely different from what the Bible says. Maybe he never claimed to be God. Prove to me that the Bible is true.
Chris: Gladly — some other day. But not to find a way out of today's question.
Sal: I do really want to know. I want a way in, not a way out: a way to find out what's true.
Chris: Then I know you'll find it.
Sal: How do you know that?
Chris: Because Jesus promised it: "Seek and you shall find, all who seek find."
Sal: And you believe that.
Sal: Because he's God.
Chris: Yes. It all hangs together.
Sal: So how do I know what's true?
Chris: There's only one way to find out.
Sal: Just believe, you mean?
Chris: No, seek. It's the same as in the sciences. If you don't ask questions, if you don't examine your data, you'll never find answers. And here the data is Jesus.
Sal: How do I look at Jesus more deeply? I've read the Gospels.
Chris: Do you really want to look more deeply?
Sal: In an open-minded way, yes.
Chris: Then read them again, more searchingly. And here's a second thing to do that I'll bet you've not done.
Sal: How can I pray if I don't believe? That's dishonest.
Chris: No. Just be honest. Say something like this: "Jesus, I'm not sure whether you're God or not. If you're only a good man who's dead, you can't even hear me. But if you're God, you must want me to know that, to know you, to believe in you. I just want to know the truth. Please show me the truth." If you honestly mean that prayer, you'll find him. He promised that. The prayer is a kind of experiment, a test. But you really have to mean it; you really have to seek. The promise was that only seekers find.
Sal: I like that. It's almost scientific. Do you think I'll see some miracle?
Chris: No, he didn't promise how we'd find him.
Sal: How long do you think it will take?
Chris: I don't know. He didn't promise when we'd find him either. But he did promise the most important thing: that we'd find him.
Sal: I'll do it.
Kreeft, Peter. "Who is Jesus?" In Yes or No: Straight Answers to Tough Questions about Christianity (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 1991), 57-66.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
Peter Kreeft teaches at Boston College in Boston Massachusetts. He is on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center.
Copyright © 1991 Ignatius Press