Creating Jesus In Our Own Image
Creating Jesus in Our Image
Photography by Bill Dahl
by Julie Clawson
Recently, as I was reading Nancy Ortberg’s new book Looking for God, I was struck by an aside she threw in about Jesus. In discussing the scene where the post-resurrection Jesus cooks breakfast on the shore for the disciples (John 21) and she asked, “Why don’t we ever hear sermons about men cooking? We always hear about ‘what would Jesus do?’ Why isn’t this one included?”
Her questions intrigued me because they highlighted the tendency among Christians to create Jesus in our own image. We focus on the aspects of Jesus’ life and teachings that most reflect who we are and what we are already doing. If we want to boost Sunday school teacher recruitment we preach on Jesus welcoming the children. If we think the congregation needs to pray more we talk about Jesus in Gethsemane. The Jesus we often present or imagine is rarely indistinguishable from the cultural settings we indwell. In the middle class suburban church we hear of the CEO like leadership characteristics of Jesus. In the typical morality based youth group, Jesus’ ability to resist temptation. To be like Jesus often means little more than reaching for some cultural ideal. So of course, there are no sermons exhorting men to get into the kitchen so they can be like Jesus, that’s too far outside “normal behavior” for our culture (and yes, I am fully aware that imploring men to cook is just another form of cultural bias. I still think it’s a good idea).
It is no wonder then that so many people are comfortable with Jesus. Jesus is our friend. He is the manifestation of all the good things we want to be anyway. Sure, it may be hard to live like Jesus all the time, but at least it gets us to where we want to be and everyone affirms our attempts along the way. Perhaps this is why when teachings or actions of Jesus that challenge the status quo are brought into light some Christians are quick to dismiss them as heretical, or liberal, or too extreme. Portrayals of Jesus that may demand something of us (like say service or change) aren’t welcome. It is too uncomfortable to not see oneself in the God we worship and follow. We don’t necessarily want to be like Jesus, we want Jesus to be like us.
Now I freely admit to being guilty of this narcissistic view of Jesus, both in the past and in the present. To a certain extent I understand how our immediate cultural context has to be the frame of reference within which we understand Jesus, we can’t escape it. I also fully affirm that our passions should align with what Jesus was passionate about. But when I find that my spiritual life and quest to be like Jesus requires little discipline or effort, I have to admit that I have a problem. Merely affirming who I already am leaves little room for transformation. I find it easier then to admit that I have arrogantly cast Jesus in my own image than to continue to ignore Biblical commands to be spiritually renewed. The actual process though of re-evaluating what it means to be like Jesus is much harder as I am forced into the humbling (and often humiliating) process of getting over myself.
It’s funny, but I’ve discovered that attempting to be like Jesus is a lot more difficult when I allow Jesus to be Jesus. Strange how that works.
Julie Clawson is a mother and an emerging church-planting pastor in the Chicago area. She enjoys being involved in Emerging Women activities, promoting social justice causes, and reading good books. She blogs at julieclawson.com and she can be reached at julieclawson (at) gmail (dot) com.