The genius mind of Jesus Christ
Regular Network Norwich and Norfolk columnist James Knight looks at the genius of the mind of Jesus.
Everyone knows that increases in knowledge involve improving or discarding old theories or beliefs when they have been shown to be not wholly satisfactory or have lost their utility. In fact, we are so familiar with this way of working that the statement seems trivially obvious.
But what about the notion of improving the very best ideas that we have ever constructed – that sounds absurd, doesn’t it? After all, aren’t the best ideas the very things that humans should celebrate accomplishing and strive hard to achieve? One would think so, at least on first glance – because we would be compelled to suggest that any man who improved on the very best ideas that humans have ever constructed would be a genius; in fact, the greatest genius the world has ever seen. I want to show that this has already happened with Christ – His mind is the genius in question – but yet so much more than a genius. Let’s see why and how; I think my point can be illustrated by looking at a wonderful example of a mistaken observation in G K Chesterton's essay The Wind and The Trees:
"I remember a little boy of my acquaintance who was once walking in Battersea Park under just such torn skies and tossing trees. He did not like the wind at all; it blew in his face too much; it made him shut his eyes; and it blew off his hat, of which he was very proud. He was, as far as I remember, about four. After complaining repeatedly of the atmospheric unrest, he said at last to his mother, "Well, why don't you take away the trees, and then it wouldn't wind."
Imagine a four year old boy saying this to his mother - his mistake is perfectly understandable; he has the causality the wrong way round, but that's because he observes first and then feels later. He sees the shaking of the trees acting like fans and he imputes causality to the trees (A) and the wind (B) in an A causes B relationship. We see something similar happening with the human view of morality. When it comes to systems of morality, if we think of the wind as the sweeping change in humanity over the centuries, and the trees as the humans and societies that this wind affects, we can note that we do not see winds of moral change by zooming in on any one act, anymore than we sense the spirit of the local pub by looking at one man on a barstool.
The wind and the spirit are a sort of hovering concept, just as the feeling of a definitive moral goodness hovers throughout the ages, while all the time never being any one aspect - but a drive or impetus that shows a tangible progression in man's realisation of how best to treat one another. Of course there are mistakes, ups and downs along the way - but in morality (just as in all evolution) we have a ratchet mechanism that holds moral progress in place. Even if one doesn't believe in God or an absolute moral goodness - the history of human socio-personal evolution has shown that people act as though there are better standards to obtain; we are always looking for improvement and progress, and this is evidenced by the reaction shown by people when someone behaves in an outmoded way (like a racist or bigoted man in this day) that was once tolerated but now no longer is.
But the trouble is, many people have gotten their wind and trees concept the wrong way round; they think that human systems (the trees) cause the progression (the wind). Just like the four-year-old boy, they see the trees as fans that cause the blowing wind rather than seeing them as objects being blown by the wind. In moral terms, they live as though each moral system or law or institution put in place is the cause of the wind of progression, when in fact, what is happening is that each moral system or law or institution is put in place 'because' minds can lock into a conceptual standard that when adhered to in active and dynamic situations can elicit motivations for us to put these systems in place.
The great heresy of our time is that we have treated morality as though trees move the wind. The very definition of moral progress is that humans are always trying to improve the world to fit a vision of the highest moral excellence. But if we keep changing the view and recreating the vision we no longer have a concept of anything to work towards. When people say that their own moral innovations have shaped the system, they are saying something about as useful as a man who says that a frying pan is the best tool for frying eggs. Yes it is, but we have constructed the object to make the very things we enjoy eating - it is good only in the sense that it is relative to other methods of frying an egg - we can't call it supremely good because it is a method of functionality virtually unrelated to anything other than itself.
Yet some treat morality as though it is only a function or utility upon which we build systems of progression - but of course there has to be an admission of consensus on (at the very least) a tangible concept of what we could progress to, so at no point can anybody say that the trees have created the wind - the trees have blown 'because' there is a tangible human concept of what a wind of progression would entail. Yet the human then has to wonder why there is any such tangible concept at all. Whatever we conclude we would find it hard to deny that humans treat morality as though they are 'discovering' it in a huge search space of possibilities, rather like how we discover mathematics in physical systems.
In conclusion one should, I think, view anyone with suspicion who claims not to believe in any tangible concept of a morality embodied by the collective of human aspiration - because he may claim to treat morality as personal taste the same way he treats fish and chips or curry according to taste, but you can be sure of one thing – there are not many men in the history of the world that have ever acted as though morality is personal taste. A man is usually much more subjective towards his own faults and wrongdoings and objective towards those of others, rather than the other way round.
Remember at the beginning I said about Jesus going beyond even the greatest human achievements – well, in the context of the above points, that is true for two reasons. In the first place, our best achievements are there only because God’s goodness hovers throughout creation – we are only the leaseholders, and do nothing good without His input. In the second place, God created people knowing that it would cost Him His own Son's life to buy people back to him. How much love is that? That's a huge amount of love – much greater than anything an ordinary human has achieved. Romans 5.8 says "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." and John 3:16 says "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life."
This is all based on two covenants; the Old was about the law and the New is about grace. In the Old Testament the blood of bulls and goats could only “cover” sins – it could not take them away (Hebrews 10:4). But the blood of Jesus is not like the blood of animals - because by one sacrifice, the eternal blood of the Son of God has forever removed our sins (Psalm 103:12) and cleansed us of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
In fact, God is so satisfied with His Son’s perfect work that He says to you today, “Your sins and lawless deeds I will by no means remember” (Hebrews 10:17). And if God does not remember them, He has done with punishing us for them – the only punishment is the pain or regret or discomfort that we cause ourselves because of our bad deeds.
But why the cross – why the need for a blood sacrifice at all? God could have just said "Go on then - I'll forgive them without the cross" - but the point of the incarnation is that He suffered so that He could live as we do and share in our suffering. We have “redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” - and that means that Jesus’ work is complete, all our sins have been completely forgiven - and naturally that complete forgiveness means that the penalties for our sins can no longer fall on us because they had already fallen on Jesus at the cross (see Isaiah 53:5). Grace has never been more awesome than that.
The cross works backwards as well as forwards, so it covered all the people before Christ too. All we have to do is accept and receive grace - it doesn't get fairer than that - no jumping through hoops anymore or tests to pass nowadays - Jesus' blood has already paid a price that neither you nor I had any chance of paying without Him.
To observe the difference in justice and mercy, let us be reminded of a wonderful account in Leviticus 7:31 of Aaron the high priest and his sons eating the breast of a sacrificed animal sacrificed; this is a passage signifying the love of Jesus. Yet when one sees the term roasted by fire (Leviticus 7:35) we are moved to see the relevance it has as God’s judgment on Jesus (yes that's right - on Jesus!) by His carrying our sins for us all the way to Calvary. In spite of what we do, God’s love for us is based on the cross, not on our present disobedience.
Look at the contrast between the judgmental Jewish legalists and the woman in Mark 5:25–34 who with unclean bodily discharge touched Jesus in full knowledge that she was breaking a Levitical law by even appearing in public. What this woman did that so many legalists failed to do is step over concepts of judgmentalism and recognise that Christ surpassed the law with grace and compassion. When Christ said ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well’ He commended her for being willing to break the traditions of the Torah and see a new sense of the Divine, one that doesn't condemn, but forgives - and I think God's mercy and compassion is bound up in grace's supersession of legalism.
If one is judgment-focused and looks on Jesus in relation to our sins and our disobedience then that takes the focus away from how much He is on our side and how much He wants us all to be saved - that is where mercy spares us. You see, with Christ God has finished His judgment of the world, because He has already judged and punished our sins with the nails into Christ's hands and feet. That is why He has improved on the very best ideas that humans have ever constructed, because we have never, and couldn’t ever, construct anything that good.
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James is a Norwich local government officer, author and Proclaimers church member in Norwich. You can access his current collections of columns here
Meanwhile, if you want to find out more about Christianity, visit: www.rejesus.co.uk