Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Brilliance of Jesus

Oh, now here is something we tend to overlook or, if we even consider, fail to invest in: that is that Jesus, being God in the flesh, was the smartest man who ever lived. Does Jesus ever show up on anybody’s list of the greatest thinkers of history? Gurus, perhaps. Sages, maybe. The world may think him “wise” in some Confucian sense. We think of him as an idealist, as an enlightened man, as a revolutionary. But generally speaking, we also tend to regard him as na├»ve or simple. Like Friedrich Nietzshce, we tend to think, “If he had lived to my age he would have repudiated his doctrine.”

The world does not regard Jesus as savvy or practical, and if we within the Church will be honest with ourselves, we must admit that our frequent failures to obey his commands stem essentially from our practical disbelief that he could really be right about the way to think and act. But if we really believe Jesus was who he said he was, we know we have recorded in Scripture and at our reading convenience, the greatest human mind of all time.

How vast is the wisdom of Christ? As vast as the resources of almighty God. Revisit that exciting post-resurrection scene from the road to Emmaus in Luke’s Gospel and remind yourself how all-encompassing Jesus’ knowledge is (and how all-illuminating our knowledge of Jesus can be).

Jesus comes on these guys unawares and basically reveals the Bible to them. He illuminates Scripture to them. He answers their questions in such a fulfilling way that they say their hearts burned while he explained it to them.

Christians, Jesus’ knowledge imparted to us is not just head knowledge, but a godly wisdom of the sort that should be our constant resource and inspiration and guide through all of life. When Jesus gives us the Sermon on the Mount, he’s not just giving us a list of things to do, but an invitation to real life as Holy Spirit-enlightened persons. His commands are not just calls to right behavior, but calls to embrace a quality of the heart that leads to a pattern of life that burns with real knowledge from God. We call this real knowledge “truth.”

Jesus was absolutely brilliant, and yet we don’t refer to or access that brilliance with much regularity, do we? We tend to make our own decisions, utilize our own reason, and then ask God to okay it, confirm it, bless it.

We are great at compartmentalizing our lives, which is merely an extension of our implicit belief that Jesus’ knowledge is for our “spiritual life” but that our “everyday life” requires a more modern knowledge, a more “realistic” knowledge. Street smarts, perhaps. Dallas Willard writes:
The world has succeeded in opposing intelligence to goodness . . . And today any attempt to combine spirituality or moral purity with great intelligence causes widespread pangs of "cognitive dissonance." Mother Theresa, no more than Jesus, is thought of as smart -- nice, of course, but not really smart. "Smart" means good at managing how life "really" is.

Most of us have to get into the habit of thinking of Jesus as competent in all areas of our life, but we can’t settle at Jesus’ mere competence. We must embrace Jesus’ all-surpassing brilliance. That is where Jesus’ intelligence really shines through for us – he’s not just a storehouse of facts or data; he is the wellspring of all truth. Jesus the Man didn’t just teach and live the truth, he was, as he said himself, the Truth itself.

We have to get past an anxiety-prone existence in which we acknowledge Jesus’ moral perfection and good teaching and miraculous power, but perversely, not to the extent that we think him “in touch” with what we are really going through. In one of the great ironies of our modern evangelical subculture, we are very big on “making” the Christian faith practical and “relevant,” yet by and large we go on living our lives as if Jesus had nothing relevant to bear upon what we do and say, who we date or marry, what sort of jobs we take, what sort of families we raise, where we spend our time and who we spend it with.

We’re cool with Jesus being good and nice, but we’re hesitant to live as if he is omniscient as well.

This is a condensed version of an excerpt from the chapter called "Jesus the Man" in my book The Unvarnished Jesus, which is currently being shopped to publishers.

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