Once a fervent agnostic himself, C.S. Lewis said it best in a brilliantly succinct catchphrase: “Jesus Christ was either a liar, a Lunatic or Lord”
The Truth about Christmas.
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The story of Christmas is one that warms the heart and inspires our most enduring thoughts of peace and good will for all humanity; it gives us an opportunity to engage in the wonderful act of gift giving; it allows us to briefly turn our gaze from the stresses of daily life and refocus on being thankful for the pre-eminent joys amidst our circumstances.
But beyond all of the aforementioned very good reasons, the first reason why we celebrate the Christmas story is because it is a true story. And the spellbinding truth which Christmas proclaims is not the birth of one who came to teach us a new philosophy, or a new set of moral principles, but one who claimed to be God.
The singularity of this claim would then make it a matter of supreme urgency to dedicate our most sincere efforts to confirming its truthfulness; not only because it was Christ who made it, but also because of the weighty repercussions he cautioned were bound to the vindication as well as the negation of his claim.
It is important to note that unlike the frothy heroics of so called “blind faith”, the logical consistency of this claim does not vanish once we summon our most basic faculty of common sense. Once a fervent agnostic himself, C.S. Lewis said it best in a brilliantly succinct catchphrase: “Jesus Christ was either a liar, a Lunatic or Lord”.
That is, if Jesus Christ lied when he said that he was God then he should be denounced as a bald-faced liar or dismissed as a hopelessly insane individual. If he was either of the two then it is absurd to patronize him as a great prophet or teacher. But if perchance he was merely a well intentioned sage, whose teachings have been grossly misunderstood, it would be to his great discredit to leave his most crucial pronouncements veiled in impenetrable obscurity. Yet his contemporaries left us with no indication that they were beset by such ambiguity.
On the contrary, everyone who heard Jesus speak – especially his most passionate adversaries - clearly understood what he was claiming. Some believed and others simply did not believe and instead took him for a blasphemer, a charlatan, or a dangerous deceiver of the people. Though they offered no affirmation of his claims, there was never any doubt as to what he was claiming. And that is precisely why they responded with such virulence.
But their response is more a reminder that the truth sometimes is not immediately obvious, but still a very real and precious commodity. One should never squander our belief on any given truth claim until we have first proven that it can withstand a good dose of responsible scrutiny; because when we believe something that purports to be of great significance, we are obliged to act in accordance with that new revelation, and it would be a tragedy to invest the type of commitment some claims necessarily require, later to find out upon closer examination that we have committed ourselves to a lie.
But of most importance is to be certain that that which we have come to believe as true is actually the truth, since every action we take in response to the truth is another step closer to it. But when that which we believe to be the truth is actually a falsehood, and we have not securely bridged the gap between simply knowing about it and ascertaining its veracity, then every action in response to this “truth” is a deeper plunge into an abyss of deception.
If, on the other hand, we have indeed ascertained the veracity of a truth claim, but choose not to believe it, we can no longer claim ignorance when asked why it did not compel us to action, because we have knowingly chosen to reject it.
Now, any claims of truth raise a hedge of exclusivity, which is forbidden in an age when total inclusiveness is the only absolute criteria upon which any statements of truth can be made. But the ever-adjustable notion of inclusiveness and the transcendental virtue of truth do not always mix well, since truth can not logically embrace contradiction, even when it is done in the name of inclusiveness.
Those who deny the truthfulness of Jesus’ claim are themselves affirming something which explicitly excludes that which it negates. Thus the charge that Jesus’ claim is unnecessarily exclusive is something that anyone who proposes a declarative statement of truth is guilty of, including those made in opposition to that with which they disagree.
Conversely, Jesus does not coerce the inclusion of those who wish not to partake of the redemptive offer of his claim. His claim is exclusive only by default, as it has to exclude those who stand in opposition to it; because it is not Jesus who excludes those who reject him, but rather those who by rejecting his invitation freely exercise their prerogative to exclude themselves.
As an antidote for this moral conundrum, the implacable idols of tolerance have decreed that those who do believe in the claims of Jesus Christ settle on an amicable compromise, by conceding that this knowledge is true only for those who believe it. Anyone who views Christmas as simply a charming but essentially vacuous, mythic tradition will heartily agree with their assessment.
But Jesus Christ staked his whole reputation, without reservation, on the claim that his equality with God was firmly anchored on nothing but the truth. And the truth is not subject to one’s preference; it is true, whether one believes it or not. It is not contingent upon belief, but rather belief is only justified when that upon which it is grounded is the truth.
This is the context within which Jesus Christ made his rather astonishing claim, the truthfulness of which endows the story of Christmas with its enduring significance. And though he made it in a least intrusive and most gentle fashion, he did not seek - then or today - to indulge the neutrality or merely passive assent from his hearers, because like no one else, he fully understood the full force of its implications.