Cleaning Up Christ

Recently I have been finding a lot of Christian images on the interweb that aim to offer comfort, but, for me at least, massively miss the mark. They often involve Bible verses about God’s strength and love plastered over a picture of a beautiful sunset or the sea or a waterfall in a forest with a rainbow arched over and bunnies in the foreground. Which, it seems to me, are the scenarios when God’s strength and love are least necessary. But there’s another series of pictures which for me are more problematic: super-neat and tidy, and very, very white, Jesuses praying platitudes in the Garden of Gethsemane. These Jesuses couldn’t possibly sweat blood, unless they knew their Dettol-white robes were already headed to the drycleaner. And I just can’t marry Him telling the disciples “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” or beginning his prayer “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” with the almost vapid expression in these pictures.

These pictures don’t, cannot, comfort me because I don’t know what it is like to be unperturbed by the implications of God’s will for me. And I need a saviour who knows the reality of temptation, but still resists it, rather than one who looks a bit precious. I don’t want to be the one who shatters the sheltered naivety of this Jesus; I need a God who won’t take me anywhere He hasn’t already been.

And I don’t think this is my wishful thinking: I think it is the Christ who is revealed to us in the Bible. After all, God could have had his Son born whenever and wherever he chose. He could have been a noble, a king, or a teeth-whitened televangelist. Heck, he could have been as Caucasian as in these pictures. But He was born in the muckiest of makeshift shelters, greeted by livestock and a couple of nobodies- albeit blessed nobodies. He grew up to be a carpenter, and to hang out with people of a similarly unimpressive social and educational background. In fact, many of his disciples belonged to professions which were seen as the least conducive to religious law observance. This was hardly networking for the religious go-getters. I don’t think He wore his holiness on His sleeve even as He lived among the marginal: the disbelief among the Pharisees of His anointing, even Thomas’ reaction to his resurrected body, serves to question whether his whites were really ethereally pristine. It would have hardly been an act of faith by his followers had he been half-man half-seraphim, or something as blatantly divine. (Just a side note, holiness is never represented in the Bible by the Aryan race). But I wonder if we sanitise Jesus partly because this scares us. If part of his miraculousness was the fact that He truly did become human, then what’s to say we wouldn’t have let Him pass us by if we had been around in Palestine 2014 years ago? There’s a great reassurance in thinking Jesus was constantly surrounded by heavenly fireworks- because then we could have recognised Him pretty quicksmart, and we wouldn’t have to get our heads around the unfathomability of grace.

My comfort is found in the fact Jesus was fully man as well as fully God; and I don’t restrict his bloodiness to pictures of Him on the cross. If He is to stand as my advocate, and offer me His strength through His spirit, I need Him to know what it is like to walk on, and hurt in, this earth. And at the same time, I need Him to have the strength of the omniscient, omnipotent God. I love that Jesus was audacious in hanging out with the losers as well as the winners (no superiority complex or reverse snobbery here), that He cried at his friend’s death, and felt righteous anger. And I love that He is now seated by the Father, ready to welcome me home.

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