Caricatures and Christ
At the height of the craze, the Beatles boasted they were more popular than Jesus Christ. Earl Woods, father of the renowned golfer Tiger Woods, once noted that his son was more famous than Jesus Christ. Christians are piqued when such claims are made from time to time. I wonder if we should not marvel that this simple Galilean carpenter who lived two millennia ago should, without his asking, become the frame of reference for fame. The choice of theme for certain novels, purportedly hidden gospels, and other shock-invoking commentaries evince a similar interest in the person of Jesus Christ.
Although it may be an unusual way of approaching the controversies that some raise about the person of Jesus, it is helpful to see how these develop from an inadequate understanding of God. It is also a lesson for those of us who claim to be Christians that without our knowledge, we may be harboring a similar lack in our theology. In today's pragmatic climate of "how-to-get-something-out-of–God" and "how-to-do-something-for-God" Christianity, it is quite possible that we have left the huge gap of "Who-is-God" theology in the middle! Who Jesus claimed to be has immense implications for our understanding of who God is.
I am, therefore, grateful that God permits periodic shock treatments on his church and the world through the likes of Hollywood or the Gnostic gospels, the Beatles or Dan Brown, for they alert us to the serious shortcomings in our own understandings of Him. These stories tell us that Jesus was someone most of us believe he was not, and yet many of us would have a difficult time explaining who we believe he really is.
When facing any error or counterfeit, it is good to train ourselves to ask the question, "What is the original truth of which this is the counterfeit?" An error bears important and interesting relationships to the truth. The former is arrived at by adding to or subtracting something from the latter. Thus, an error always contains something of the truth whereas the truth has nothing of the error in it. Moreover, the opposite of a truth is always an error, but the opposite of an error is rarely the truth—it is often another error!
Many of these popular writings and new discoveries of Jesus, I believe, can provide a singular service to the world in helping us discern the original within the counterfeit, whether presented in the form of a novel or news. The Gospel of Judas offers a similar opportunity. Yet, we could easily be tempted to react against such errors by looking at their opposites, only to find ourselves landing in other errors. Instead, we should try to look at the biblical originals to which these insinuations point.
For instance, there is nothing wrong with sexuality and marriage. But was Jesus married? He was not. In the most ancient accounts of his life, there is no indication that he was married or widowed, although there is abundant evidence that he had a great number of women-disciples, Mary of Magdala being one of them. It can be quite clearly concluded that Jesus limited himself by the discipline of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:12) so that he could win for himself the bride of the Church (Ephesians 5:27; II Corinthians 11:2).
We should be grateful to those who in caricaturing Christ drive us to reflect on issues to which we have paid scant attention. But we need to move beyond the purely pragmatic, individualized understanding of faith to the glorious sweep of the canvas painted for us in Scripture, history, creeds, archaeology, and many other evidences. It is thus that we would be enabled to truly worship an amazing God and to lovingly relate to Jesus Christ as savior, through his ever-living Spirit.
L.T. Jeyachandran is executive director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Singapore.