Thursday, February 28, 2013

THYME Magazine

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume V, Issue XI

C. S. Lewis' Trilemma, Why it Matters

The 'other' weekly news magazine this week features Oscar Pistorius [click to read]. The cover reads: "Man, Superman, Gunman." Indeed, when those we see as the greatest, and most exemplary among us, fall; questions must be raised. We are right to examine the lives of those we would hold up as role models.

But when we look at our fellow men in such positions, it is well to remember that Romans 3:23 tells us: "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." This does not excuse our shortfallings, rather it offers an honest assessment of the human condition. Honest examination, while it may lead to disillusionment, is necessary if we are to offer solid example.

Pistorious has a great story of triumph over circumstances, but is guilty of either a great crime or (as he claims) a great error. If he is a role model for discipline in overcoming adversity, his lack of discipline, or lack of clear judgement, must also be presented as evidence.

When Jesus proclaims Himself the fulfillment of Scripture, He too invites our examination. C. S. Lewis puts it in these words:

C. S. Lewis' Trilemma: Who is this Man?

"Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was G-d. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of G-d, or one with G-d: there would he nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of G-d. G-d, in their language, meant the Being outside the world, who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that. you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.

One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is G-d, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toes and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history. Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is ‘humble and meek’ and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings.

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 G-d.’ 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 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 G-d: 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 G-d. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

-- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 51-52.

C. S. Lewis was a skeptic and an Oxford scholar. His honest scholarship led him to conclude that Christ is indeed who He says He is. Josh McDowell, a journalist, also set out to disprove the Gospel message. Instead, he ended up writing a book called Evidence that Demands a Verdict. In it he lays out a compelling case for Jesus the Christ.

Interestingly enough, I have read an Atheist's thoughts to the effect that Jesus can still be a great moral teacher even if we find delusion or outright prevarication in his message (of course, wanting to claim that He is ONLY a great moral teacher and nothing more). I do not think that is possible. We demand a standard of integrity that is higher for even those who are men like we are that we would hold up as models for our lives. The sad story of Oscar Pristorius proves it.


No comments: