Saturday, November 01, 2014

Preview - Sentimental Jesus

Rereading JB Phillips's Your God Is Too Small, I was struck by certain passages in the chapter under Unreal Gods. IV: Meek-and-Mild.  I think I will post on the book as a whole soon, with quotes from that chapter. It's 50-60 years old but still apropos.  In the meantime...

There is a type of sentimental Jesus, always cuddling lambkins, patting children on the head, smiling and waving at the donkeys from his manger, getting crucified without a lot of blood.  Lord knows there are plenty of actual Christians who photoshop this guy into unlikely scenes or paint pictures of him faintly radiating onto the hushed crowd around him. Certainly, he is very popular with ex-Christians, cultural Christians, church-raised, etc.  He's sort of annoying, but he is at least based on a true story. Or so I thought, thinking him relatively harmless, just sort of unfocused.

Today I am not so sure. He may be one of the most dangerous Jesus's out there. It has dawned on me that unbelievers insist that this is the Jesus we Christians should believe in. Any attempt to move to the more alarming Jesus is treated as an evasion.  He said "Let the children come unto me."  Therefore, we should not send 14-year-old illegals back to Oaxaca.  Jesus says so. He said "Love thy neighbor as thyself."  Therefore, everyone should have health insurance.  Jesus says so. He said "Judge not, lest you be judged," therefore gay marriage is acceptable.  Jesus says so.

Every age has its own illnesses and healths, strengths and weaknesses.  Leaning too far out one side of the boat, in screaming accusation that someone else has once fallen out the other side, also results in drowning.

Please do not answer impulsively.  This is a smart, thoughtful group who can grasp the easy explanations immediately.  Why this Jesus? Why is this Jesus so popular now?

12 comments:

Malishious Intent said...

This idea of Jesus is popular now because it is soft soap as CS Lewis says. It leaves out the proper condemnation of sin and only leaves the merciful part. Half of the truth in this new age Jesus stuff is missing.

Earl Wajenberg said...

My daughter was tickled to come across a Facebook poster of Jesus cleansing the Temple, with the caption, "Remember, when someone asks 'What would Jesus do?' that flipping tables and chasing people with a whip are among the options."

But all the merciful options are also there. I second your figure about overbalancing the boat. To declare a war between mercy and justice (as both rigorists and soft-soapers do) only brings down the whole house of virtue.

Jonathan said...

This is probably my favorite scene from a movie ever.

Sam L. said...

This may well be what our opponents want us to be--sheep to the slaughter, unresisting. Yeaaaaaah, I like this explanation.

james said...

I have no good feel for the relative proportions of the different representations of Jesus have varied over time. I looked at some images, and quickly found some things (e.g. this that looked meek and mild and were pretty old, but plenty of crucifixion images from all eras.

I think the best way to find out is to pick a denomination and look at denominational sales of pictures to homes, and sales of pictures to churches, and try to get some handle on relative popularity over time.

I can easily imagine that meek and mild images would be popular things to put up at home with little kids around (not so much with pictures of Jesus cleansing the temple). Given that a lot of people never try to mature in faith beyond the milk, perhaps that's the default image for a disproportionate number of adults.

Texan99 said...

I find that a useful counter to the "feel-good" Jesus is in the Episcopalian (and maybe other's?) liturgy: "Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal."

Retriever said...

I personally LOVE the sappy image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd with lambkins. I also know that sheep are stupid, smelly, ungrateful and that there's good reasons we are called sheep...I have found that sappy image a great comfort, however, during the darkest hours of my life when literally alone and walking close to the valley of the shadow.

On a more rational note, I think these images reflect the fact that people get so little real love and care at home these days. So many families are broken or never formed. Everybody is busy. People (including my own family) send emails across the living room to each other instead of talking at times. I see frantic kids in the playground trying to get their mother's attention while mom emails or blogs or talks on her smartphone. Most of us retreat into our individual virtual world to tune out the world around us as we walk around or wait anywhere. It isn't that I want to romanticize the "good old days" but I think that ironically back when old fogeys like me were getting ferocious discipline for relatively minor offenses, we also had grandmothers and aunts and spinsters next door who doted on us and sentimentally made us feel good. Made us those home made Xmas presents dismissively labelled "loving hands" (the itchy sweaters and misshapen mittens). The point is, most of us grew up with tangible objects all around us reminding us that plenty of real people in our world cared about us. Even the awful packed lunches. Somebody had packed them, not tossed a bunch of bagged junk into a sack.

ON the other hand, in my church, where the minister makes over 300K a year, it's obvious why we focus on a combo of sentimental Jesus and distant Father Lord. If we were to EVER talk about Jesus JUDGING people, it would make certain people uncomfortable.

C.S. Lewis knew that people like a tame, trivialized lion.

Retriever said...

As someone raised Anglican, I also love the passage Texan 99 quoted. Reminds me of that old saw about how the mission of the Church is to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable...

Texan99 said...

Yikes! Our church's entire annual budget isn't even $300,000.

Retriever said...

It's an obscenity. I remember working full time, ostensibly part , for our local Episcopal church for 10k and it all going for our health insurance...they recruited me to get some new preaching tho officially DRE. I was one of those females canned fr the ordination process by a bishop who hated women. I couldnt stomach going Congo to get ordained, but we ended up attending this particular church because they were kind to our autistic son (the priest at our former Episcopal parish hated him after an unfortunate ECW mass where my son exclaimed "why are they laughing? he's not funny" slas the church women politely laughed at patronizing remarks about women's work in the cjlhurch. The Bishop's wife had been there and commented " "you have a very wise young son" (aged 3).

james said...

You're right: not just children but people facing really rough times. Careless-mea culpa. I should know better--praying for a good shepherd to take care of the kids.

Dubbahdee said...

I once heard a preacher observe that Jesus was indeed harsh and hard on the self-righteous and those who were overly concerned with their own status, wealth, or power.

He was, however, unfailingly tender and gentle to the suffering, the afflicted, the humble and the oppressed.

I think that's a pretty good model for pastoral ministry. Shoot the wolves, but feed the lambs.