By now nearly everyone has seen the Will Ferrell comedy, Talladega Nights. It features a drawn-out gag where Ricky Bobby and Cal both talk about the different ways they picture Jesus: from baby Jesus to drunken Jesus. It was a joke that caused some laughter-and some anger. I experienced both. At first, it is semi-offensive, even for a desensitized college student. Of course, I didn’t say anything around my friends. It’s easy to talk about sex or politics, but getting into religion/spirituality is a whole other story. Often, humor takes off the edge, making it a useful tool for evangelizing.
The Bible tells us that every being is created in the image of God. Therefore, we have to take every thing we experience as another opportunity to creep closer to a thing called Truth. People complain about the Will Ferrell scene: it’s blasphemous, offensive, insulting—and I respect that opinion. It is tough to hear our thoughts and beliefs on prayer simply disregarded like that.
But at the same time, we have to try to glean truth from the experience. What can this tell us about our human nature, the deep flaws of the flesh? In the movie, Ricky Bobby tells his father-in-law that he prays to baby Jesus because that’s the one he likes the best. Cal takes it a step further, telling how he likes to picture Jesus: hammered at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert.
This is ridiculous right? They think they can just mold Jesus into whatever they want Him to be and that’s OK?
Wait, why does that sound so familiar?
A critically thinking person can see that the scene gives us a hunk to chew on about creating God in our own image. How many people kill, hate, lie or steal in the name of love? The scene illustrates the same point: people do screwed up things in the name of God, Jesus or religion in general, and then they rationalize it all, making things backward by creating a God in their own image; someone to sit on their throne in Heaven as the almighty yes-man.
God gave us a conscience. He didn’t send us down here by ourselves, controlled solely by flesh, because He knew what would happen. At the same time, as Bob Dylan tells us, “Every man’s conscience is vile and depraved.” The flesh interacts with the soul; it corrupts the conscience, grossly twisting things. We get what in psychology is referred to as cognitive dissonance: we, compelled by the flesh, do something wrong, and then, in retrospect, have to attempt to reconcile the thought process, or conscience, with the action we have committed. We have choices: change the behavior, acknowledging that it is wrong, or change the status of the behavior on the right-wrong scale in our minds.
As humans, we generally choose the latter. We cannot admit that we have messed up. We would rather walk around with planks in our eyes than to just say, “God, (or mom, dad, spouse, sibling or friend) I messed up.”
The thing about Christians, though, is that we should be aware, more so than anyone else, that we are deeply, deeply flawed. We know our flesh is out for us and that no one can work their way through their sin. We must bow in a culture that likes to stand on stilts.
That disconnect between our standard and our behavior hurts. We have a view of God; we go against this view; we feel guilty; we change our view of God. The problem is, before God takes us anywhere near were we need to be, we have to give up the pride and talk to him. We have to know it will happen again, and that we cannot change our mindsets and views of God to justify what we have done. For this reason exactly we are told to verify everything in Scripture. God made our conscience—He knows that it can be manipulated.
So did Ferrell and company mean to specifically help out Christians who are distorting the characteristics of the Christian God? Probably not. Their thoughts probably went something like this: Hey, people do horrible things in the name of religion … lets make fun of it. As Christians, we can feel insulted, or we can try to learn something.
We can’t let the artist’s intentions control our reactions. We have to take the art away from the artist and take the Truth, however it comes. And the truth is this: I have a Jesus who gets pissed off and thinks about shooting people for petty things like the way they drive, but I’ve also met a Jesus who washes my sins away and loves passionately. And my hope is in the fact that the more I talk to the real Jesus, the more I move away from my mirror messiahs and the closer I get to something true and beautiful.