What is Greatness?
Last Saturday we went out on the streets of Westminster talking to people about Jesus. After giving directions to a guy asking for help to find Green Park station I got into an interesting conversation with him, a Muslim it turned out. He spent some time explaining to me how it was impossible to be a thinking person and an atheist. “You just need to look up into the night sky” he said “or look at the amazing landscapes of the world, or think about how perfectly designed a mother’s milk is for her child” and you know that there is a God, and that this God is truly GREAT. Well, Amen to that, I thought. “But” he went on, “God could not be great if he was born of a woman and suffered, that’s not greatness…”
What is greatness? I suppose in some senses it’s a bit like power. Power to create from nothing perhaps. Power to exact justice upon the earth maybe. But is that real power? In a chilling scene in the outstanding film Schindler’s List, Oskar speaks with Amon Goeth in an attempt to cleverly dissuade him from arbitrarily shooting Jews, from his balcony, in the camp he is managing. Schindler says: “Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t.” Amon replies “You think that’s power!” Oskar says: “That’s what the Emperor said. A man steals something, he’s brought in before the Emperor, he throws himself down on the ground. He begs for his life, he knows he’s going to die. And the Emperor… pardons him. This worthless man, he lets him go.”
There’s a vein of truth that’s worth exploring in this exchange because it leads to pure gold. Real greatness is not that you are simply powerful, it’s how you use or deploy that power. Do you keep it to yourself? Do you use it to control others, and run a dictatorship to get what you want?
The Christian God is great in the sense that He made our world (Genesis 1-2; John 1) but He is greater still because He entered our world even though He had every reason to stay put. The people He made turned their backs on Him, yet in love He came to rescue them. Does the fact that the God who can order nations around like pawns became a single fertilized cell make Him less great? No, it reveals that He is far greater than we could have ever imagined.
God in Jesus became a human like us so that He can perfectly represent and save mankind. Though He has every justification to kill us for committing cosmic treason, God instead uses His power to pardon us. In punishing Jesus on the cross He punishes Himself. Jesus willingly suffered physical and spiritual agony that we might know the extraordinary length, breadth, height and depth of God’s love. He had the power to say “I’m God get me out of here” with legions of angels at his disposal at any moment, but He did not (Matthew 26:53). That’s greatness! Or as Jesus put it, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) And Jesus laid down His life not for friends, but enemies (Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21), that they might become friends of God. Fellow Christians, we, despite what others may contend, we, and we alone have the best reason to triumphantly shout “God is great!” Let’s not be ashamed to make that declaration whenever possible.