Standing on a snow-covered iron bridge in the Christmas film classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” George Bailey cries out in desperation, “I want to live! I want to live again!” He had just been given a “rare gift” – a look at life had he never been born. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
Without George, Bedford Falls was Pottersville. Marked by loud music and garish flesh-peddling neon signs, that quaint upstate New York town had slid from Currier and Ives to Sodom and Gomorrah. All because he had never been born.
But what if Jesus had never been born? What difference would it have made if a Bethlehem stable had never served as a makeshift delivery room?
A great deal. Jesus, the greatest man who ever lived, has changed virtually every aspect of human life. Much of what we take for granted – our high regard for human life, the elevation of women, education, science, charity, hospitals, capitalism, the abolition of slavery, representative government, literacy, and the development of art and music – all find their roots in Christ and His teachings.
Consider Christ’s profound influence in just four areas: respect for life, the status of women, science, and education.
It was a dangerous thing for a baby to be conceived in classical Rome or Greece, just as it is once more today. In those days abortion was rampant and abandonment of infants was commonplace. But then Jesus came. His followers cherished life as sacred, even the life of the unborn. In ancient Rome, Christians saved many of these exposed babies and brought them up in the faith.
As a result, abortion, infanticide, and abandonment disappeared in the early Church. Foundling homes, orphanages, and nursery homes were started to house the children. These new practices helped create a foundation in Western civilization for an ethic of human life that persists to this day – although it is currently under severe attack.
Women, too, have immensely benefited from Jesus Christ. Prior to Christian influences in India, for example, widows were voluntarily or involuntarily burned on their husbands’ funeral pyres – a grisly practice known as suttee. As can be imagined, this practice shocked the Christian missionaries coming from the West – as did infanticide, once common in India. These centuries old practices, suttee and infanticide, were finally stopped only in the early nineteenth century and only through missionary agitation to the British authorities.
In the 19th century, Charles Spurgeon told of a Hindu woman who said to a missionary: “Surely your Bible was written by a woman.”
“Because it says so many kind things for women. Our pundits never refer to us but in reproach.”
Science, too, is a consequence of Christianity. Our gadget-filled, comfortable existence – the fruit of science – would not be possible except for Christ. The late Francis Schaeffer points out in his book, “How Then Should We Live?” that both Alfred North Whitehead and J. Robert Oppenheimer “have stressed that modern science was born out of the Christian worldview.” Whitehead, a mathematician and philosopher, said that Christianity gave birth to science because of “the medieval insistence on the rationality of God.”
Some of the greatest pioneers of science were committed Christians. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) coined the phrase, “thinking God’s thoughts after Him,” for his study of nature. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) not only made innovations in mathematics and probability science and helped pave the way for the invention of the computer, but was also a devout Christian.
Finally, education for the masses has its origin in Christianity. Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld has demonstrated that the roots of education for the masses goes back to the Reformation – especially to John Calvin. The Reformers believed that the only way the Protestant Reformation would be sustained would be if people – laypeople – could read the Bible for themselves.
Furthermore, the phenomenon of the university has its roots in the Christian faith as well. The greatest universities worldwide were started by Christians for Christian purposes. Indeed, almost every one of the first 123 colleges and universities in the United States has Christian origins.
Life, women, science, and education. These are just four areas where the message of Jesus has brought transformation and incalculable benefit to our temporal existence.
But as wonderful as Christ’s profound impact on this world is, it is his transforming power in the lives of countless individuals down through time that is far greater still. The benefits in time of the Christian faith are far outweighed by the wonder of what He has done in providing eternal salvation to all who, by grace, place their faith in Him. Truly, Jesus Christ is a Savior to be celebrated in both time and eternity.
D. James Kennedy, Ph.D., is the author, with Jerry Newcombe, of the book, “What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?” a groundbreaking exploration of Christ’s transforming impact on the world in which we live. That impact is explored in dramatic fashion in the one-hour made-for-TV movie, “Scrooge & Marley,” airing nationwide Christmas Eve/Christmas Day. See the website for details and local broadcast information.