Tuesday, June 22, 2010

CSFF Blog Tour: Imaginary Jesus Day Two

John Calvin once stated, "The human heart is a factory of idols." Hitting a little closer to my neck of the woods, Martin Luther wrote this in his Large Catechism:

A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong together, faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.

The reason why I brought out the big guns today is because it coincides with Matt Mikalatos's book, Imaginary Jesus. Let's take it from the beginning.

Calvin's statement is pretty self-explanatory. Human beings can turn just about anything into an idol. We've seen this happen down through the years. Luther tried to get at the heart of what a "god" really is. Your god is what you trust in most. Your god is thing you think of first and foremost when the going gets tough. Your god is where you ultimately derive your identity, security, and joy. Properly speaking, the question we should be asking people is not, "Do you have a god?" It's "What is your god?" Because everyone has one. And FYI, this is why I don't believe in atheism. I'm not trying to be flip. Everyone has a god. But they don't all look like this:

They can also look like this:

Or like this:

Or any of these:

Okay, maybe not that last one so much, but you get the idea. We humans can and do turn just about anything into our gods at the drop of a hat.

But we Christians face an even more insidious temptation. It's to reverse the way creation works. Rather than remember that we are created in God's image, we try to recreate God (and Jesus) in our own image. We assume that God is just like us. He has the same likes and dislikes. He has the same pet peeves. He would drive the same kind of car as us. He would vote the way we do on election day. In my case, I would envision a God who drives a spacious Oldsmobile for the legroom, who would cheer on the Vikings every fall, and who would reveal that Pepsi was originally created by the Devil himself. The God we invent often turns out to be just a fun house mirror reflection of ourselves.

And that's truly insidious, because that kind of imaginary Jesus can wreck a person's faith. A Jesus that is basically a copy of myself won't object if I sin (because he'll agree with me that it's not a big deal). A Jesus that is a copy of me will be on the hook if he doesn't jump when I say bounce in my prayers. A Jesus that is just a copy of me is the the subservient one, there when I want him to be and respectfully absent when I don't.

In short, it mixes up the relationship between us and God. It puts us in the driver's seat and God in the trunk. It's a First Commandment issue (no matter how you number your commandments). And that's why it's vital that we do our best to keep the fake God's, the twisted reflections, out of our lives. That's why we should focus on getting to know the real Jesus.

It's part of the reason why I really liked this book. And I'm not just saying that because I've preached sermons with similar themes (although my sermons usually aren't this funny).

Go and see what the other tourists have to say:

Brandon Barr
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
Valerie Comer
R. L. Copple
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Andrea Graham
Tori Greene
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
KM Wilsher


Keanan Brand said...

Amen, brother. Well said.

As I have often observed -- and unfortunately demonstrated -- it's Christians who give Christ a bad reputation among unbelievers, and maybe that's due in part to not only our fallible humanity but also our making of false Jesuses.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

The chilling reality is that some will follow their imaginary Jesus to the end only to hear the Real Jesus say, "I never knew you."

Great thoughts in connection to this work, John. Thanks.


Tori said...

Good point about the pet peeves...I think I often project my pet peeves onto Jesus so that I don't have to feel guilty about being irritated by them. Great post!

Matt Mikalatos said...


Great description of what it means to make Jesus in our own image. I see that you're working on the devil, too, by giving him credit for Pepsi! That gave me my first chuckle of the morning.