Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What kind of God is this?

I was going through some old clothes the other day, and I found some t-shirts I had as a teenager. A good number of the shirts were just your ordinary t-shirts that said "Hard Rock Cafe" or something on them. Then, there was another kind of shirt in the pile. I'll call this group the Jesus shirts.

As their name indicates, they had something to do with Jesus. Some of them were from my BSU days, and aside from words like "thang" printed on them, most were pretty innocuous. Others, however, made me borderline angry with both myself for buying the shirts, and with marketers of Christian clothing who produced them.

Most of the shirts with any sort of depiction of Jesus or spiritual things showed monster trucks, or a ripped, muscular Jesus wielding a sword. One showed Jesus riding the four horses of the apocalypse in such a way that he was "breaking" them.

As I looked over these Jesus shirts, and I thought of some other ones I had seen recently, I realized that this is the kind of God and Jesus that we want to serve. We want to serve a God who punishes the guilty with everlasting torment. We want to serve a God who seems totally in control at all times, who has all the answers for us. We want a Jesus who is a buff, kung-fu man of combat, who is waging an all-out war against Satan.

We want a God who tears through town like James Dean, driving a pimped-out ride and wearing sunglasses and a faded bomber jacket. We want a God like Neo in The Matrix who bends all the rules of reality in order to destroy the adversary and save those who are good. He's smooth, good looking, cool, and can't be outdone. And when God leaves town in a cloud of dust as his Monster Truck leaves rubber on the pavement, we want the kids to stand around in awe and say, "What kind of God IS that?". And we want to say, "Our God, kid. That's OUR God."

On some level, I know this mentality is true because the names on the tags of some of these shirts are things like "Christian Apparel with an Attitude". Cuz, you know, Jesus can't compete if he's not as cool as Avril Lavigne or Tony Hawk. Anyone who is going to make it big has to have an attitude. I mean, Jesus dying and coming back to life? That was totally rad. I love how he faked out Satan with than one! He was all like, "I'm dead. NOT!" Man, the devil never saw that one coming! That was SO kewl. Kinda like the time Rambo blew up the entire US Army with only a bow and arrow. THAT's how strong OUR God is! He's like Rambo-Jesus, with body piercings.

When I take a step back and try to get the picture of Jesus that non-Christians might get from such portrayals, I see that they ask the question a different way. They see a God who aims to judge people and send them to Hell for eternity. They see a God who seems full of anger at humanity, who can't stand sin, and wishes to demand conformity. They see a Father who sent his Son to be abused by humanity, and is therefore guilty himself. They see a coy Son who says he wants to save them, but never really tells them what they need to be saved from. And at the end of the day, non-Christians reject Christ by saying, "What kind of God is THIS? If this is what the one true God is like, I don't want to serve him."

But real Christians know that God the Father and God the Son are not like that. When the people of Israel went astray, He sent them prophets who acted bizarre (really, really bizarre, if you ask me) and wandered naked through the streets of Jerusalem proclaiming a message of repentance. God the Father is not a person like James Dean who always leaves the women swooning, but instead who finds himself constantly married to a humanity who whores herself to others. But he doesn't leave her or forsake her, but he continues to pursue her and woo her. He gives up dignity in order to do anything to get her back.

And when the Jews looked for a messiah who would rush into the city on the back of a war-horse, clear the temple, and drive the Romans out of Jerusalem in a spectacular coup, they instead found a humble man who entered the city on the back of a donkey, who preached a message of love, and who was crucified, naked and bleeding, for all the public to see. They wanted a shining hero, and instead got a suffering servant.

I believe the narrow way begins when we finally take on the challenge of understanding this tension, and pursue an answer from the God we serve.

We want a savior who will obliterate the things that cause us to sin, but instead get a Jesus who teaches us how to love even though sin exists. We want a healer who will heal all our wounds, but instead find a Jesus who commiserates with us because he suffered, too.

What kind of God is this?


alethia said...

never looked at the teeshirts that way. thought provoking.

Stacy said...

the only one i remember (though i had TONS) was a black one with green writing that said "God's last name ain't dammit". i thought it was awesome when i was 15. i don't really know what that says about me or my impression of God at that time...

Jessica said...

i don't know if it's just me or not, but did anyone else have a ben flashback when they saw the words "kung fu" written in his blog?!

not trying to be irreverent about the topic (i thought it was one of your all-time best), but i temporarily went back to the bsu chapel.

Stephanie Pruitt said...

Yo B,

I found your blog from Mel's blog. I saw "The Theologians blog" and knew it had to be you. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading through your blogs. It's just like talking to you... Knowwatumsayin...

You guys inspired me to start my own blog. It's I just set it up and am really new to the site, so let me know if you have probs with it.

Miss you guys a bunch. Take care! Oh, and don't throw away your Jesus shirt that says "thang"... it sounds pretty sweet and I may want it. :)

Stacy said...

definitely went there too, jess.

knelson said...

Ben - i do believe I remember being a part of the choosing of "IT's a Team Thang!"...if it's a BSU shirt. Your post was very insightful - as always. Put them in a book & I'll buy it! Love ya!