One Friday in Jerusalem (TDTCTW 14)

Almost two thousand years ago there was a Friday in Jerusalem that changed the world. All the elements of September 11 occurred within the experience of a single person, but that experience had implications that affect every person who ever lived. For followers of Jesus that Friday in Jerusalem was, more than any other, the day that changed the world. Jesus’ death was more than just the execution of an innocent man, it was designed by God to unite the human race and ultimately the entire universe (John 12:32; Col 1:20). According to the Bible, Jesus is much more than a man, much more than a prophet. He is God come to earth, but in disguise, housed in a human body (John 1:1, 14). His mission did not end in a tomb, but continues to change the world today. The relevance of Jesus’ mission to our search for God is directly proportional to the reality of that claim.

This central aspect of Christian faith was perhaps best explained by C. S. Lewis, the great British scholar and novelist. According to his book Mere Christianity, Christians believe that behind events like September 11 is a universal war between the principles of good and evil. It is a civil war and this world is being held hostage by the rebel forces. Evil exists here because the world is enemy-occupied territory. On the other hand, the good we see in the world is evidence that God has not abandoned it to the Enemy. He continues to exert His influence with any who are willing to follow Him.

How did this evil get into the universe? Lewis argues that God created beings with free will. If we are free to be good we are also free to be bad. So free will has made evil possible, even though God did not choose to create evil. Why make people free then? Because the same freedom that makes evil possible is also the only thing that makes love, joy or goodness truly worth having. True happiness can only occur in the context of loving choice. Evidently God thought that the pluses of freedom were well worth the risk.

But what if God’s creatures used their freedom to go the wrong way, what if they used it to turn from Him, what if they used their freedom to produce unspeakable horrors like September 11? What then? Does this mean God Himself is evil, or perhaps powerless? The Bible says no to both options. Evil exists not because God is a tyrant, but because He prefers openness and freedom. Evil exists not because God is powerless, but because He wanted human beings to be powerful in ways that mirrored His own freedom of action.

But what has God done to start overcoming the evil in the world? According to Lewis, God has done several things, and these are outlined in the Bible. 1) He has provided the conscience, an inner sense of right and wrong that few humans are without. 2) He has provided some, from Abraham to Moses to Paul, and perhaps Mohammed and others outside the Christian sphere, with visions and dreams that helped clarify the central issues of good and evil. 3) In the Old Testament He provided the story of a people (Israel, the Jewish nation) and the struggles through which God sought to teach them more clearly about Himself.

But then came something special, something surprising. 4) Among the Jews appeared a man who went around talking as if He were God. He claimed to be able to forgive sins, something only God can do. Jesus could not be simply a good man. If a mere man claimed to be God he could not be a good man. To quote Lewis, “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 a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse.”

If Jesus is merely another prophet, a man among many, He is a fraud. But if He is what He claimed to be, God Himself taking on human flesh, then the life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the greatest events that ever happened in the course of human history. That Friday in Jerusalem would then be the day that changed the world.

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