An artificial intelligence (AI) tool called ChatGPT can respond to a question or topic with an essay that looks deceptively like it was written by a human. One college professor expects a “flood” rather than a “trickle” of plagiarism problems in the near future as a result. Such technology is being called “a turning point with artificial intelligence,” one that prompts the question, “How can we use these tools ethically and safely?”
Now consider this: half of the ten most-read stories in the New York Times this year dealt with shootings, abortion, or insults. Four others dealt with death, disasters, or aging. (“Wordle is a love story” was the lone exception.)
Given our fallen nature, how confident are you that we will master AI before it masters us? What about the other problems that plagued us last year and are likely to do so in the year to come?
Clearly, we need a Savior to save us from our sins. But, paradoxically, one of the sins from which we need to be saved is the sin of rejecting our need for a Savior.
Legend, liar, lunatic, or Lord?
Yesterday we noted that 52 percent of American adults believe that Jesus was a great teacher and nothing more. Such a supposition is not new. In 1942, C. S. Lewis responded to this assertion in what later became the most famous paragraph in his classic, Mere Christianity:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about him: 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 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. 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 at him and kill him 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.
From this paragraph derives what is known as the “trilemma”: Jesus must be either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.
There’s a fourth option, however. We also noted yesterday that 53 percent of Americans believe the Bible “is not literally true.” If they are right, perhaps Jesus did not really claim to be Lord. Perhaps this idea is a legend that grew up over the centuries (a claim Dan Brown made famous in his bestseller, The Da Vinci Code).
If this is the case, we are not forced to choose among Lewis’s three options, since all of them arise from the supposedly faulty presumption that Jesus claimed divinity for himself.
“A hymn to Christ as to a god”
I have taught seminary classes and written extensively on this subject (see my Wrestling With God, for example). To summarize the remarkable extrabiblical evidence for Jesus:
- Thallus the Samaritan (AD 52) referred to the darkness of the crucifixion of Jesus.
- Mara bar Serapion (writing after AD 70) noted that Jesus’ followers considered him to be their king.
- Tacitus (AD 55–120) described early Christian belief as a “most mischievous superstition,” referring to faith in the supernatural or miraculous rather than simply following a human teacher.
- In AD 112, a Roman administrator named Pliny the Younger wrote that Christians “were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as to a god.”
- And the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (AD 37/38–97) reported that early Christians called Jesus the “Christ,” the Messiah, and believed him to have been raised from the dead.
So, since Jesus’ claim to divinity was not a legend that grew up centuries afterward but a first-century assertion accepted by his followers, we are back to Lewis’s three options: liar, lunatic, or Lord.
However, a postmodern relativist will likely shrug his shoulders and say, “That’s just your truth. I have my own truth.” What do we do then?
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them”
2 Chronicles 24:20 reports that “the Spirit of God clothed Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest” (this was not the biblical prophet by the same name), and he called the people to repent of their idolatry and immorality. However, “they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the Lᴏʀᴅ” (v. 21). Here was his response: “And when he was dying, he said, ‘May the Lᴏʀᴅ see and avenge!’” (v. 22).
Fast-forward eight centuries to the Book of Acts, where we find a similar story. This time the person who was empowered by God’s Spirit was named Stephen (Acts 6:5). Like Zechariah, he exposed the idolatry and immorality of the people (Acts 7:2–53). And like Zechariah, he was stoned to death as a result (vv. 58–59). But unlike Zechariah, “he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (v. 60).
What explains the difference?
Stephen knew the example of Jesus’ vicarious atonement and his prayer from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And while Zechariah was “clothed” by God’s Spirit, Stephen as a Christian was indwelt by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16).
As a result, he could manifest the “fruit of the Spirit,” the first of which is “love” (Galatians 5:22). His forgiving grace was witnessed by “a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58), who soon came to encounter Stephen’s Lord and make him his personal Lord as well (Acts 9:1–18).
Here’s the point: the best way to show skeptics that Jesus is Lord is to show them that he is our Lord. And the best way to show them that he is our Lord is to love them as he loves us.
How will you imitate Stephen today?
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The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
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