Do not fear getting older, for with age comes many advantages. Senior discounts on McDonald’s extremely hot and delicious coffee, for one. The freedom to filter less of what you say or write for another. And perspective. You can look back across the decades and see with greater clarity personal, historic and culturally important events and trends to which you were oblivious in the moment.
Take the ‘70’s, for example. Judging from the music we listened to on the radio – no streaming back in those days – Jesus was really popular. Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky, the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, Bob Dylan’s Gotta Serve Somebody, Ocean’s Put Your Hand in the Hand, and, of course, the Doobie Brother’s Jesus is Just Alright. There were others, but you get the picture. Jesus was hot in the ‘70’s.
In the ‘80’s, the little Christian fish symbol was everywhere – car bumpers, jewelry, posters, even tattoos. Everyone was asking WWJD in the ‘90’s. Plus Jesus showed up on the cover of news magazines almost as often as politicians. And these days, everyone believes Jesus is the spokesperson for their cause, ideology, policy platform and party.
Jesus is and always has been attractive. More books have been written about him than any other figure in history. He is the most enduring icon ever. And that’s the problem. He has become an icon; a pliable image easily turned into a marketing device or mascot for everything from tee shirts to television shows, political movements to motion pictures. He can be your homeboy, your good buddy or your boyfriend. He is useful, attractive, and he sells – which suggests that somewhere along the line we missed something really important.
God intended for us to be conformed to the image of Christ, not the other way around.
Of course there are some benefits to having such a practical and versatile version of Jesus. He is accessible, amiable and attractive. He is patient, tolerant and kind. Jesus can be just about anything you want him to be.
People have always been tempted to spin Jesus. If we can show that he agrees with us, it makes us look good. We forgot, perhaps, that God didn’t come here to change our looks; he came to change us.
The problem with spinning Jesus, though, is that he never stays spun. The real Jesus is too honest, original and even dangerous. The real Jesus will not be domesticated, tamed, leashed or caged. He will not be used. He will not be adjusted to make himself more marketable to the culture. He will not be reduced to a few letters on a tee-shirt, bracelet or bumper sticker and he will not become the religious decoration on a political party’s platform. In fact, if Jesus is a hand-in-glove fit for your political party, you’re doing it wrong.
The way we’ve sometimes tried to present him reminds me of those pharmaceutical commercials on TV. You’ve seen them. All these happy, shiny people are frolicking in the sunshine, thin and beautiful, radiating health and happiness. You know why they are so happy? They’ve taken this new drug. It fixes everything that’s wrong with you.
Then a very credible looking actor in a doctor’s smock intones, “A few patients experienced nausea, headaches, dizziness, sleeplessness, depression, manic episodes, panic attacks and constipation.”
We tell people that Jesus is the answer to all their problems, that he will fix what’s broken, that he will give them purpose and meaning, that he will forgive the past and assure the future. All of that is true. Quite true.
To be honest, though, we should also give them the disclaimer. He will do all those things for you, but he’ll also confront you about your addiction to sin. He will require repentance. He expects you to actively love people you’d rather hate, meekly serve people you’d rather neglect and faithfully forgive people you’d rather despise. And he will require your unflagging allegiance – even if allegiance to him means death. Which it might.
Besides the blatant falsehood of it, there is fatal danger in creating an adjustable Jesus. In reinventing him to be more marketable, more like us, we render him powerless to make us like he truly is. We wind up not only with a housebroken Jesus, but a culturally impotent Christianity. A domesticated Christ does not create a dynamic church.
Jesus isn’t a kitten. In scripture he’s called the Lion of the tribe of Judah. In The Chronicles of Narnia, when the children first hear about Narnia’s Lion-king, Aslan, they ask, “Is he safe?” The answer comes; “Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”