This article is from Issue 58: Jul/Aug 2012

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

Conservative Jesus. Cool Jesus. Activist Jesus. Why we can't make God's son into our own image.

Jesus waits for us outside the church door every Sunday morning—or, with a slightly disapproving frown, on Saturday night. What, you can’t make time on Sunday morning?

He smells our breath for cigarettes. He checks to make sure we’re carrying our Bibles. (Partial credit for having it on your smartphone.) He returns our hip flasks to us after sniffing its contents. He takes out a tape measure to make sure the hems of women’s dresses aren’t too far removed from their knees. He makes sure the men wear collared shirts.

Not certain that’s the church for us, we head downtown to another church—one that meets in a pub and where Jesus leans against a wall, his hair in dreads, wearing an old, beat-up army jacket for ironic effect. This Jesus has a checklist, too. He checks ID cards at the door to make sure everyone’s the right age (old enough to get into a pub, young enough to fit in). He hands out pints and watches through narrowed eyes to make sure we’re free enough in Christ to drink. He checks wrists and ankles to make sure there’s some ink—a few Hebrew words or a tiny fish or the blue outline of a dove.

The conceptions of Jesus vary wildly, but one thing is for sure: When Christians imagine Jesus, He is largely schizophrenic. He loves me enough to forgive me for sleeping with my girlfriend, but when I fail to have devotional time six days in a row, He’ll likely punish me in some passive-aggressive way, like giving me a cold or making my tire blow out on the freeway. He doesn’t care enough about my prayers to make Aunt Jodie’s cancer go away, but He’ll occasionally answer fervent prayers for a parking spot at the mall so I can make it to the movies on time—because Jesus desperately wants me to see The Dark Knight Rises and not miss the previews.

The Apostle John said, “When Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). This implies we don’t see Jesus in His totality now. According to the Scriptures, we won’t see Jesus in His entirety until we’re in His presence. So, any- one who says they have Jesus all figured out is either dead or deceived.