Twenty five years ago, Depeche Mode released the song “Personal Jesus.” The idea of creating one’s own Jesus was not new, and it it was apparantly popular because the song reached the Top 40 and is included in the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. And just a brief survey of American religion reveals quite a few options for creating a personal Jesus in our own image:
This version of Jesus is the champion, the hero, the one who is always smiling and happy, or at least resilient. This is often the athlete or business man’s Jesus. He inspires us to be strong and to “man up.” I don’t like to ruffle feathers unnecessarily, but I suspect that this Jesus is reflected somewhat in the book and movie Unbroken.
Moralistic Jesus is a great moral teacher. His teachings are considered to be showing us how to be moral enough, good enough, to make it to heaven. Or how to be moral enough to be accepted by us church going folks. This can be the liberal Jesus, but he also appears regularly in conservative and catholic churches. This Jesus also shows up in books like Jesus, CEO and even in the ever-popular book In His Steps by Charles Sheldon where “What Would Jesus Do?” was inspired.
Election Jesus is the one the politicians and political parties talk about when they need to win an election. Whatever their platform or policy, this Jesus always endorses it wholeheartedly. America is pictured as having a special covenant with this Jesus by one group, but another group claims him instead as endorsing the re-engineering of America.
Many people see Jesus as a wise spiritual guru. He leads us on a personal spiritual journey, but he usually only leads us where we already wanted to go. He is usually only one of my gurus, not the Lord of Creation.
Jesus as a Genie is the Jesus of the prosperity Gospel. He always gives you what you want, when you want it. If bad times come, it must be that you haven’t asked him well enough. He wants you to be rich, healthy, and powerful and if you aren’t, then you don’t really know this Jesus.
Pocket Jesus is the one we can control. He is in our pocket, where we can safely leave him unless we need him. We can bring him out, but if he becomes troublesome, we can put him back. Similar to Genie Jesus, but more safe.
If we’re white, he’s white. If we’re American, he’s American. If we are a man, he’s manly. When I’m angry, he’s angry, and when I approve of something he approves. We see him most clearly when we look in the mirror. Its comforting that my values are his values, my flag is his flag, and my opinions are his opinions.
This Jesus never offends us or anyone. His main goal is to avoid any confrontation or challenge. He would never disagree with anyone. He doesn’t just accept me as a person and a human being, he also affirms all of my life choices as well.
Outrage Jesus is not new, but he’s been busy lately. He is perpetually turning over the money changers tables and driving people with leather cords. Anger and self-righteousness are his M.O. If there is a problem in the world, he is beside himself, lambasting all of those lazy or passive people who just don’t care as much as he does.
Can Selfie Jesus save me?
So what’s the big deal about these versions of Jesus? What does it hurt?
In Matthew 7 Jesus tells us that if we build our house upon the rock — his words — then when the flood come, we will be safe. However, if we build our house upon sand, our house will fall.
Jesus, the true Jesus, loves us. He came to save us. And if we only hear and see what we want to hear and see in Jesus, or we add to his person and message, we will miss the beauty and wonder of who he really is. And that imitation of him is shifting sand to build one’s life upon.
After all, if we only believe what we already believed, or want to believe, then we don’t really believe in Jesus, but in ourselves. And if we do that, we miss out on the beauty and grace of one who came not to condemn, but to save us.
Son of God
Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He came into this world as God in the flesh, the promised Messiah (“Christ”) of Israel. He lived and died, and rose again. He ascended and sent the Holy Spirit to establish the Church. He is the Lord of all creation, the Head of the Church. But he is also with us, he knows us, and he loves us.
He inaugurated the Kingdom of God. This kingdom is “not of this world.” That means that we didn’t invent it. It came to us, and did not originate with us. This is great news, because we humans have messed up this world pretty bad. Our cycles of vice and violence, followed by self-righteous recrimination and attack get us nowhere. Our internal self-hatred and self-destruction continue no matter what drugs we take, or entertainments we enjoy. We are the last people who need to be telling God what he should be like. Instead, he comes to us to reveal himself, because he loves us that much. Only his radical grace and love can heal us.
In this, he might actually expose our destructive notions of love, of country, of life. He might help us see how self-destructive our human values are, and how they can be healed and redeemed. He might make us pretty uncomfortable. Any good physician would do these things in order to heal and save us. He is the Great Physician after all.
Of course, we will never, in this life, fully understand Jesus. He is indeed a great mystery, and no one of us can claim to fully comprehend his message or person. Paul says that “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” He is always striving to know Jesus Christ – Jesus as he really is. But like Paul, we are called to keep laying aside these personal Jesus’s that we invent. And yet we can know him, because he knows us. He continues to reveal himself in Holy Scripture, in the breaking of the bread, and when two or three are gathered together in his name.
Photo: Adapted from https://www.flickr.com/photos/tomicpasko/14139726176
Greg is the founder of Anglican Pastor. He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.