The aim of my current series of essays is to help myself and others become better able/equipped to defend our faith in Christ and the Bible that tells His story. I started out presenting hard evidence that the writers of the Gospels can be fully trusted and that the facts contained in their bios of Jesus have consistently withstood intense scrutiny. I showed the Gospels have been more reliably preserved over the centuries than any other books of antiquity. I demonstrated details found in the New Testament accounts are confirmed by outside sources including the credible historians Josephus and Tacitus. I also mentioned that archaeological discoveries continue to verify what the Bible says. Last week I delved into the question of whether or not Christ ever claimed to be God and concluded that not only did He do so on many occasions but He never tried to correct those who declared Him the Messiah the Old Testament prophets promised would come to redeem mankind. Along the way I play the devil’s advocate at times, posing questions unconverted skeptics, critics and smart-alecks might throw at us in response to our arguments for Jesus being worthy of our worship and fidelity. There are mountains of evidence to back our belief in Christ. Our trust is not based on wishful thinking but upon solid, undisputed data that’ll most likely cause those on the other side of the debate to grow frustrated and desperate. As a last resort they may come up with something like “Okay, okay. You’ve made your point that Jesus was a real person, that His disciples and devotees harbored no doubts He was the Son of God and that He Himself firmly believed He and the God who created the universe and everything in it were one and the same. I’m satisfied that all that’s true. However, isn’t it possible that Jesus was insane?”
While I, a born again Christian, find that notion ridiculous I can’t just slough it off and let the discussion end there because it’s a legitimate question that deserves a straightforward answer. We know crazy folks don’t always look, speak or act like loons. Your opponent might use as an example the infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. He was a genuine psychopath but all who knew him personally thought his character above reproach and he obviously thought highly of himself, as well. Yet underneath that charismatic, charming veneer lurked a covert, evil nature so heinous it’s impossible to fathom. (Thank God monsters like Bundy are the exception, not the rule.) Now, the questioner won’t be implying Jesus was a depraved murderer by any means. They’ll simply be stating that it’s possible Christ’s personality was so attractive and He was so thoroughly convinced He was the Savior of the world that others came to believe it, too. They’ll emphasize that human beings are prone to thinking they’re something they’re not and that even Mensa members can have a couple of screws loose upstairs. They might refer to the Scriptures where it’s noted Jesus’ own mom and siblings thought He might be delusional. “Now Jesus went home, and a crowd gathered so that they were not able to eat. When his family heard this they went out to restrain him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’” (Mark 3:20-21).
Yet any psychologist worth his/her salt will tell you there’s a lot more to take into account prior to labeling someone insane. One must delve deep below the surface to determine the crux of the matter. They’ll first examine the individual’s emotions because disturbed folks often display inexplicable fits of depression, unprovoked outbursts of anger or pace the floor in the grip of anxiety attacks. But with Jesus there’s no sign of inappropriate emotions. He was happy to be around people. He enjoyed lively conversation. He had a healthy sense of humor. He wept when His dear friend Lazarus died. These are traits that come naturally to an emotionally-stable man. Did He ever get mad? You betcha. But only when it was warranted. He became indignant when he saw greedy people taking unfair advantage of the poor and underprivileged by gouging them at the temple. Yet He didn’t lash out at those who treated Him with disdain or rudeness. To them He’d turn the other cheek. No, He saved His anger for those who were intentionally mistreating the defenseless, the downtrodden and the spiritually bereft. Nothing nutty about that behavior. Plus, insane individuals are usually filled with neuroses and misconceptions. They’ll turn paranoid on a dime and claim they’re being watched or pursued. They’ll suddenly become overly suspicious and accuse those around them of spreading false rumors about them. We see nothing like that in Jesus. He was intimately familiar with the harshness of reality. Even though He knew about the serious dangers His ministry was sure to cultivate everywhere He travelled there’s no instance recorded whereupon He gave the impression He was frightened “they” were out to get Him. Jesus feared no one.
Insane folks usually have trouble consistently making sense and, in the course of having a discussion, they’ll eventually say something out of kilter. They’ll sometimes jump to irrational conclusions or misconstrue what’s said to them. Again, we find nothing of the sort with Christ. He spoke with clarity, with power and with eloquence. He was nothing less than brilliant when it came to seeing through a person’s façade and into their heart of hearts. Another red flag for determining if someone’s a few fries short of a Happy Meal is flagrant outrageousness. Many go overboard to draw attention to themselves by wearing weird clothing or acting like a fool. Others are brooding, anti-social recluses who consider themselves “misunderstood geniuses” who must safely sequester themselves from society. Jesus was no hermit. In fact, He was able to initiate and maintain meaningful relationships with a wide variety of people who hailed from very different walks of life. He loved everybody unconditionally but His sincere compassion never made Him appear weak. He didn’t boast about His abilities even when surrounded by adoring throngs who hung on His every word and gesture. He dealt with the stress and fatigue His divinely-ordained mission brought upon Him with patience and grace. He was never confused about where He should go next or what needed to be done once He got there. Though the male-dominated culture of that era considered them inferior and insignificant, He went out of His way to be kind to both women and children. He despised sin but not the sinner. All in all, Jesus showed no signs of having any kind of mental deficiency whatsoever. Period.
A non-believer may respond with “Fine. But what about those who weren’t part of His inner circle? In reading the Bible it seems a lot of ‘regular Joes’ thought Jesus was bonkers.” Indeed, in John 10:20 it says, “Many of them [everyday Jews] were saying, ‘He is possessed by a demon and has lost his mind! Why do you listen to him?” Because it’s in the Scriptures their opinion can’t be swept under the rug and summarily ignored but it must also be placed in rational perspective. These people weren’t trained mental health professionals so it’s likely they were merely parroting what the biased Jewish leaders were saying about Him and reacting to His assertions of being the Messiah accordingly. Plus, they weren’t necessarily expressing the consensus of opinion. In the very next verse it states, “Others said, ‘These are not the words of someone possessed by a demon. A demon cannot cause the blind to see, can it?” In other words, many had witnessed Jesus’ healing men and women of incurable diseases and knew He wasn’t some kind of con artist or wand-waving magician. They figured if He says He’s God and does things only God could do then there’s a strong chance He’s God, alright.
This might prompt an unbeliever to aver Jesus’ healings were merely psychosomatic and, therefore, short-term fixes. Skeptic Charles Templeton wrote, “Many illnesses, then as now, were psychosomatic, and could be ‘cured’ when the sufferer’s perception changed. Just as today a placebo prescribed by a physician in whom the patient has faith can effect an apparent cure, so, in an early time, faith in the healer could banish adverse symptoms. With each success the healer’s reputation would grow and his powers would, as a consequence, become more efficacious.” He’s right. That does happen. Some folks’ illnesses are self-induced so if someone can achieve a breakthrough and provide them with a more positive outlook on life the symptoms sometimes disappear. Same with placebos. Often if people think they’re going to get better they do. Maybe some of Christ’s healings took place because the one afflicted believed He could heal them. No matter. The end result is they were healed because of Jesus. But that phenomenon won’t explain most of His healings. No way. Lifelong handicaps like blindness and deafness as well as disfiguring infirmities like leprosy don’t get cured because of an attitude adjustment. And one can’t overlook the fact Jesus brought people back to life. Death is definitely not a psychologically-induced state. Last I checked physical death is permanent.
Then there’s the allegation Jesus employed sophisticated trickery, aka hypnotism, in order to pull the wool over everybody’s eyes. That an uncanny mastery of that mysterious technique accounts for His exorcisms and happenings like His glaringly fantastic transfiguration as witnessed by Peter, James and John. That Lazarus wasn’t actually deceased but was merely in a trance. That Jesus’ resurrected body was nothing more than a sophisticated hallucination implanted in the disciples’ subconscious by their wily leader who saw the writing on the wall. Hey, given enough time, a skeptic can come up with a thousand outlandish theories. Hypnotism works as well as any other, I reckon. A British author named Ian Wilson once actually surmised the reason Jesus was ineffective during his brief visit to Nazareth was because the homies he used to hang with as a teen were onto His shtick. Wilson wrote, “Jesus failed precisely where as a hypnotist we would most expect him to fail, among those who knew him best, those who had seen him grow up as an ordinary child. Largely responsible for any hypnotist’s success rate are the awe and mystery with which he surrounds himself, and these essential factors would have been entirely lacking in Jesus’s home town.” Awe and mystery? Gee whiz, you’d think Christ had been on tour as the featured act in an extravagant circus or had His own show at a Vegas casino! Nothing in the Gospels gives even a hint that Christ and His twelve disciples ever did anything other than show up unannounced clad in the unadorned one-piece garb of the day, a belt and a pair of well-worn sandals. Jesus was unconcerned with box office receipts so to speculate He was some kind of entertainer is ludicrous.
I recall as a youngster seeing the nerdy mentalist, “The Amazing Kreskin,” on TV and being floored. Once he invited a dozen people up on stage. He told them when he snapped his fingers not one of them would be able to lift their right leg. Presto! It happened just as he said it would. But it’s no miracle, it’s a parlor trick and he admits it. He’s never claimed any psychic or paranormal abilities. He’s just particularly skilled at the art of suggestion and His true gift is being able to identify folks susceptible to being easily hypnotized. Jesus, on the other hand, fed over 5,000 folks with a few fish and bread loaves. Difficult to imagine that many were coerced into thinking they were eating real food. Plus hypnosis doesn’t work on people skeptical by nature so how did Jesus hypnotize Saul of Tarsus, the unbelieving crusader who so diligently hounded Christians? How did He manage to hypnotize Thomas, the disciple who doubted the whole “He is risen” story so much he had to touch his master’s wounds before becoming convinced?
I offer even more ammo. Does anyone actually believe Jesus hypnotized the fat cat Pharisees and Roman honchos into thinking His tomb was empty? If so, why didn’t He make them also believe He’d been resurrected? Go back to the “turning water into wine” episode. Christ never addressed the thirsty wedding celebrants nor did He suggest to the servants the containers were now filled with superb wine. He only told them to take a sample of their contents to the unsuspecting host. In Luke 17:11-19 we’re told Jesus instantaneously healed 10 lepers completely. Horrific skin diseases don’t disappear through hypnosis. In the opening verses of Mark chapter 3 Christ walks into a synagogue and meets a man with a withered hand. Withered connotes it was shrunken and paralyzed. Right in front of the Pharisees (who were more concerned about honoring the Sabbath than remedying the man’s woeful condition) Jesus says to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He does so and “…his hand was restored.” I don’t get the impression our Lord had time to place the guy under a spell so rule hypnosis out. Of course, instead of celebrating the miraculous healing the Pharisees scurried off to plot Christ’s assassination. Real decent of them, no? The gist of the matter is summed up by Gary R. Collins, a highly-respected Doctor of Psychology with over four decades of experience under his belt. He said, “The Gospels record all sorts of details about what Jesus said and did, but never once do they portray Him as saying or doing anything that would suggest he was hypnotizing people.”
Some critics, with their eyes rolling, will point out that Christ performed exorcisms. That He conversed with demons and cast them out of people who were supposedly possessed by them. They’ll lean in, squint and ask in a whisper, “Do you really believe evil spirits were causing those folks to convulse, drool, slobber, run around naked and terrorize the local populace? Really?” Now, the odds of convincing them the devil and his legions of fallen angels do exist are slim to none but they still deserve a response – and that response should be a calmly-delivered, “Yes.” You can cite a poll taken by the AP in 2011 that indicated 80% of Americans believe in angels. That means most folks think unseen spiritual entities are about and, thus, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine a number of them are up to no good. Dr. Collins quipped, “Where you see God working, sometimes those [evil] forces are more active, and that’s what was probably going on in the time of Jesus.” Authentic demonic possession these days is extremely rare but we should never underestimate Satan’s capabilities. Professionals who’ve witnessed bizarre, unexplainable behavior firsthand aren’t usually eager to talk about what they’ve seen. They’re as tight-lipped as a commercial airline pilot whose plane got buzzed by a UFO over Area 51. Reputations are at stake so disturbing reports of things like bona fide demonic possessions/exorcisms will never make it onto the evening news. It’s much easier to dismiss such things as titillating fantasies when they’re limited to getting splashed across the cover of the National Enquirer. The important thing to note is that Jesus not only exorcised demons Himself but granted his twelve disciples “…authority over evil spirits” (Mark 6:7). Truth is the devil and his motley crew couldn’t care less if humans believe they’re real or not. As C.S. Lewis opined in his must-read novel, The Screwtape Letters, there are two equal and opposite errors we can fall into concerning demons. He said, “One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased with both errors.”
Compared to some “normal” people I’ve come across during my life’s journey the Jesus I encounter in the Gospels and Epistles is the sanest person ever to trod terra firma! Kidding aside, I believe with all my heart, mind and soul that Christ is God because everything I’ve learned about Him is undeniably Godlike. And, being God, He didn’t have to revert to using slight-of-hand magic, smoke-and-mirror tactics or subliminal mind games to do the miraculous things He did. Science will never be able to explain Jesus’ acts employing only the immutable laws of nature because He was intrinsically unnatural. He’s unique. Truly one-of-a-kind. He’s the only begotten Son of God and, for the time being, He has figuratively “left the building” and has sent the Holy Spirit to hold down the fort. He’s coming back soon but it won’t be like last time. His next appearance will be to judge the world’s inhabitants and put all things right for eternity to come. Be prepared.