THE TRILEMMA: IS JESUS REALLY GOD?
There was a pastor in Miami some years back who claimed that he was God. Not a bad gig if you can pull it off. He said that all the Bible prophets had written about him and that they had waited 2,000 years for him to show up. He put a tattoo on his arm with the number 666, claimed that Jesus was not a Christian and that he was the real Jesus now. He added that there was no devil, no sin and that his followers could do whatever they wanted and that God would be good with that. That last part might explain why he built up a sizable following.
He did pretty well financially, too — tons of money, a diamond-studded Rolex watch, an armor-plated BMW. Of course, there were some other things that maybe distracted from all his claims. He had been a heroin addict and had spent time in jail for petty theft. Add to that a huge gambling debt. And he’d been divorced several times and one of his exes claimed he had threatened her with death angels if she didn’t do what he told her.
Oh, and one more thing — he died a few years ago and by all accounts, he’s still dead.
Are you up for a comparison? Jesus claimed to be God, too. And not everyone believed him when he said it. In fact, Jesus asked his disciples one time what people were saying about him and that brought out some interesting answers. They said that some people thought he was Elijah from the Old Testament days. Some others thought he was John the Baptist come back to life. When Jesus asked them they thought, the always-ready Peter said, “We believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”
Good for Peter because that’s exactly what Jesus had been telling them. He claimed to be God himself in person. Now that’s an amazing claim to make. And actually it’s easy enough to say, just like that pastor in Miami. But it’s a totally different thing to back it up and prove it.
So what is the evidence that Jesus Christ really is God? Hard to think of a more important question than that one.
There’s a really good logical approach that’s been called the Trilemma, often attributed to the author C.S. Lewis, that tackles this question head on.
It starts with the fact that Jesus actually claimed to be God. For example, one time he said, “The Father and I are one. He who seen me has seen the Father.”
Another time he was at a home speaking to a crowd of people when some men carted in a stretcher carrying a paralyzed man, hoping that Jesus might heal the man. Instead, Jesus shocked the crowd by saying this to the man: “Your sins are forgiven.”
Wait, what?! The Jewish leaders who were watching must have had steam coming out their ears as they exclaimed that only God can do that …. who does this man think he is?!
Jesus knew exactly who he thought he was and didn’t back down at all. Instead, he said to them, “To show you that I do have authority to forgive sins” …. and then speaking to the man he said …. “Get up, take up your mat and go home.” Unbelievably, the paralyzed man did just that and walked out the door.
Incredible! So, no question that Jesus claimed to be God in person. But here’s where it gets interesting. That claim is either true or it’s false. Either he is God or he is not.
If it’s false, that he is not God but he said that he was, then there are two possibilities.
#1 His claim was false and he knew it was false but he kept saying it anyway. That would make him a liar. And not just a regular old liar but a viciously evil one because he told people to stake their lives on him, to put their trust in him, to ground their eternal hopes on him. If he knew it was a lie all along and yet he still did it, what a horrible person that would make him.
Does that’s square with what is known about Jesus? Does it make any sense that he was a liar? We’re used to liars — just follow any election campaign! But it’s not just politicians.
I love a story about a four year old girl who lied constantly. To try to get her to stop, her mom told her the tale about the little boy who cried wolf all the time and how after a while nobody would believe anything he said anymore. The little girl thought about that for a while and then said, “I was eaten by a wolf once, you know.”
So was Jesus a habitual liar? Everything about him — his character, his teaching, his consistency, his insights and wisdom — make it awfully hard to conclude that he was a liar. But if he wasn’t lying, that leads to another possibility.
#2 His claim was false but he truly believed it was true and kept saying it. That would make him a lunatic.
How does that fit with the kind of life he lived? Even his enemies agreed that he was perfect — and wise and compelling beyond anything they’d ever seen. One time the Jewish leaders sent some soldiers to arrest Jesus but the solders came back without him. The leaders asked them why and one soldier replied, “Because we have never heard anyone who speaks the way he does.” Hardly the picture of a lunatic.
So we’ve got two possibilities so far: Jesus may have been a liar or he may have been a lunatic. But there’s one other possibility.
#3 If Jesus claimed to be God and it proved to be true, that would make him the Lord.
But again, it’s easy enough to make a claim like that, but it’s something else again to prove it. Think about the things Jesus did:
- He lived a perfect life and never sinned.
- He healed people of diseases.
- He did undeniable miracles.
- He raised some from the dead.
- He spoke with wisdom and insight.
- He showed compassion and love.
- He was tough and strong and willing to take on the religious hypocrites who were scamming the people.
- He willingly allowed himself to be hung on a cross, taking the punishment for the sins of the world.
- Three days later he came back from the dead and hundreds of people were eyewitnesses to that fact.
- Because of that, thousands of Jews shockingly became believers in Jesus as their Messiah and Savior because they knew he had died and now was alive again.
And on it goes. The evidence may be convincing that Jesus’ claim to be God himself is true, but people still have to make up their own minds. Some people today see him as the founder of a religion. Some think he was a fraud or a magician or a political radical. Some don’t think of him much at all.
But maybe the most common idea is that Jesus was a really good religious teacher, someone who taught people to love one another and to be good, but that he wasn’t really God. That actually isn’t a viable option, though. Here’s why:
C.S. Lewis wrote, “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Jesus: that I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing that we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -– on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell.”
Lewis continued, “You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit on hm as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
So who is Jesus? It comes down to Lord, Liar or Lunatic. Those really are the options when you consider Jesus’ claims and his life. My own conclusion is that he is the Lord, that he backed up everything he said. Take a look at all this and then decide for yourself.