No, You Can’t Explain Jesus Away So Easily
This one wasn’t just for fun. Seth Dillon of the Babylon Bee took up an atheist’s Twitter challenge: four questions on why anyone should believe Christianity is true. He gave good answers, no problem there. But I have more room to work with here than he has at Twitter, and I also have an answer to the first question that almost no one ever thinks about, but when you read it, you’ll say, “Oh, yeah! That’s too obvious!”
The atheist, a leftist activist named Ed Krassenstein, started out with:
1. How do you know that Jesus wasn’t a magician or alien with superpowers? Imagine if David Blaine was alive 2000+ years ago and he could make himself appear to create miracles.
You see what he’s doing here, right? He’s trying to explain Jesus away. Can he do it? Let’s begin with some more familiar answers.
Super Alien Jesus?
First, “How do we know that Jesus wasn’t … an alien with superpowers?” Let’s deal with that the easy way. He wasn’t. Period.
I have a rule of life that says, “Always respect the question.” I’d be willing to break that rule for this one, except I really don’t think this even counts as a question. It’s more an act of desperation, a clumsy, embarrassing, flailing attempt to get out of taking Jesus seriously.
Need more answer than that? Here you go: Find me someone who thinks aliens with superpowers have shown up on earth with a mission to change the world, and I’ll show you a certifiable loony.
There’s more to Krassenstein’s question, though.
Was Jesus a magician? Krassenstein mentioned David Blaine, an illusionist. That’s one kind of what we call magic. The Twitter comments focused more on the other kind: using supernatural forces, sorcery, etc.
I’ve known two illusionist-style magicians: my son, who’s great at street magic, and the late André Kole, who was widely considered one of the greatest inventors of illusions in the world. He helped David Copperfield create his famous “Disappearing Statue of Liberty” illusion, then invented an on-stage version: a miniature Statue of Liberty disappears from the bottom up. He told me once that no one had ever guessed how he did it. Other professional magicians had come close, but not quite.
He also knew how to walk on water. I had the privilege of seeing him do it many times:
But he was also very clear: Jesus could have done it exactly the same way — if He traveled with the same oversized truckload of equipment André depended on. That’s what it takes to make it work as an illusion. And still He couldn’t go anywhere on the water, just … stand there.
Besides, no illusionist could make the blind see, the lame walk, or the dead return to life.
Jesus has been accused of sorcery, too. Apparently it goes back to one of the earliest skeptics, Celsus. Commenters on this thread said Jesus had to have been using magic — not illusion, but the real thing. One even offered a definition to prove his point (edited for readability here): “magic: noun. The power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.” Then he asked “So Jesus did not use supernatural forces??? No supernatural forces to feed the multitude with loaves and fishes.”
That’s missing the point, though. Every Christian believes Jesus did miracles. The question is whether we should call them “magic.”
Notice how this definition says, “using mysterious or supernatural forces.” More expanded definitions will tell you that this “using” is a lot like the way we use technology. Click a link and your screen displays a different web page. Say the right incantation and the spirits will do what you want them to do. Pull the strings, and you make it happen.
Some people would even say we can “harness the supernatural.” No, not even close. God doesn’t live in a harness! If they’re dealing with anything spiritual, they’re demons. And if they think they’re using the spirits to do their wishes, demons know better: They’re only playing along so they can use the humans for their wishes.
That’s one reason the Bible condemns sorcery: It’s evil, and it’s dangerous. It’s also self-centered: The sorcerer is playing tricks in the spirit world to get what he or she wants. And it’s an invitation to deception, to denying the One true God and following some duplicitous counterfeit in His place.
So if Jesus wasn’t using supernatural forces, how did He do His miracles? He was the supernatural Himself. He wasn’t manipulating anyone or anything to do His will, He simply did His will, and did it supernaturally.
What’s the Problem, Anyway?
That’s still not enough for some atheists. Miracles are just as bad as any sorcery, for them. They don’t care if they get the meaning of “magic” wrong. It adds a nice scornful touch, so they use it anyway.
Because both “magic” and “miracles” are impossible, they say. Science “proves” the laws of nature are what they are, and nothing can change them. You could fill a small library with books debating the point, but I’ll cut to the chase, straight as I can.
They say, “Nature’s laws are fixed. Not even a God could intervene and change them.” That’s their view from nature’s side of it. Flip it around, and you have this instead: “If there is a creator god (small c and g on purpose), it’s a god that can’t touch anything it created.” It built the house, locked itself outside without any keys, and for all its omnipotence, still can’t bust open a window and crawl inside.
If they want to prove a weak god like that doesn’t exist, fine, I’m right there with them. I just wonder why they bother.
The Non-Obvious Obvious Answer
Here’s the part everyone misses, though. They look at the story of Jesus, and they want to explain it all away. They think if they can just deal with the miracles, that takes care of everything that matters. It doesn’t. That just covers the plot points. There’s still the character of Jesus to deal with.
You remember from school, right? Stories aren’t just about the points in the plot (such as the miracles, in Jesus’ story). Stories also have settings, descriptions, dialogues, and above all, characters.
That’s true of Jesus’ story, too. Somehow, even though everyone knows how important character is, they think they can solve the question of Jesus just by talking about plot points. Fact is, if anything, I’d say His character is harder to explain away than anything else about Him. You can find wizards and gods in other stories doing wonders to match what Jesus did in the gospels. But you’ll never find another character to match the kind of person He was.
You Can’t Explain Jesus Away
I cover this at length in my book has: Too Good to Be False, but, here I’ll have to stick with just one example, relating to His miracles. Sorcerers supposedly have great powers, too, right? But for whom do they use it? Or consider any powerful person in the real world: For whom do they use their money or their influence?
Some use their power to help others. Some even use it to help others greatly. Only one, though, used His great power exclusively for others. He never used his extraordinary powers for His own benefit, not even when the devil put the choice right out there in front of Him: “Command these stones to become bread.” He’d been fasting 40 days. He could have used some bread! But no. His miracle-working power was for others, not for Himself. In this and every other way, He was absolutely consistent, absolutely perfect, totally devoted to self-sacrificial, other-centered giving.
You don’t find that in any other powerful person. Not in history, not even in any other story. That’s my answer to the obvious objection, “It’s just a story.” It isn’t just a story. No other story has a character even remotely as loving as Jesus. So even if somehow you could explain His miracles away (though I don’t think you can), you’d still have way too much of Jesus to grapple with. Miracles or not, you still can’t explain Jesus away.
Tom Gilson (@TomGilsonAuthor) is a senior editor with The Stream and the author or editor of six books, including the highly acclaimed Too Good To Be False: How Jesus’ Incomparable Character Reveals His Reality.