Creating Our Own Image of God
How do you imagine Jesus? What type of person was He? Which of His characteristics stand out?
I read about an interesting psychological test that Scot McKnight, a Professor of Religion at North Park University in Chicago, gives on the first day of his New Testament class every year. It’s a standardized test divided into two parts. There are no right or wrong answer, but the professor is always astounded by the results.
The first part of the test asks students to imagine the personality of Jesus. For example, “Does Jesus prefer to go his own way rather than act by the rules?” or “Is Jesus a worrier?” or other such questions. The second part of the questionnaire asked the same questions, but instead of asking about Jesus, it asked the students how they perceive themselves. After reviewing many results, the professor concluded that people conform Jesus to fit their own image. For example, introverts view Jesus as an introvert, while based on the same question, extroverts think Jesus was extroverted.
Interestingly, instead of students striving to become more like Jesus, he found quite the opposite. People imagine or create a Jesus more in line with themselves. This approach seems to make people much more comfortable with themselves, when our Lord already acts similar to how they themselves act!
And here lies one of the great dangers in our spiritual lives – justifying our own fallen nature and sinful habits, instead of coming before Christ with a humble spirit, an open mind and a readiness to conform and transform our lives according to His Will and His ways. When we understand God as approving who we are and everything we do, we feel comfortable and find little need for change. Yet when we try to understand God without our own preconceived notions, than we can see ourselves in a new light, which will lead us to deep repentance and radical change.
Jesus constantly shocked people. He shocked them, first of all, by accepting and loving everyone unconditionally – sinner and saint alike. Yet by accepting everyone, this didn’t mean that he allowed them to stay the way they were. He would challenge everyone he met to lay aside their sinful ways and grow into His divine likeness.
Thus, He accepted an adulterous woman, rejecting the stoning death that the religious leaders suggested, yet He told her to go and sin no more. He accepted to have dinner at the home of a thieving tax-collector and treat him like a dear friend, yet through the challenge of that new friendship, the tax collector decided to give half of his possessions to the poor, and began a completely new life. Jesus accepted many broken and despised and terribly sinful people, yet with each one, His love challenged them, and then transformed them into new creations.
So the key is not to turn Jesus into someone who is like us, someone who will make us comfortable with the way we are now. No, instead let us allow Christ to make us take a good and honest look at ourselves and to see how distant we are presently from the divine potential that God has given us. We should strive to allow His Spirit to work within us in our lifelong journey of deification!
As we continue to journey through this Paschal season, it should be obvious how radically different our Lord Jesus is from each one of us. Yes, He promised that we could call Him our friend. But as the myrrhbearing women, whose memory we celebrate today, remind us, He is far more than simply a friend like other friends. He is the Conqueror over evil and death, our Risen Lord and God. Therefore, let’s be careful to make Christ fit our own image. Constantly try to better understand who Jesus is, and how he lived, and then strive to make our own lives align more and more with His.
Christ is Risen!
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