Since Jesus began his ministry, non-believers have been trying to shut him up. The Pharisees succeeded temporarily, but after three days found out that it was going to take much more than killing him. The Romans tried, but found that the more followers they killed, the more the Gospel spread. And since then, non-believers and atheists have attacked the credibility of the Bible, Jesus himself, and his followers.
The argument was always that Jesus was a real person, but that he was not God. Non-believers argued that Jesus never claimed his divinity either – that his story was stretched into a myth by his followers hundreds of years later. But recent discoveries in archaeological evidence show that the Gospels were written close enough to Jesus’ death for eyewitnesses to still be alive, silencing the argument that the stories were made up hundreds of years later. The newest argument is that Jesus never existed at all. As someone who has struggled with doubts, I questioned whether it was possible that he was simply a fictional character and found there’s some serious problems with that claim. So for the sake of this argument, let’s just assume that Jesus is fake – that he is just the invention of a writer’s imagination.
I have been a voracious reader my entire life. I’m sure there are some who read more than I do, but not many. Books have introduced me to hundreds of characters throughout literature. But no one in all the books I’ve ever read or ever heard of comes close to Jesus. You can like him or hate him, but he’s the strongest character in all of literature. The hardest part to swallow is that he’s the strongest character for all the wrong reasons. I think I speak for most people when I say that the characters I love most in books are people I can relate to, people that are similar to me, or people that have my weaknesses. It’s like seeing a reflection of you on the page, but the better you that you’ve always wanted to be.
No one reads about Jesus and says, “Yep, that’s me.” You can’t relate to Jesus. You may adore him, but he’s not someone you know or recognize. He’s human, but he’s not human. Because no one can relate to him, there is no reason that he should be a strong character. He should be a lukewarm character, but strangely he draws you in closer than any person you’ve ever read about, demanding that you find out more about him.
Jesus is also too perfect. Every character has some flaws, even if the writer didn’t intentionally give them to the character. Jesus has none. And we hate that in a sense, don’t we? Someone that is perfect is labeled as a “goody two-shoes” in our minds. But with Jesus it’s different. We admire him. We are in awe of him, wondering why there can’t be more people like him in the world. Even his words are perfect. Every character says something in a book that sounds weak, shows internal flaws, or leaves us feeling like the author made a poor choice in words. Not Jesus. We may not like his words, but they are powerful enough to convict us and leave us wrestling with them hours after reading them.
Every sentence in a good book either tells the reader something about the characters or pushes the plot forward. There are numerous places in the New Testament that do neither. They are just random recordings of real life. Jesus tells Nathanael in John’s Gospel, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (John 1:48) Mentioning the fig tree without telling the reader the background story just does not make sense from a fictional perspective. No writer would ever do it. It only makes sense if someone is describing a real event.
If we assume that the whole Bible is a fictional work, the character of Jesus himself makes no sense. One of the main reasons Jesus was rejected was because he did not fit the image the Jews had of the Messiah in the Old Testament. They were looking for someone who was going to overcome by force and power, instead of humility and love. The expectation of who the Messiah was supposed to be caused the people to turn on him. What kind of book builds up the climax for nearly 2000 pages and then completely changes the plot? None. Imagine if at the end of “The Lord of the Rings” Frodo goes to destroy the ring and changes his mind. He puts the ring back on and disappears, shoving Sam into Mount Doom and evil prevails. That would be silly, right? Why would the Old Testament build up the Messiah, and then have him come in a different form than expected, only to be executed, unless it really happened? No writer can make that kind of stuff up.
Few works of literature have the ability to touch generations of people. As the years go by, characters lose their ability to relate to the current generation because times have changed. I love “The Great Gatsby”, but I don’t think I can relate to Jay quite the same way people that grew up in that era did. Serious readers can enjoy Shakespeare, but the average student can’t stand him because of how “old” it sounds. Our personality also changes as we get older, which changes how we relate to characters. As a teen, my favorite character was Holden Caulfield. I thought everything he said made perfect sense. When I reread it as an adult, I had some pity on him, but I didn’t love him anymore – I could hardly stand him. Jesus doesn’t change.He is eternal. You are attracted to Jesus for the same reasons when you’re 15 as when you’re 65. Love. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Humility. Servitude. Those are all characteristics that humans admire and why Jesus continues to draw both the educated and uneducated to him nearly 2000 years later.
The main issue I came to when questioning the idea of Jesus being made up came from my writing background. I have created my own stories and know from personal experience, as well as listening to dozens of other writers, that characters are created from what or who we know as writers. Every character that is created usually has a touch of our own personality or of someone very close to us. So where in the world would the concept of Jesus come from? I don’t know anyone remotely like him because there isn’t anyone like him. I guess you could argue that the concept would come from how the writers envisioned God, but even that has its issues. It is nearly impossible to imagine that someone in the first century could have made a character both human and divine and appear perfect on paper. Because what I think is a perfect human, my next door neighbor might disagree with. I don’t think there is anyone that can look at Jesus from a purely “fictional” mindset and think he’s not perfect or respect him. Even with that said, something is bound to slip through the cracks of time to flaw a character’s perfect nature. Customs change and what is appropriate in one time frame is not in another. Jesus still remains as perfect today as he was 2000 years ago.
In the 2000 years since his death, there have been brilliant authors. Yet, none have come up with a character as strong as Jesus. Isn’t it odd that four Jews in the first century, who were not writers by trade, created a character that no one since them has been able to duplicate? Jesus’ selflessness is also not normal. Every great, powerful character, even if they are good, show off their powers at some point. They demonstrate their powers through spells, flying, turning invisible, etc. Jesus never does any of those. The only power he uses is to heal and help others, even neglecting his own life on the cross. You can kill off a side character, but you never kill off the main character by an apparent act of weakness. When the story is saying that Jesus should save himself, he doesn’t. And that’s what is so unnatural about Jesus. He always does the opposite of what human nature tells you he should. A writer may have one shocking twist up their sleeve, but not the kind that happen in the Gospels. It’s the kind of stuff so foreign to us, that it doesn’t even seem possible to make up.
Some people may claim that believing in Jesus is crazy and in some respects they may be right. It is hard to believe a tale so extraordinary. But to believe that a tax collector, an unknown Evangelist, a Doctor, and a fisherman in the first century created the greatest character the world has ever seen is far more unbelievable.It can be argued that one of the reasons he’s a great character is because people believe he’s real. But the desire for a character to be real is surely the best confirmation that they’re a great character. Judging by the number of people who believe in him, it only confirms that Jesus is the greatest the world has ever known.