The world has long since forgiven Julius Caesar. Nobody today finds
Socrates or Cicero irritating. Few of us resent Alexander the Great
or his tutor, Aristotle.
No, only one man in the ancient world is still hated after two millennia:
This does not in itself prove the divinity of Christ, but it does
show that his words and example haven’t dated. They still have
an amazing power to provoke hatred as well as adoration.
Of course the hatred of Christ usually pretends to be directed at
side targets: St. Paul, the “institutional” Church, or,
more vaguely, “organized religion” (as if religion would
be all right if only it were a solitary activity). The cliché of
the Christ-haters, including many “liberal” theologians,
is that he was a “great moral teacher” who “never
claimed divinity,” but that his “simple message of love” was “corrupted” by
But why would anyone want a man crucified for preaching an innocuous
message of benevolence? Jesus was accused of blasphemy for equating
himself with the Father: “I and the Father are one.” “No
man comes to the Father but by me.” And if his claim were untrue,
the charge of blasphemy would be fully justified.
People not only saw him after the Resurrection, many of them died
under torture to bear witness to him. The martyrs were the principal
human “media” of Christianity in its infancy, deeply impressing
and finally converting others. Christ was “revealed” to
the ancient world in the courageous love of his best disciples.
Other “media” included the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark,
Luke, and John, as well as the epistles of Paul and other apostles.
Each Gospel views Jesus from a slightly different angle, but all four
of them (along with the epistles) portray the same recognizable man.
As Thomas Cahill notes in his book Desire of
the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday), this “makes
Jesus a unique figure in world literature: never have so many writers
managed to convey the same impression of the same human being over
and over again.”
Moreover, these writers weren’t polished professionals or literary
geniuses. Yet they achieved something beyond the powers of such titans
as Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton: they depicted a character
who exudes holiness.
The Eternally Unfashionable
Cahill goes on: “What especially
makes the Gospels — from
a literary point of view — works like no others is that they
are about a good human being. As every writer knows, such a creature
is all but impossible to capture on the page, and there are exceedingly
few figures in all of literature who are both good and memorable.” The
Gospel writers thus “succeeded where almost all others failed.
To a writer’s eyes, this feat is a miracle just a little short
of raising the dead.”
Amen! In the epic poems Paradise Lost and Paradise
Regained, for example,
Milton notoriously made Satan more vivid than God and Christ. This
led the poet William Blake to remark that Milton “was of the
Devil’s party without knowing it.” Be that as it may, world
literature boasts many convincing villains but few convincing saints.
And no literary saint has ever spoken words with the lasting impact
of Jesus’ teachings.
To a writer’s eyes, as Cahill might say, the sheer power of
Jesus’ sayings (which the poet Tennyson called “his greatest
miracle”) are almost enough to prove his claim. Physical miracles
might be feigned, but not these verbal miracles. Yet he apparently
never wrote them down; he spoke them, often off the cuff, trusting
them to “carry” by their inherent power.
Most writers are flattered if their words are remembered at all. But
the spiritually demanding words of Jesus — which condemn even
looking at a woman with lust — are still carried in the hearts
of millions after 2000 years, even though we know them only in translations
from translations. (Jesus spoke Aramaic, but the Gospels are written
Even conveyed to us so indirectly, those words have “carried” like
no others in all history, because so many people have found them true
and compelling. The durability of those words is all the more striking
when you consider that they are always out of fashion, as the secular
world goes through its successive fads and crazes.
Jesus is Lord!
Copyright © 2011 by the Fitzgerald
Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This column was published originally
by Griffin Internet Syndicate on December 2, 1999.
Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio
and archives of some of his columns.
Watch Sobran's last TV appearance on YouTube.
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during the FGF Tribute to Joe Sobran in December 2009.
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