Jesus Christ: Liar? Lunatic? Legend? or God?/Program 7

By: Dr. John Warwick Montgomery; ©1988
This program covers a topic that is probably one of the major stumbling blocks for the unbeliever to embrace the God of the Bible, and it has to do with the problem of Evil.



Recent surveys and polls show that 98% of Americans believe in God. But these same polls reveal many do not believe that Jesus Christ is the God they believe in. Tonight, John Ankerberg will examine the evidence and the claims of Christianity’s central figure to answer the question, “Was Jesus Christ a liar, a lunatic, a legend, or God?”

John’s guest is attorney John Warwick Montgomery, Dean of the Simon Greenleaf School of Law in the state of California and a practicing trial lawyer both in England and America.

During tonight’s program we will ask:

  • If a lawyer were to argue the claims of Jesus Christ in a court of law, what real evidence would he point to?
  • Are the biographies concerning Jesus’ life nothing more than legends that were written several hundred years after Jesus lived, or real historical documents written by eyewitnesses?
  • How would a lawyer determine whether the witnesses concerning Jesus’ life, namely Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James and Peter, are lying or telling the truth?
  • How do the New Testament documents compare with other well-attested historical documents in the ancient world?
  • Is there any reason to believe we have a distorted view of what Jesus said and did because it happened so long ago?
  • If there is accurate historical information about Jesus Christ, is there any proof that Jesus actually claimed he was God?
  • Is there any evidence that Jesus ever offered proof to the people of his day to verify his claim that he was God?
  • What does a trial lawyer think about the evidence Christ presented to prove his claim of deity?

All of these questions and more will be answered during our program tonight. We invite you to join us.

Ankerberg: Welcome! We’re glad that you’ve joined us. We’ve been talking about the evidence for the person of Jesus Christ and the existence of God. And we are coming to a topic tonight that is probably one of the major stumbling blocks for the unbeliever to embrace the God of the Bible, and it has to do with the problem of evil. The problem of evil is a big one for many people, and it’s not just an intellectual problem. We’ve had Rabbi Harold Kushner on the program who sat here and told us of how he lost his son at a very young age. As a result he wrote the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. What I realized was that he left his Orthodox Judaistic belief and completely changed his view of God. And it was because of the experience of suffering that he went through, and how that relates to God.
And I guess that’s where we’re at tonight. We have to ask some hard questions that relate not only to the intellectual side of the existence of God but also to the experiential side, what people actually face in relationship to that information. Let’s start it off here with the kind of common question that people ask: Why do the good suffer? Doesn’t suffering prove God does not exist? The classic way that people have stated this is: If there is an all-powerful God, he could destroy evil, because He’s got all power. And if He is an all-loving God, as the God of the Bible says that he is, he would want to destroy evil. But evil is not destroyed. So the unbeliever comes to the conclusion there is not an all-powerful, all-loving God because of this evil. What would you say?
Montgomery: This is an argument which has had tremendous effect in keeping people from a serious belief in God. But the argument is irrational and it’s unrealistic. Let me try an analogy. We’ll say that my child is fourteen years of age and the question is, what about going dancing? Now, as a parent, I am all-powerful in this area. The law will uphold any decision that I make in regard to whether or not my child goes dancing. Also, I love my child and I want the very best thing for the child. And I know that there are some pretty sleazy joints where dancing goes on in my community, and that my child may very well end up badly influenced in those situations.
Now, will it follow from the fact that I am omnipotent in reference to the dancing problem and all-loving, will it follow that I will necessarily keep my child from dancing? Certainly not. Because there will be another factor in this. And the other factor is that I want to be sure that I have the right kind of relationship with my child, a relationship of genuine love working in two directions. And I will therefore have to allow the child to make the child’s own decisions after having given the very best advice. Because only where free will operates in a situation like that is it going to be possible for the child to operate in a mature fashion.
I’ll give you an analogy. The sheriff’s deputies get another tip that something awful has happened at the old mansion at Gopher Gulch. Those of you who heard a prior program will connect this up. They arrive at the old mansion and their worst suspicions are again realized. Mrs. Schlonk has kept her son Lemuel in the attic until he is 35 years of age. And she is, of course, hauled off, indicted and released on bail, and she appears on the local TV program. It is not the John Ankerberg Show, I might emphasize.
And the camera swings to her and the narrator says, “Mrs. Schlonk, I know I speak for every member of our audience when I ask you the question, “Why did you keep Lemuel in the attic until he was 35 years of age?” She says, “I’m glad you asked me this. I’ve wanted to answer this question, but of course I couldn’t. The reason is that I love Lemuel. I love Lemuel as other mothers do not love their children. I did not let Lemuel go out and play baseball and get hit in the head with a baseball bat. I did not let Lemuel cross the street and get hit by a truck. I didn’t let him get into drugs or have bad companions. I kept him in the attic until he was 35 because I loved him.” Camera swings to Lemuel. “Bdlp! Bdlp! Bdlp!” Lemuel is crazier than a March hare because he has been in the attic until he is 35.
It does not follow that simply because one has power and goodness that he will not restrict his power so as to allow those people over whom he has the power to operate on the basis of free will. The reason for evil is ultimately the misuse of free will by God’s creatures. And ironically, we misuse our free will and then we turn around and we say, “What’s the matter with you, God! Why have you created this mess?!”
Ankerberg: What does the Bible say concerning his creatures… I mean, the classical statement goes like this, then let me give you the biblical question: “God is the author of everything in the world. He’s the Creator of everything in the world. Evil is something in the world (we’re not Christian Scientists here, we believe it’s something that’s real); therefore, God, if he is the author of everything and evil is here, God must be the author of evil. Right?”
Montgomery: Wrong!
Ankerberg: Why?
Montgomery: Because evil, though real, is not a “Thing.” Evil is the product of a misuse of a relationship. Take the biblical approach to the origin of evil. According to the Bible, one of God’s creatures, who had free will as all God’s creatures do, one of God’s creatures very close to him decided that he would become equal with God, going against his own nature and against the proper order of things. As a result of this, he fell and the consequences for the universe were similar to throwing a monkey wrench into a machine. Then everything “went off” to a certain extent. Now, at the beginning you didn’t have anything other than God and the creature. Evil came about as a result of the misuse of that relationship. Evil is not a bucket of stuff which “God must have created” because he created all buckets of stuff. Evil is the name we give to the perversion of the stuff that God created by creatures who have ruined their relationship with God.
Ankerberg: Right. Evil is the lack of a thing. So if God created a good something, let’s say you have a shirt hanging on a hanger, and moths get at it and you have holes in the shirt, evil is the lack in the good thing that God created. And what we find is that man by his actions has created something by those actions, that is the evil. It wasn’t God. It was as a result of man’s free choice, which he exercised, that we find evil. But that brings us to the further question of why is it that God allowed that in the first place. Why didn’t he put a stop to it or come up with a different plan? Because, man, we’re dealing with tough things here. The effects are terrible.
Montgomery: Well, according to the Scriptures God is love and therefore he wants to have the best kind of relationship possible with his creatures. God is not a puppet master. The reason why evil came about is because there was genuine free will and the creature genuinely misused it. God gave his creatures free will from the beginning because only in that way could the creature relate to him and God relate to the creature. Otherwise it would have been a situation where you could imagine it, God on the parapets of heaven and his creature down there, and God says, “Do you love me?” And then you notice a slight twitching of the hands and very thin cords going down and the creature looks up and says, “Yes, God, I love you.” That’s not love. It’s only love if it is personally the product of volition, and free will or volition means uncaused action. You can’t ask, “What caused free will?” That’s a contradiction in terms.
There was a cartoon in the New Yorker a few years ago showing these two criminals in the state pen and one says to the other, “I wonder what it was about my genetic pattern that made me a safecracker and made you a forger?” See? Well, of course, the answer is that people don’t become forgers or safecrackers as a result of that. They become forgers or safecrackers because of some volitional act on their part for which they are in fact responsible.
Ankerberg: Okay, we’re going to take a break and we’re going come back, and we’re going to talk about Adam’s sin. Because the Bible says Adam sinned and all of us were affected in some way by that sin [Rom. 5:12], and the question is, “Is that fair?” That’s number one. And number two, I think a lot of people want to know, “Listen, evil has consequences, and I can see when I do some things that are wrong I get the penalty for that. But what about these tornadoes and hurricanes and all these innocent children? I mean, how do you work that into a God who is loving and in control of the universe?” We’re going to talk about that when we come right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back, and we’re talking about the problem of evil. You know, I’m very conscious of many of you who are watching tonight. It wasn’t too long ago that my secretary gave me a letter of a man that was watching the program. And he had just 60 days in which to live, and he wanted to find out about spiritual things. And I’ll bet there are others of you who are watching tonight, and maybe you’ve been informed that you’ve got cancer. Maybe you’ve lost somebody in the family, a loved one, a child; or a financial setback, the stock market has crashed, there’s been bankruptcies around the country. And you’re faced with the personal suffering that goes along with evil and you want some questions, “What does God have to say about this? Can I believe in the God of the Bible? How does he relate to the real world where I’m at?” And, Dr. Montgomery, I can feel these people, they’re tuned in right now. They want to know, number one, let’s start with the theological side and then let’s go to the personal side. Theologically, doesn’t the Bible say that Adam sinned and somehow we were all affected by his sin? Is that fair?
Montgomery: It’s fair because Adam was a perfect representative of the entire race. He wasn’t just the first man in a chronological sequence; he was the perfect representative man. The word in Hebrew, adam, means “mankind.” And so, according to the Bible, the act that he engaged in is the same act you or I would have engaged in had we been there. You might think of it this way in modern parlance: Adam was the perfect statistical sampling of the entire human race. And that’s the basis of that line in the old McGuffey Reader, “In Adam’s fall, we fell all.” We were actually participants in that event. You say, “Well, I don’t feel like I was.” No, that’s right. But it’s not a question of feeling, it’s a question of what God in Jesus Christ says was the situation. And he stamped with approval the Old Testament in which that exact picture is presented.
Ankerberg: Go to the next part. If a person says, “You know, I can see that, but much of the evil in the world I don’t understand. I don’t understand this thing of natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, volcanoes. Innocent people seem to be caught up in these events. What is the relationship, and where is a God who is supposed to be all-loving and just and fair? I mean, were these people so bad that this happened to them?” What about this thing of the tremendous amount of evil that comes over people? Why certain people and not others?
Montgomery: Yeah, that expresses a profound truth about evil, namely that it’s irrational. According to the Bible, evil arises, as we’ve already said, as a result of the creature messing up his relationship with God. Getting a perverse disorder out of what was a perfect relationship. Now, when that kind of hideous wrong decision is made, you’re going to expect hideous consequences. You’ve brought irrationality in instead of rationality. You’ve brought disorder instead of order. And evil operates in an irrational fashion. It operates very much as a grenade thrown by a terrorist into a crowd. The terrorist may very well want to get a particular political leader, but when the grenade goes off, the fragments fly all over the place and people are hit without any regard to whether they are connected in with that particular political ideology. And when the first creature violated his relationship with God, that was the effect of the throwing of the monkey wrench into the works. And when our first parents, perfectly representative of us, did this, that was the result. This is why the godfather can die in bed with his family around him and an innocent school teacher can be run down by a truck. The fact is that there is an irrational element that has entered into the otherwise rational universe. And this is due to us. It is not due to God.
Ankerberg: Okay, I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark here. Was it Camus that depicted in one of his stories the fact of the plague and the person coming to work against it? But if God, like the Bible says, is in charge of everything, then apparently Camus’ deduction was, I believe, correct me if I’m wrong, was that God ordained that plague to come, therefore if any Christian, if any minister, started to work against that, he would actually be working against God by correcting the evil. And so you had the problem there. Can you straighten us out on that?
Montgomery: For Christians to work against the effects of evil is not to work against God, it’s to work against the effects of the mess that we as creatures have created in the first place. What God does is to act in a manner far beyond anything that we can imagine. He loved us in giving us the free will in the first place. Then, when we misused our free will, of course, he was under no obligation to do anything about it. He could have allowed the whole universal situation to collapse and not run into the slightest moral difficulty. It was the creature that had done this in the first place. But what does he do? He reveals himself in prophets and in apostles. And more important infinitely than that, he comes to earth in the person of his son in order to deal with that very mess that we had created. He dies on the cross, taking a punishment that he did not deserve, so that we would be released from the effects of this kind of thing in eternity. He goes infinitely beyond anything that his critics have ever thought of doing in regard to evil.
Ankerberg: Alright, be the pastor here at this point for those people that are suffering right now as they’re listening, okay? What do you tell a person that has just lost a loved one, lost a child, gone bankrupt in their finances? And before they believed that God was loving, but now they feel like God has left them. They’re all alone. Or they haven’t been Christians and now they’re thinking about this but they cannot reconcile all of these tragic events that have taken place in their life with a belief in the God of the Bible. Is it inconsistent to have a belief in the Bible with all of these things, or is it consistent with what the Bible does tell us as well as evil and what is the answer to it?
Montgomery: Two things I want to say, and I hope people will listen very closely to me. If you aren’t a Christian, and things of a hideous nature have happened to you or to those near you, and you wonder if there is any point in anything, my strongest suggestion to you, my plea to you is, go to the Jesus of the New Testament. Read his life and read about his death on the cross, and ask yourself if he is at the source of this problem; or, rather, if he is not the best answer to this problem. You will find him your best ally in this situation. You will find that if you come to terms with him, he can give meaning to you in this mess in a way in which nobody else can.
The second thing is, for Christians, for the person who says, “Well, I’m a believer but I just don’t know if I can hang on to this in light of what’s happened to me.” There’s a promise in the Bible connected with Christian belief that I am amazed that more preachers and evangelists don’t spend some time with. It’s the statement in Romans 8:28. This verse says that “All things work together for good to those who love God, that is, those who are in a loving relationship with Him in Jesus Christ.” This says that for a Christian, for a Christian, every single thing that occurs in the Christian’s life is under the providence of God in such a way that he can know that it is the very best thing for him. The very best thing for him. No matter how ghastly it is – cancer, whatever – it is exactly the right thing. Now, he doesn’t understand the causal linkages, he can’t explain why it’s the best thing, but that is a clear promise of Scripture.
There is an absolute difference between the life of the non-Christian and the life of the Christian. The non-Christian is unable to look into his life and ever believe that this isn’t other than “A tale told by an idiot signifying nothing.” It has no sense. But the life of the Christian does have sense. It has sense by its very nature in terms of God’s clear promise.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’ve come to the end tonight in terms of these weeks when we’ve been talking to people who are not believers as well as to believers. Summarize the case in one minute.
Montgomery: What we’ve been saying is that to believe in God is not a naive and superstitious sort of response to the universe, it is the only reasonable response to a universe that cannot explain itself. I give you a very interesting reference. A book was produced just a couple of years ago, co-authored by two of the most distinguished scholars of our time. One of them is John C. Eccles and he is a specialist on the human brain. The other is Karl Popper, the great political philosopher. The book is entitled The Self and Its Brain, and the two gentlemen, though they do not agree entirely in viewpoint, arrived at the conclusion that you have not explained the “Self” when you have explained the brain. There is a dualism here, and the Self transcends the brain. Eccles says this, and Popper doesn’t entirely agree, but you see the point of it.
I would like to add a quotation: “The physical basis of the mind is the brain action in each individual. It accompanies the activity of the spirit but the spirit is free. It is capable of initiative.” The point of this quotation is that for Eccles and for people who see the functioning of the brain, the human being cannot be explained by his brain activity, he transcends it. There is therefore an inherent probability of life after death.
We believe in a God who is the only One capable of explaining and making sense out of phenomena such as the human Self. We’ve tried to make this point strongly. And if you are troubled by this because of the evil in the world, we’ve tried to emphasize that evil is not the product of the God of the universe. Evil is the product of our own misuse of what he has given us. And if you want a solution to that, you don’t get it by criticizing the God who has put you on this planet and come to earth in Jesus Christ to die for you, you get the answer by going to him and listening to him and responding to him in his terms. And what does he say? He says in Jesus Christ, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.” [John 14:6] There is only one route, the route to God is a route that goes by way of a cross. And it is essential that we go that route in order to find the answer to life and to eternity.
Ankerberg: Now, you have to decide, and, again, the Jesus that we know and we’ve talked about, the Jesus of the New Testament that invaded history and demonstrated that he was God, he waits to have a personal relationship with you. But you must ask him to come into your life. We would urge you to do that. Dr. Montgomery, on behalf of all of us here as well as our television audience, thank you for being with us and sharing all of these fantastic pieces of information, the evidences concerning Jesus Christ. Good night.

Leave a Comment