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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Does Jesus Change the Flavor of Life?

  As a response to a comment in my last post, I was asked :
 "what is the difference between believing in an absolute Christ versus an illusory Christ if the end result as it pertains to your life and behavior towards fellow man is the same?"
 which I think is an important question and will (I hope) help to clarify my thoughts as to why truth is so important to me. In this response, I will be taking a lot from an essay C.S. Lewis wrote (Man or Rabbit) in which he addresses a similar question. As I sat down to answer the question, I kept wanting to focus on different parts of it. In the end my answer became to complicated for a simple reply and so I have decided to turn int into this post.
  I have several answers and I would like to first list them, and then I will comment a bit on each one. My answers are: "All the difference in the world"; "no real difference at all"; and "that question isn't a question." So let me start with "all the difference in the world":
  Now I might do many of great and sacrificing things for other people if I believe in an illusory Christ, but I will only do them up until I run into a good reason not to. If I believe in an illusory Christ, I do not believe in a person with whom I have a real relationship and to whom I am actually responsible. When the ethics become tough, I can always remind myself that Jesus is a "helpful illusion" which means that I can abandon the illusion just as soon as it ceases to be helpful. If, on the other hand, I believe in an absolute Christ, the questions of "helpful" or "beneficial" will not really come up. When it becomes difficult or unhelpful or seems unwise to show agape to my neighbor, the real Jesus does not let me off the hook. The absolute Jesus is a completely demanding ethical taskmaster (in churches we call this holiness) and He doesn't really seem to care that much about how hard, confusing or demanding it is for me to have agape, He insists that I show it anyway. And this makes sense because an absolute Jesus knows more than me, is wiser than me and is better than me; an illusory Jesus cannot, by definition, be any greater than I am. In fact, if Jesus is an absolutely real person, I ought to expect that I will not understand all of the things He asks me to do.
 My second answer, "no difference at all" begins to lead to my third response but is probably worth the stop along the way. It comes from my assumption that it is actually impossible to believe in something we do not think is actually true. In fact I think that this is supported by the fact that we have a word for when someone tries to believe in something they do not think is actually true, it is called "pretending". So on that level I would have to say that someone can only really believe in an illusory Jesus by making pretend. Either they are pretending that He is real, in which case they will ultimately make the same important life decisions as someone who believes that Jesus doesn't exist at all and refuses to pretend He does, or they are pretending that He is an illusion (I sometimes wonder if many of our post-modern brothers and sisters fall into this category) when they actually believe that He is real and then they will ultimately make the same crucial life decisions as someone who openly professes the absolute reality of Jesus. One final option would be that they believe He does exist but are pretending not to so that they don't have to deal with His existence (James points out that even the devil believes in God). In this situation I suppose that the person would make the same crucial life decisions as someone who doesn't believe that Jesus is real although I think that they would not be able to make them honestly.
  Finally I would answer "that question is not a question" because on it's surface it pretends to be neutral as to whether or not Jesus is illusory but on a deeper level it only works as a question if the answer is that Jesus is illusory. Jesus himself claimed that He makes a huge difference in the world (Matt 10:34, John 12:46, John9:39). If the existence of the God-man is an actual fact that has to be taken into account when we make our life choices, then it is impossible that the end result of our life decisions as they "pertain to [our] life and behavior towards our fellow man" would "remain the same". It is a bit like asking whether or not it is important to add real salt to our meal instead of adding illusory salt to our food so long as the end result is the same. We have to answer that real salt makes a difference to taste and that illusory salt doesn't and therefore the end result simply cannot be the same. The only way it could is if there were no such thing as real salt and all salt were actually illusory. In the same way, the only way there could be no difference between an absolute and an illusory Jesus is if there were no real Jesus.
  So my final answer to the question is: "Yes it makes a great deal of difference whether we believe in an absolute Jesus or an illusory Jesus and that difference is manifested (among other places) in my life and my behavior towards other people."


  1. Wonderfully written.

  2. i dont want to give you a big head, but i agree with joe.

  3. I'm really proud of you, honey!

  4. I guess you will absolutely feel more terrible for failing an absolute Jesus Christ than someone who fails an illusory Jesus Christ. = )