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Painting God

The Christ - Main vault of the Cathedral of Pise Italy
Creative Commons License photo credit: MAMJODH

So in the last post we talked about the famous picture of Jesus knocking on the door of your heart – but that idea leads us to another good  idea to talk about – pictures of Jesus.

A few years ago I started a Jesus myspace account (which reminds me, I have like 800 friends requests to approve) and so far the page has around one hundred and thirty thousand friends. So as the page grew and grew, I knew that I would want to have pictures that represented Jesus in every skin tone and representative of all cultures; and for the most part, people understand what I am doing, but every once in a while I get comments that say…

“Jesus wasn’t black”


“Jesus wasn’t Chinese.”

And while it’s true Jesus probably appeared on Earth as a thirty-something middle eastern man, I guess everyone has their own subconscious picture of what Jesus looks like. Some think of Jesus as the mystery figure knocking on the door of their heart, others think of Jesus as a famous actor. We all like to “picture” Jesus with particular traits and features that make us feel comfortable. We all like “our Jesus” a certain way.

The authors of re-Jesus think that this projection ends up biasing our “whole” view of Jesus. If we think of Jesus as kind to children and loving, our picture of Jesus doesn’t include all of his other aspects.

In the movie Talladega Nights there is a great example of this…

Cal Junior says, “I like to think of Jesus as an Ice Dancer, dressed in an all-white jumpsuit, and doing an interpretive dance of my life….I like to picture Jesus in a tuxedo T-Shirt because it says I want to be formal, but I’m here to party….I like to think of Jesus like with giant eagles wings, and singin’ lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd with like an angel band and I’m in the front row and I’m hammered drunk!”

There is an old saying, “God made us in his image and then we returned the favor.”

But maybe part of the journey to finding our way back to the real, actual Jesus is to vandalize our inner portraits of Jesus. “One of the best ways to expose our co-option of Jesus to our own personal, religious, and cultural agendas is to interpret the many images of him that we entertain.” (page 92)

For instance: there is nothing wrong with “beautiful Jesus” but let’s not forget that in the gospels we read about a man who was frustrated with the religious system, disappointed with his own disciples, annoyed by religious leaders and angered by people taking advantage of the poor.

Pictures that make Jesus spooky and spirit-like, leave out the fact that he was also very human; we read in the gospels where he slept, ate, cried and bled.

But on the other hand, “ordinary Jesus” doesn’t portray Jesus as Messiah or King of our lives. He doesn’t look like a man who could have walked on water or multiplied food.

Lately a popular image of Jesus is to paint him as the revolutionary, and while this might be closer to the truth, it does leave out the Jesus who was meek and soft spoken, who loved children, his disciples and his bride; the church.

And so the problem with all these painting is that… well… no one image can capture everything that God is, not even everything that Jesus was. And movies are no better, there have been some great actors and some terrible ones, but still nothing (at least for me) that truly captures the word in flesh that dwelt among us.

Maybe this is one of the reasons God didn’t want any graven images made in the first place (Exodus 20:4). Aside from the fact that most idols are silent stone or wood, even the most skilled artisan can’t quite capture God’s likeness. It’s like asking a painting that I have made… to turn around and paint a picture of me… using the same colors I used on it.

It’s not possible.

We need to get back to the daring, radical, strange wonderful, inexplicable, unstoppable, marvelous, unsettling, disturbing, caring, powerful God man. The communities around us are crying out for him…they are searching for the promised one, the one who offers them peace. The church needs to find itself in league with this Jesus, staring at him and in amazement saying, as Peter did with a trembling voice, ‘What kind of a man is this?’” (page 111)

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Posted in Jesus, Pastor.

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One Response

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  1. Manda says

    In one of my seminary classes we had to take the Myers Briggs personality test. We discussed the various types and what various biblical characters might have been. Interestingly, when discussing Jesus, many started off saying that he would be a particular type and most of the time it was that persons type. Someone finally said, nope, He would have been all of them and in perfect balance.

    Last year I was in BSF, for a short time, and we were studying the Gospel of John. It hit me that I read Jesus with a certain tone. When Jesus says to Nicodemus, “You are Israel’s teacher, and do you not understand these things?” I have always read it as disappointment or irritation, or the way I would have responded. But for the first time I started thinking, what if I’m reading Him wrong?

    What if the Jesus I know is too much like me…? What if instead it was a loving tone of concern?

    So, to that end, I’ve started rereading through the gospels and trying to listen for a different tone to hear what I’ve missed.

    I guess, my rambling is just to say that I totally agree that we paint and pigeon hole Jesus, and we may be missing a lot. My prayer is that I would be careful not to do that as much as possible…clear lenses rather than Manda filters.