My first year of university was spent at a conservative junior college that had just that year been upgraded from a Bible School. I enjoyed my year there but had to move on to a full university to get my degree. I met lots of new people at both places but I have to confess that some of the more interesting were at the university.
One guy I met had some very interesting insights into faith and we talked now and then when our schedules and his use of recreational drugs allowed. One night, we were talking about Jesus and he used a phrase that had stuck in my mind every since. I don’t know if he was quoting someone else or had made it up himself but in talking about Jesus and the way people saw Jesus, he described his as “good old plastic Jesus”.
He was referring to the way he saw people approaching Jesus–his complaint was that he felt people spend all their time remaking Jesus into what they wanted. If they wanted an authoritarian figure to back them, they would quote Jesus. If they wanted to justify something they had done, they would quote Jesus. If they wanted to prove their point, they would refer to Jesus. If they needed something done, they would find some way to use Jesus as an example. He felt that Jesus had become a convenience, a malleable hunk of plastic that people could shape and form as they needed.
I lost touch with him at the end of the year–like many during those years in the early 70s, he was more interested in drugs and other things than education. But his description of how we treat Jesus keeps coming back to me. In the end, it seems like we create a nice little circle. We claim to follow Jesus–but before we actually follow, we develop an image of Jesus that allows us to travel in the way we wanted to go in the first place. I know, I know–my cynicism is showing. But having seen Jesus portrayed as a staunch supporter of conservative politics, social politics, peace movements, war movements while at the same time being a supporter of traditional marriage and same sex marriage, more severe punishment for criminals and more forgiveness for criminals and a host of other conflicting positions, I think my cynicism is a bit justified.
People have been attempting to make Jesus into what they want since the days when he was on earth. Many of the people who flocked to Jesus when he was teaching and preaching wanted a dynamic, powerful military leader who would free them from the hated Roman occupiers. Peter wanted a Messiah with no cross. James and John wanted a king who could give them plum patronage appointments. Later, Constantine wanted a divine supporter for his attempt to rule the Roman Empire.
The question, “Who is Jesus?” has so many answers that it is sometimes easier to give up and forget trying to find an answer. But I think giving up is just as wrong as turning Jesus into our personal lump of plastic to shape however we want. Finding Jesus is important for a lot of reasons, perhaps the most important of which is that as believers, we are called to be like him–not like what we would like him to be but like what he really is.
So how do we find Jesus, the real one? Part of the answer to that question comes from the previous string in this blog. We read the Bible. The best information we have on Jesus comes from the Bible. The Gospels give us a picture of what he did and said. The rest of the Bible provides us with amplification and explanation of this Gospel picture. Without the knowledge of Jesus that comes from the Bible, we will have a much harder time discovering the real Jesus and therefore a much harder time following him.
A major part of the reason why I push believers to read the Bible is because we all need to connect with the primary source material to help us understand who and what Jesus was. Rather than base our understanding of Jesus on what we have been told by others or what we would like him to be or the latest fad book about Jesus, we begin with the Bible, God’s revelation to us. Where we go from there will be the topic of some future blogs.
May the peace of God be with you.