During this time of Easter celebration, I wanted to take a break from discussing specific theological inversions between Christianity and Islam. Instead, I wish to focus more on a certain pattern or errant thought. While Muslims often slip into this diabolical way of thinking, so too do atheists, agnostics, and indeed many Christians as well.
The issue at hand is how truth is often used to deceive. Yes, truth. The devil often uses truth to deceive us. If that statement sounds surprising and perhaps heretical, hang on a moment. Consider the devil’s words in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:5). He tells Eve that if she eats of the forbidden fruit, her eyes will be opened and she will know good and evil. Consider the truthfulness of that statement. It’s dead on accurate. However, there is some information left out, and the information withheld is the consequences of the action. But the actual statement on its face is true.
So too, in the wilderness, the devil tempts Jesus by stating truth. He says in Matthew 4:3 that if Jesus is the Son of God, he should command stones to become bread to prove it. So is Jesus the Son of God? Yes, that statement is true. Does Jesus have the power to turn stones to bread? Yes, Jesus has the supernatural power to do that as well. Just as in Genesis, the challenge offered by the devil contains a lot of truth, yet there is something off in a very sinister way. That something is that there is more to the question than meets the eye. The information being left out is that Jesus performs miracles all the time, but they are always done for the sake of others, and never for Himself. By posing the question the way he did, the devil allows the doubting and uneducated reader to view Jesus’ lack of action as a denial of deity rather than a confirmation of His sinless nature.
What’s happening in these instances is that partial truth is being spoken. Partial truth can be very dangerous. Omission of details, consequences, or collateral information results in an incorrect impression. Partial truth opens the door to wrong decisions made out of ignorance, and yet actions based on those decisions often seem justified.
This pattern of errant thought is also seen clearly in the disbelievers’ reactions as Jesus hung on the cross. Their argument proceeds as follows from Matthew 27:42,
“He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him.”
In other words, the faulty reasoning concludes that if Jesus was really the Son of God, He could descend from the instrument of certain death using miraculous power, thus proving His identity once for all. When He does not, it opens the door of doubt for those who misguidedly expect this to be the wise and godly course of action. But of course there is much more happening here. Jesus’ death on the cross is the mechanism by which God saves us from our sins. Jesus became sin for us, and so it is Jesus’ death that satisfies God’s wrath for sin and then Jesus’ subsequent resurrection which proves Jesus is who He says and that we too will share in this resurrection. As Warren Wearsbe said, “In reality, it was the fact he stayed on the cross that proved His divine Sonship.” [i]
It’s so easy though to miss the big picture. Arguing from isolated facts is a surefire way to create a confrontational air as well as to come to improper logical conclusions. While I have heard Muslims argue the specific point above, it is rare. This is likely because doing so tacitly admits that Jesus was crucified, which is an avenue Muslims do not wish to travel down. However, this example and many others like it illustrate a common fallacy of argumentation style. Launching into facts while ignoring foundational issues often results in completely reversing the logical outcome.
While Jesus does have the power to save Himself from the cross, in another very real sense, He does not do so because it would result in all of humanity being left to die in their own sin. It would mean disobedience to the Father, and it would leave Scripture unfulfilled (Luke 24:44). The correct conclusion is that because Jesus does not exercise supernatural power to remove Himself from the cross, it proves that He did indeed go to the cross of His own accord (John 10:17-18).
This Easter season, let us remember that Jesus had the power to save Himself the entire time, but in the face of intense mockery, He stays on the cross to accomplish the greatest of all purposes.