The Many Faces of Jesus

faces-of-jesusToday, I was reflecting on my Protestant years and the many teachings and beliefs I encountered regarding who God is and how we relate to Him. Particularly God in the person of Jesus. The following is meant to be a bit of a light-hearted poke at many of these:

Spiritual but not religious:

For my many “spiritual but not religious” friends Jesus is simply a really nice, enlightened pacifist who got entangled with the religious and political authorities of his day. One day, Emperor Constantine supposedly made him God and ever since then Christians have been duped into worshiping him. People in this category tend to be very distrusting of any organized religion and believe that other people always corrupt our view of God (and yet they themselves seem to be free of corruption).  As a bonus, if you’re “spiritual but not religious,” anything you don’t like about Christianity can be dismissed merely by putting it into a sentence with Constantine’s name. Words like “corruption” and “conspiracy” are jackpots that ensure your argument will win.

Progressive Jesus

In my “progressive” circles, Jesus was our good buddy and and was quite the nice guy. God the Father was sort of a senile old Great Grandpa who just wanted all of His children to be happy and to stop fighting with one another. God loves everyone…except maybe fundamentalists and Republicans.  The Kingdom of God is thought to be a political-social movement that can be fully realized through helping the needy (or merely criticizing those who don’t), acceptance of non-traditional lifestyles, passing laws that protect said lifestyles, and giving the government more money with the sincere belief that the money will be dispersed to the poor.

Evangelical Jesus

In my Evangelical years, not much was said about the Trinity other than affirming this as doctrine (as opposed to living and experiencing God as Trinity and knowing Him to be so). God the Father is a fearsome judge; one from whom we needed to be saved.   The Son is our redeemer and defense attorney; the goal is to “believe” in him and to be “saved” and then save everyone else around us by having them recite a prayer.

The Holy Spirit is the warm fuzzies when thinking about God or praying to Him, speaking in tongues, and/or a flamboyant show of God’s power.  Supposedly, the Holy Spirit was meant to convict us of our sins.  But after you’ve said the “Sinner’s Prayer,” is there really any more need for repentance?

“Jesus is my homeboy” said one Evangelical t-shirt, and we are all called to be buddies with Him. Honor, majesty, and reverence are thought to be old fashioned concepts that actually separate us from God because frankly it’s difficult to maintain those while imagining Jesus as nothing more than a fun-loving guy in the sky.

tumblr_mebvqi6UOe1rcvs63o1_500There was also the intellectual Evangelical, of which I aspired to be. We would learn Greek and Hebrew, study the social and political history of biblical times, and feel that we sincerely knew the Bible (and therefore God) better than anyone else because we were so darn scholastic and smart. We honestly tried our best at experiencing this “personal relationship with God” that we taught and theologized about so much, but we didn’t honestly feel it many times. This form of Christianity left me striving in my own strength at the end of the day and feeling there was much to be desired.

The Secular Jesus

The Jesus of William Barclay and many similar theologians comes to mind as well. Here, Jesus was born as a young Jewish man who felt a strong calling of God but didn’t know what it should look like, nor did he know who he was. He had to frequently resist the urge to become a political messiah and instead follow a different calling. For some of these folks, Jesus was one of the best moral instructors.  For others, he is God  but is not all-powerful or all-knowing; nor is he outside of time. Instead, God is a spiritual being who is curiously watching his creation unfold and only intervening every now and then. Miracles are mere coincidences, and any kind of sacraments are established to make people feel good and not because the mysteries themselves have any intrinsic value.

Some might consider this a “sanitized” version of Christianity that appeals to our culture’s dichotomy of “spiritual life” and “non-spiritual things.”  The latter category usually is quite large and sets the rules for understanding the former category.  This is essentially a castrated and powerless form of Christianity that is subtly prevalent among many Christians in the West.

My own journey

Of course, I have left out many facets (good and bad) in each category, and I have severely stereotyped aspects of those categories.  There are many other categories (Jesus as lover, revolutionary, rock star, warrior, hippie, etc). Many people in our culture will find themselves in a bit of a hybrid.  In fact, taking this “cafeteria” approach toward Christianity is looked upon as being intelligent in our culture.

My point though is that this is exactly what happens when we attempt to make up Christianity as we go along rather than holding to the teachings of the scriptures, the apostles, and the fathers of the church (collectively all three of these are called Tradition). We end up casting God in our own image and creating a strange being who looks much like us. We hold to the faces of Jesus that we like, and ignore the ones that don’t vibe with the way we want to think and live.

Much of the past 3+ years of my life have been spent in deconstruction and a very slow reconstruction. The depth of wisdom, wonder, and mystery in Holy Orthodoxy have been mind blowing and have left me a changed person. I look forward to as many beautiful years as God allows me in Christ’s Holy Orthodox Church and learning to fully embrace Him for who He is and not who I want Him to be.


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