The historical movement known as the first quest for the historical Jesus was destroyed by Albert Schweitzer when he pointed out the obvious fact that the “historical Jesus” that these “questers” was describing looked almost exactly like the “questers” themselves. That seemed very convenient. Schweitzer illustrated this with a story that may have been first used by George Tyrell and was surely influenced by the poet Robert Frost. Anyhow Schweitzer said that these “questers” had looked down at the dark, cloudy water at the bottom of a well, saw their own ambiguous reflection, and declared it to be Christ. It is always nice to convince yourself that the Messiah you claim to serve looks exactly like you. That means other people need to change rather you needing to change. That’s nice and comfortable.
Of course, it is also idolatry.
The quote “God created man in his own image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor” is often attributed to Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. While I don’t know who really made the statement I see proof of its truth all around me and unfortunately also sometimes within my own life. Far too often I have shaped Jesus to look a great deal like my own image rather than being transformed into His image. The latter should be the goal of all who claim to be disciples of Christ. We should be striving, begging, yearning to be shaped each day a little more into His image. While Jesus became one of us through the Incarnation He is still wholly other (a term Karl Barth liked for describing God’s transcendent nature) and thereby different from us. We must become like Him because He is the end/goal of life. Reducing Him to being in our image won’t work because we are broken and He is life. Making Him a Republican, Democratic, Independent or any other political system Messiah produces a false god that can’t bring us life. That false image, our dark reflection at the bottom of the well, simply isn’t adequate to bring true hope.
That’s why the above video (that I saw from two friends at the same time – ht Joy & Scott) makes me laugh and cry at the same time. Hearing those words come out of the mouth of an actor portraying Jesus stands in strong contrast to the words of Jesus I see in scripture. I laugh because I catch the incongruity between the image and the words. I cry because I see the truth of this incongruity actually happening in my culture and faith. If I can’t imagine my words being said by the Jesus conveyed in scripture and I claim to be His follower, then I need to change my words (and actions) quick, or just admit that my faith is not what really defines me.
I’ll use another video to further explain.
I have been a fan of Duck Commander, and thereby Duck Dynasty somewhat too, since I started duck hunting five years ago. I was introduced to them by Andy Lickel and soon learned to like their duck calls. I’ve enjoyed the show because while it is incredibly cheesy I believe that a real family love is still strongly conveyed through the show. So I’ve been with them through their various controversies. Sometimes this was because I agreed with them (though maybe not with the manner in which they said it) or sometimes because my affection for them was enough to just blow off what they said. Then this past week Phil Robertson made the following quote in endorsing Ted Cruz. Robertson said:
“I’ve never run upon a true conservative who was not a godly man or at least a God-conscious man, And by the same token, I’ve never run up on a godly man who wasn’t a true conservative.”
This is so disturbing to me. Not the endorsement of Ted Cruz but the implication of the use of the word “godly”. The term “godly” (the highest compliment I believe a follower of Christ can receive) has been connected by Robertson with certain political ideology and Jesus is thought to look like a conservative. Why? Well because we have looked down in into the bottom of a well, seen our own dark and muddy reflection, and declared it to be Christ. When this happens we no longer need to repent and allow God to shape us, to remove some aspects and add others, so that we look a little more like His son. There is no need for change because “Jesus” looks exactly like us because we have made god in our image instead of being made in His. I know godly people of many different political persuasions. They are focused on the kingdom of God and that kingdom shapes what they do and how they respond to the politics of their country. I would never associate being conservative with being godly anymore than I would associate being progressive with being godly. After all Jesus came to declare that the kingdom of God was at hand, not that the world was about to receive democratic capitalism.
Don’t get me wrong this isn’t just a a conservative problem. It happens just as much on the progressive side. In fact, Schweitzer’s original use of the well reflection analogy was in response to liberal protestant theologians. Finding “Christ” in our own reflection is an equal opportunity form of idolatry. It is equally destructive to all who will give into it.
I hope the image that shapes me comes from looking toward the real Christ, rather than my own dark and muddy reflection seen from a far.