I used to think Jesus was a white man. It was easier to think of Him that way. I was white, I went to a predominantly white church, and every preacher I had ever listened to was white. So my adolescent mind couldn’t quite picture my Savior as being any different than me.
Somewhere in my developing mind, I imagined Him with long, straight, brown hair and a well-kept beard. His skin, though white, was perfectly tanned and polished, with hardly a blemish to be found. With perfect white teeth and a glowing smile, my Jesus looked good.
My Jesus was comfortable; He was my buddy, the affable guy holding the lamb in Sunday school flannelgraphs. He taught me about love and sharing and happiness. With Jesus as my friend, I thought, nothing can go wrong.
But everything did. I reached my teenage years, and my small-minded reality changed. For every “God is in control” I heard from my pastor, I looked around and saw war, hunger and murder on the television screen every night. From the way people spoke at church, listening to God seemed as easy as calling a 1-800 number, yet no matter how hard I tried, I heard nothing but stale air. God’s will, the “Christian life,” quiet time—everything seemed mechanical and trite.
My faith had reached a turning point. I was trapped between past perception and current reality. I could either abandon my faith, frustrated and worn down from trying to figure everything out, or I could admit that my long-standing flannelgraph visions of Jesus were a bit off the mark and try to rediscover Him through more mature eyes. Fortunately, I chose the latter, and my life changed dramatically.
Jesus wasn’t a white man anymore. The God of the universe wasn’t limited to my own presuppositions, my own partial worldview. Questions weren’t necessarily answered with one-sentence clichés. Some questions, I reluctantly realized, couldn’t be answered at all—at least by any human mind.
Isaiah 53:2 summed up my altered view of Christ: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” In other words, Jesus was no Brad Pitt.
According to the prophet Isaiah, there was nothing about Jesus’ appearance that stood out. He didn’t turn heads because of His Hollywood smile or His piercing blue eyes. He turned heads because of His heart for the unwanted, the undesirables of society. He turned heads because of the unquestionable, unequivicable sincerity of His ministry. He turned heads because of His willingness to sacrifice His life for the rest of us—those of us with and without Hollywood smiles and piercing blue eyes.
Just as my view of Jesus’ appearance was shallow and self-centered, so, too, was my view of the faith He proclaimed. I professed Christianity but had little patience for Christians who acted and worshipped differently, those who lived outside of my little bubble.
The true nature of Jesus had long escaped me. I had been practicing Christianity without Christ as my day-to-day guide—forcing my biases, my flawed opinions, my sheltered beliefs onto God’s perfect Gospel. Those who didn’t share my views were simply wrong, because, you see, I was the holder of all knowledge. Don’t like the Bible translation I use? You’re wrong. Don’t like the denomination I belong to? You’re wrong. Don’t like the musical worship at my church? You’re wrong. Don’t have the same political views as me? You’re wrong. I had a monopoly on the truth, and you— especially those of you who dared to disagree—couldn’t tell me otherwise.
Sure, I was a Christian—I had settled that matter years ago. But I was still at the starting line of my spiritual journey, content to remain on the first lap. Instead of looking to the Bible with an open mind, willing to accept whatever God revealed, I searched for out-of-context verses that supported my skewed Christianity. I asked God to back me up instead of asking Him to show me truth. How distorted. And if you think about it—don’t we all have our own personal version of Christianity? We take our opinions, biases, beliefs and traditions, and we let them seep into our faith; we put our spin on Christianity—and with all due respect to Bill O’Reilly, the Bible is the only true “no spin zone.” In essence, we tell God, “I know about that book, the Bible, but I’m OK without it; I’ve got all the answers.”
But the truth is, we’ll never figure everything out—and we don’t need to. It’s only our pride that tells us we can. What we do know—Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection, our abysmal sin state, our complete inability to restore ourselves to God without Him—all explained so eloquently by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2—that’s what matters.
Your Christian faith isn’t made or broken on what skin tone you believed Jesus had, if you prefer traditional hymns with piano accompaniment or contemporary worship songs with guitar, whether or not you read the King James Bible, the NIV or the NASB. Your Christian faith is made or broken on whether or not you truly believe in what Christ did at the cross. It’s such a simple concept that so many of us, myself included, lose sight of.
And when we lose sight of the cross, we get lost in the muddy tangents, the irrelevant side roads that distract us from the real truth—God worked everything out so we don’t have to.[Robert Bruce, 29, works as the Online Editor for In Touch Ministries in Atlanta, Ga. In addition to writing and editing, he enjoys photography, hiking and University of Georgia football. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.]