“if God is a loving God then why does He let bad things happen, especially to good people?” It is a question that has been asked countless times throughout history, by devout believers and angry atheists and everyone in between. It may in fact be the question most often asked about God. Why does God let bad things happen? When someone dies at a young age, when a storm kills seemingly at random, when a job is lost, a house destroyed, cancer diagnosed, a pregnancy is miscarried, the question gets asked in the midst of pain and tears, heartache and anger.

At the root of the question are three assumptions. First that God’s attribute of love trumps all other aspects of His character. Of all the attributes of God the one most and almost exclusively held to by people today is that God is love. Certainly the Bible is clear that love is a very central aspect of God’s character. John 3:16 may be the most famous of all verse in the Bible and it affirms that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to die for it. Yet there are other aspects of God’s character that must not be negated or swept aside by love. In addition to being loving, God is also holy, merciful, righteous, omniscient, omnipresent. all-powerful, just and much more. God’s holiness must not be allowed to wipe out the reality of God being merciful. His immanence must not negate His transcendence. God’s love must not be allowed to veto the fact that God is just. In the case of why bad things happen, God’s love must not be allowed to supersede His providence which it working out His plan for all creation over time.

The second assumption is that there are good people who should only have good things happen to them. When something bad happens to them it is believed to be unfair and that somehow God should have prevented that tragedy from happening. Jesus dealt directly with this when he said that the “rain falls on the just and the unjust”. Matthew 5:45 The point Jesus is making is that we live in a world in which the same things happen to people who live righteously and people who do not. If it is raining and the result is a flood, that rain and flood impacts everybody. You don’t become exempt from hardship in life just because you are trying to follow God. People seem to have the idea that if something tragic happens to a nice or supposedly innocent person that the cosmos is somehow out-of-order.

The third assumption is that bad things should only happen to bad people and it is somehow justified. During Jesus day there was a common theology that said if something bad happened to you, serious illness, tragic accident or even death, that you were somehow deserving of that fate because you were obviously a serious sinner. This was the point Job’s friends kept pushing. They were convinced that Job must have some secret, hideous sin that inevitably brought on God’s wrath. Jesus gave two responses to that idea. One was when he spoke of a tower falling on a group of people and killing them. His point was that they were no worse than anyone else living in Jerusalem at the time. Luke 13:4 We live in a world impacted by sin and evil and bad things happen to seemingly good people. Additionally, sometimes bad things happen so that God may do something incredible and display His glory. That was the case with the man born blind. John 9  It was a theological dilemma for the scribes and Pharisees. After all, it would hardly be right of God to blind an unborn baby because of his parents sin. Why not blind the parents? And it could hardly be the babies sin. What kind of trouble could he get into while still in the womb? Jesus makes the point that sin had nothing to do with the man’s blindness but that he was born blind and lived his entire life to that point, stumbling around in darkness, just so Jesus could eventually heal him and God would be glorified. That is not something we like to hear. It runs counter to love trumping all that God would make a man live for decades in blindness just so He could heal him and have people turn to Jesus. Yet that is precisely what Jesus says.

So what we see is that sometimes bad things happen simply because we live in a fallen world in which evil is still real. We see that the level of your holiness does not exempt you from these things. Jesus also made it clear that bad things happening are not always the direct result of you doing something bad.

Let me pose a different question that I think is the one that we should be asking far more often than we do. It is simply this. “Why does anything good happen at all?” Since we are all sinners and none of us is truly good or innocent, not something we readily acknowledge, what we should be amazed at is that anything good happens at all. The standard cartoon joke is that when someone does something particularly rotten they immediately get struck by a bolt of lightning from on high. Fortunately n real life that just doesn’t happen. If it did I would be a crispy critter many times over. And so would you! Given that reality I think the real puzzle is why anything good happens. Given that I deserve God’s wrath because of my rebellion against Him, why has he not struck me, and you, down? It is all because of mercy. God is a long-suffering, meaning extremely patient God. He continues to put up with our sin and rebellion in an effort to demonstrate His kindness and love for us and lead us to Him. Paul tells us in Romans 2:4 that God kindness towards us is intended to lead us to repentance and following Christ. The problem Paul addresses is that we presume upon that kindness. We come to expect it as an entitlement. We think we are better than we are and that we deserve only good things and not bad things. When we have that attitude we miss the blessing of the good things that happen to us and we grouse and complain about the bad things, as if it is somehow unfair that we don’t get the good things we thing we deserve. The opposite is the case. We deserve the punishment but in His grace and mercy God keeps throwing blessings our way, blessings that we think are a birthright.

Rather than being miffed or angry or tormented when bad things happen, we need to be in awe, humbly grateful, always thankful, for the undeserved blessings that God gives us. Those blessings should drive us to live a life of utter devotion to God and a willingness to trust Him even in the bad times.

The Book is Here!

Posted: July 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

The Provocative God: Radical Things God Has Said and Done, is now available. You can order from this website and get the book for $10 plus shipping. Just click the link below.

The Provocative God

Hope you enjoy!

Dan

I recently answered a series of questions for Third Millenium Ministries covering topics related to Biblical Theology. Here is the first of the videos to be posted.

What is the Kingdom of God? 

It is a a couple minutes long. Hope you enjoy it and have your understanding of God expanded.

Dan

The Provocative God – Introduction

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.

 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.

 And one called out to another and said,

         “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts,

         The whole earth is full of His glory.”

 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke.

 Then I said,

         “Woe is me, for I am ruined!

         Because I am a man of unclean lips,

         And I live among a people of unclean lips;

         For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”

Isaiah 6:1-5 NASB

What ever happened to a God who was bigger than our wildest imaginations, more grand than our greatest accomplishments, more perplexing than our deepest scientific theories? What ever happened to the God Isaiah trembled before, certain that he would literally be undone by the very presence of such overwhelming holiness and majesty? Whatever happened to that God of mystery, of power, the God before whom we were compelled to fall on our faces and declare; I am ruined?

Nearly sixty years ago, J.B. Phillips wrote, “Your God is Too Small”. It was an attempt to stem the growing tide that viewed God as a being we could fully understand and with whom we could be totally at ease. In essence it was an attempt to keep us from putting God in a box that we could control and open and close at our own discretion. Phillips wanted people to understand that God was far more than the comfortable caricature that many had made Him to be. Certainly He is a God in whom we find comfort and peace. But He is also a God who at times challenges us, befuddles us, provokes us out of our comfort zone  into a wild and wondrous relationship with Him. Sadly from the look of things, Phillips failed badly. For many people, Christian and Non-Christian alike, God has become even smaller, more manageable, subject to our ever changing and shrinking notion of what He is like and what He can and even should do.

What is desperately needed is a God who is anything but tame and controllable. We need a God who shakes us out of our malaise. We need a God who provokes us. We need a Provocative God. In our highly sexualized culture the word “provocative” normally brings up images of the window at Victoria’s Secret, or worse. For something to be provocative it simply needs to get a reaction out of us. You can certainly be provoked sexually. But you can also be provoked into action because of the injustice of human trafficking. You can be provoked to anger like Jesus was when confronted with the thievery that was taking place in the Temple in the name of God. (Luke 19:46) You can also be provoked into breath-taking wonder when standing at the pinnacle of Pikes Peak gazing out over the snow capped mountains below. You can be provoked into a state of confusion and bewilderment when your preconceived notions smacked in the face by overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

If we really understood God we would know that He is nothing if not provocative. God says and does things that should get some kind of reaction out of us. The very fact that God declares, “My ways are not your ways, neither are your thoughts my thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8 NASB) should tell us that our encounters with God should be provocative. They should provoke us to think and live in ways we had never before considered. Or if we had considered them, we too easily discarded them as unreasonable, uncomfortable or unnecessary.

When we look closely at the Bible, not simply skimming through, or looking only for the proof text that makes us feel better, we are confronted by a God who said and did some rather radical, extraordinary, strange, disturbing and at times frightening things. They are things that challenge us and make us uncomfortable and at times confused. They are things that we often ignore because the implications of what God has said or done are implications we don’t want to face. But face them we must if we are ever going to have the kind of relationship with Him that God intends. We need to face them because those who would oppose God point to these provocative statements and actions and twist them into accusations against God.

It is my hope that what you are about to read provokes you. Sometimes it will cause you to wonder at your view of God and hopefully cause you to reconsider and maybe even discard the box you have Him in. Sometimes it will cause you to repent of attitudes and actions. Sometimes it will cause you to have a better understanding of what God expects of you. I know I have had all those reactions and more. Certainly there will be things you read that you disagree with, maybe even passionately. I’m okay with that. In fact I am more than okay with it. I welcome it. Because that means you are engaging with God on a head and heart level that will result in God being bigger in your life than He was before and your relationship with Him being deeper than ever.

REDEFINING “RADICAL”

The subtitle to this book about our provocative God is; Radical Things He Has Said and Done. The word radical has been thrown around a lot lately. David Platt has written a very popular book by that title. The media refers to radical fundamentalists of various religious stripes. On the political scene the far left and right are viewed as unreasonable radicals who are threatening the democratic process. And when we think about radical things that God has said and done, our first thoughts most likely concern things that are far out on the extreme, unreasonable, on the edge of rationality if not over it. That is not the understanding of radical that this book presents.

Let’s take a look at some dictionary definitions of “radical”

rad·i·cal   [rad-i-kuhl]  adjective

of or going to the root or origin; fundamental: a radical difference.

thoroughgoing or extreme, especially as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: a radical change in the policy of a company.

favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms:radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.

forming a basis or foundation.

existing inherently in a thing or person: radical defects of character.

1 footnote; From dictionary.reference.com

Of the five definitions given for radical as an adjective, only numbers two and three fit the common usage mentioned above. Numbers one; four, and five collectively define what I mean by radical. Something that is radical is something that goes to the root or core. It should come as no surprise then that we get the English word Radish, from the root word for radical. No pun intended but it makes the point. Something that is radical should be something that is at the root, heart, core, and foundation of who and what we are.

In speaking of a radical God, what we are really talking about are things that God has said and done that should be at the root of who we are and what we believe. They are things that as definition five says, are “foundational” to who God is. If they seem radical by our common usage, meaning extremist, then it is not because these things are on the edge and we are at the core. Rather, the radical things God has said and done seem extreme because we have moved far from the root and core of who God is and who He has made us to be. We are the ones who, in our modern and post-modern world, have moved far from the root. We have moved far from the core of where we were created to be. We have drifted ever so slowly to the extreme edges. It is like my friend Pete Geiger sings in his song Hallowed Ground. “We’ve wandered so far of track we didn’t know that we were lost”. God is still at the center. We are on the edge. We have wandered far off course in our thinking and our actions.

God seems extreme in so many ways because our self-centered perspective has the world revolving around us. We all see ourselves as average, middle of the road, stable and reasonable. When God does things and says things that are consistent with His character, when He is radical in the foundational sense, He seems extreme and outlandish to us. We grow uncomfortable with this extreme, radical God. So we marginalize and ignore Him and become functional agnostics. Some of us become angry Atheists who cry out against a God we don’t even believe exists. Some of us turn our back on our radical God and remake Him in our own image. He is safer that way. We can control and understand such a god. But such a god is no God at all. Such a god is a tame, manageable, cosmic security blanket, who never meddles in our personal affairs and never challenges our self-centered thinking. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, such a god is “safe, but not good”. We need a God like Aslan who Lewis describes as “good but not safe”. We need a God who will pull us back to the root, the core, the center of who we are made to be.

The God of the Bible is much like the majestic Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia, who is strong, powerful, demanding, yet gracious, sacrificial, and merciful. Instead we have a God who is the lion from the movie, Second Hand Lions. He looks like a lion, seems powerful and frightening, initially provoking fear, only to find out that it is an old, worn-out, tamed lion, who just wants to lay in the shade and eat dried lion food from a bag.

Make no mistake. In the Bible there are lots of very uncomfortable things that God has said and done. Asking you to forgive someone seventy time seven when they sin against you is extremely provocative. Requiring you to love your enemy, the person next door who constantly blares their music at all the wrong times, shoots of fire works till well past midnight on every conceivable holiday, and lets their trash blow into your yard, is radical and provocative. Saying that the only way to get to heaven is through a relationship of faith and trust in Jesus Christ is as counter-cultural as you can get these days and provocative in the extreme. With these and many other things that God has said and done, we have softened them, reinterpreted them, explained them away, and outright ignored them. In doing so we have attempted to tame our provocative God. But he refuses to be tamed. His Word stands for all time and continually calls us back into a relationship with Him that is unsafe, and uncomfortable, but is good beyond our wildest dreams.

 

You can preorder a copy of the book here.

It has been a long time coming and many of you have asked about it. I am thrilled to be able to let you know that the book, The Provocative God: Radical Things God Has Said and Done, is ready to go to the publisher. We are planning for the book to be in your hands by October. However that depends on having a successful kickstarter campaign. We are 20% towards the kickstarter goal after just one day so things are looking good. It would be great to have you check out the kickstarter link and get in on the first orders for the book. So why not do something provocative and help make a book available to others so that they encounter our amazing and provocative God.

Provocative God Kickstarter Link

Thanks so much for all you comments and encouragement and for helping make this dream a reality.

Dan

This is a guest post by my friend Ann Zuccardy. As you will see, Ann is a new Christian who recently went on her first mission trip. I have great respect for Ann and appreciate her honesty about the struggle such a trip entailed. One thing I love about Ann and her journey with Christ is that it is truly provocative. She is living the kind of life that would provoke the “why” question and thus open the door to a conversation about Jesus.

She is the founder of AZ Communications, a blogger, and TEDx presenter on living with a brain injury as well as adjunct faculty at Champlain University in Vermont where she teaches a course titled, Writing for the Web.

Ann’s Blog     Ann’ TEDx Talk

Enjoy,

Dan

Haiti

I’ve been to third world countries and I’ve seen real poverty. I taught in inner city schools in New Orleans. I’ve worked as a doula helping women give birth and I’ve worked in hospice care supporting dying patients and their families. As both a mother and a person with experience caring for others, I’m unflappable when I’m urinated or vomited on. When the opportunity arose through my church to go to Haiti on a medical mission trip, I eagerly signed up, cool and calm, confident that nothing I saw there would shake me. I should mention that I am a newbie Christian. Yep. I’m a “baby” at the age of 51, having only started following Jesus just over a year ago. This was after a four-decade hiatus. Raised Catholic, I decided to check out of religion somewhere around the age of 10, calling myself a devout atheist for many years. Those details of my departure from Catholicism and return to God many years later are a whole other blog post, but the “new Christian” bit is important here because in all of my previous service work, I was a non-believer. It’s important because looking at Haiti through my new eyes, as a believer, rocked my “baby Christian” world. I was so unprepared for the shake-up of my new faith, that upon my return home from Haiti, I felt guilty that I was doing the mission thing, and maybe even the Christian thing, all wrong. Instead of feeling the love of God, compassion, and changed outlook that many of my colleagues on the trip were reporting, I was angry and anxious and having a challenge processing it all. I didn’t want to write this blog post. I didn’t want to look at my photos from the trip (except the pretty ones). After witnessing real hunger and thirst, I panicked every time I found spoiled food in my fridge. Every time I heard a friend talking about their gluten intolerance or commenting that the Starbucks barista got their soy latte order wrong, I wanted to scream at them to stop whining and then launch into the gory details of hunger in Haiti. “How can the God I’m just getting to know let Haiti be the way it is?” I wondered. This was hardly Christian behavior of me, I decided. I prayed a lot. I cried a lot. And I kept most of it to myself, fearful that I wasn’t doing anything right and that God was not thrilled about my immaturity in my new walk with Him. I was down on myself and down on God.

Our Haiti mission team was comprised of about 50 people from churches nationwide. From my church (in Vermont), there were about 20 people. Although I was not new to serving and helping others in need, this was my first mission with a team of Christians, all with more Christian years under their belts than I had. I felt intimidated when they prayed out loud (I’m reserved by nature and public prayer does not come easily to me), when they spoke eloquently of other mission trips they’d been on, when they sang songs I didn’t know. We were split into three groups. Each day, each group went off in a rickety old school bus loaded up with medical supplies, water and snacks to set up makeshift medical clinics in local communities. My group worked at the Onaville Church in a little town on the side of a mountain just outside Port-au-Prince. Each day when we finished our work, the groups reassembled at the orphanage where we were sleeping. The orphanage was surrounded by a 15 foot cinder block wall all around and guarded by men with rifles. Upon our return each evening, we’d have dinner, worship, and some small group debrief time. A large part of worship involved talking about “God sightings” – ways in which we saw God at work in Haiti in our lives and in the lives of those we were serving. God sightings were the most challenging part of my days in Haiti. I was hard pressed to find God anywhere during that week and I felt embarrassed and inadequate that my colleagues were able to see God everywhere while all I could see were sadness and despair…and an ever increasing challenge to my nascent faith. “How in the world can my colleagues (and the Haitians were were serving) people be so positive and hopeful when all I could see and smell was dust, hunger, and the stench of human waste?” I wondered if I was really cut out to be a Christian and for mission work.

The Onaville Church, where I worked every day with my team, sits on a dusty plot of land amidst a smattering of shacks made of tin where its members live. The closest water source is a lengthy hike from the church and homes. The church itself is nothing more than a cement floor, cinderblock walls, and a tin roof. Its windows are open to the world outside and covered with iron bars. Its doors are made of the same iron bars that allow people to peer in, but not get in when the gates are closed. Its “pews” were cinder blocks stacked up with a board laid across them to make a bench. There were a few rusty folding chairs and tables – they were reserved for special guests. In back of the church, in a separate small building are the toilets, which were just big cinderblock enclosures around open holes in the ground. It became clear to me that this church was indeed a special place to the people who worshipped there. It was the center of activity for Onaville, a gathering place, a healing place, a cool respite from the relentless sun-baked dusty earth. We set up our makeshift clinic with a de-worming station where patients got an anti-parasitic medication a small piece of bread with peanut butter, and a small cup of water. Of course, being Americans who must hydrate and snack constantly, we all had our own bottled water and food, but we were careful not to eat and drink in front of our patients, many of whom were hungry, malnourished, and thirsty. There were a few other stations as well to deal with basic health care issues which in the U.S. were easy to treat, but in Haiti were potentially deadly. The last station in our clinic was the pharmacy station, where we were distributing donated vitamins, ibuprofen, Tylenol cold and allergy medications, some antibiotics, and scabies treatment. There was also a prayer station where we would ask patients who were leaving if we could pray with them.

Wouldn’t you know it – on the first day, I was assigned to the prayer station…remember, I said I am uncomfortable praying out loud? Hey, I’m from New England. We are naturally reserved people and me-even more reserved as a self-conscious newbie who doesn’t know the Christian lingo and Biblical references that everyone else was making. Not to mention, I was praying in English and Haitians speak Creole. I was told I’d be “stretched” during the week, but I’d not bargained for this kind of stretching. I felt like a performer who was about to get booed off the stage at any moment. I was terrified that I’d be singled out as a fraud and sent home. I was stretched, alright, and I could not see any value in my prayers.

After my perceived failure at the prayer station, we had a local dentist come to work with us. We set up a makeshift dental clinic, which consisted of a folding chair for patients, a wobbly table upon which sat a pile of rusty, old dental tools that looked to me like something out of the dark ages and an old fashioned syringe with two needles (yes, you read that right – TWO needles for hundreds of people) for injecting lidocaine to perform extractions. Dental care in the poor parts Haiti consists largely of extracting extremely rotten teeth. I was asked if I wanted to be a dental assistant. No one else was clamoring for the job – it looked terrifying – so I volunteered. I figured I’d been with many women giving birth and that perhaps my experience with teaching deep breathing and relaxation and my fearlessness around blood would be helpful here. I dubbed myself the dental doula. I intend to write more about the details of my dental doula experience separate from this post because it was such a profound and literally gut wrenching experience. I saw teeth so rotten that they were practically liquefied. I saw the two needles being used over and over again on patients having teeth extracted. I saw a lines and lines of people waiting patiently to have teeth extracted while they watched our dentist wrestle with a stubborn wisdom tooth for 50 minutes and then give up on it. I saw tumors and growths in mouths and realized there was nothing we could do about them. I sat behind patients and held their heads as they leaned back in the folding chair and opened their mouths wide. I saw children under 10 with mouths full of rotten teeth. I saw badly infected gums where the infections had traveled beyond the gums. Do you know that an infection in your mouth (or one created when you have scabies and you scratch to the point of breaking the skin and bleeding) can cause death if infection gets into your bloodstream?

I called upon my doula experience and with each head that I held, practiced slow, relaxation breathing – praying that our patients would find comfort in my touch, but now I realize the breathing was more for me than for them. I never saw a tear. I didn’t see any clenched fists, rapid breathing or any signs of anxiety. I simply saw people who were grateful to have a rotten tooth that had likely caused years of pain yanked from their mouths. And I imagined what kind of pain would make a person so eager to open their mouth and have their teeth yanked out under such conditions. With each re-use of the needles, each time a not-so-well cleaned tool entered a new patient’s mouth, I asked myself if we were doing more harm than good. I realized that even if we helped someone feel better just for a few moments by extracting one rotten tooth, it was likely they had few more rotten teeth and a plethora of other non-dental problems. Each time we handed out a dose of Tylenol and antibiotics, I realized that what we were doing was small in the grand scheme of Haiti’s problems.

Outside the dental station, we saw listless dehydrated babies with fevers, malnourished children, tumors and growths that could be cancerous…and all we could do was give Tylenol, vitamins, prayers, and a cup of water. I prayed silently over each patient I came in contact with. Each night upon our return to the orphanage, as everyone shared their God sightings, I grew increasingly disappointed wondering where God was and why I couldn’t spot Him as so many others were. In retrospect, more than a month after my return from Haiti, I am able to look back on my experience and recount my own God sightings. When I became a Christian in late 2012, I wondered where, in the state of Vermont, I would find my people. A dear friend of mine who was with me at the beginning of my walk said, “Don’t worry. The right people will appear.” And here I was in early 2014, surrounded by people from my church and new friends from all over the country and in Haiti who did not judge my fear of praying out loud or my lack of Biblical knowledge because it wasn’t about me. It was about all of us working together for a week to serve. I look back on the experience now and I realize that never, in my professional life, have I never seen a group of people from so many walks of life work together and communicate with each other so beautifully for a single purpose. Never before had my voice and my fears been so unconditionally accepted and valued in a group. I’d found my peeps in the people with whom I served and in the citizens of Onaville. I’d say that’s a pretty good God sighting.

I told you I am not as well-versed in the Bible as I’d like to be, but I’m working on it. As we near Easter, I am struck by the simple words Jesus spoke as he was near death on the cross and how they relate to my experience in Haiti both metaphorically and literally. In John 19:28, Jesus says “I am thirsty” just before he gives his spirit to God. The thirst I saw in Haiti broke my heart and shook my faith. A wise pastor on our mission advised me, “Look for Haiti at home.” I didn’t begin to fully process those words until well after my return, as I recognized that I had been thirsting for a God sighting in a dry and barren land. Even bigger than that, I realized that we are all thirsty. I was thirsty for 40 years – my soul dry like the soil of Haiti.

So, as I continue to write and process in the days that pass between me and my first mission trip, I repeat the words “I am thirsty” to myself daily. I ask myself where I am noticing “thirst” both in myself and in others and I try to offer up a silent prayer for guidance or a “cup” of whatever another may need. I have not fully mastered noticing my own thirst or the thirst of others, but I each day I become more adept at practicing. The more I practice, the more my fledgling faith is strengthened. I know there will be many more “Haiti’s” for me. I am eager to have my own thirst quenched as I grow in my walk with God and to hopefully alleviate the thirst of another by finding a God sighting in every Haiti I encounter.

 

The hashtag, “HotJesus” went viral last week. It all had to do with the Son of God movie that was released to theaters and the physical appearance of actor Diogo Morgado who portrays Jesus. Apparently some people think Morgado is a good-looking guy and said so. That raised the issue of whether or not his physical good looks detracted from the message. On the other side people were saying as long as it gets people to the movie to hear the message, what does it matter. As you may have guessed I have some thoughts on the whole thing.

First this is not new that Jesus in movies is good-looking. In the early 60′s Jeffrey Hunter played Jesus in The King of Kings. He was a Hollywood Hunk at the time. In the 70′s it was Ted Neely in Jesus Christ SuperStar and more recently Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ. Neither of them are ugly men. So why would we be surprised that the latest portrayal by Diogo Morgado is any different. It’s Hollywood. Unless you are a character actor who needs a certain look, chances are you are going to be above average in the good looks department. At least you will be once they make up and airbrush you enough.

Is there a reason to be concerned about the physical portrayal of Jesus? Does it really matter as long as people see the movie and hear the message? Clearly it does. In our overly sexualized culture some folks become way too focused on “HotJesus” and missed the point of the message. Certainly there will be people who go to see the movie because they heard about “HotJesus” and in spite of that they will get the message. But even still there is a reason to be cautious, even concerned with how we portray Jesus. First and foremost is that we have absolutely no description of what Jesus looked like. So any attempt on our part will be pure speculation that is heavily influenced by our own biases. Such portrayals can unintentionally say more about us than they do about Jesus while at the same time telling some people Jesus is not for you. The recent statement by a politician that “Jesus was white” only serves to show the danger. For the record Jesus was a middle eastern Jewish guy. Not exactly a candidate for a Western European Caucasian.

The one statement in Scripture that gives any hint to the physical appearance of the Messiah comes in Isaiah 53:2 which says,

 he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him

In other words, Jesus was very average looking. You wouldn’t pick him out of a crowd because of his looks, good or bad. I am convinced that was by God’s design. Jesus came into the world to be our representative on the Cross. In literary terms he came as an everyman character. He was someone we all could relate to so it would make sense for him to be average looking.

Being average looking was important for another reason. It meant that people were drawn to Jesus not by his physical good looks but by three other more important traits, his unconditional love, his authoritative teaching and his miraculous power. In his love for people Jesus reached out to the sinner and the rejected as well as the religious and social insiders. In all cases they experienced love and personal acceptance while at the same time being told that they were sinners in need of repentance. Jesus showed how to love people welcome them while rejecting their lifestyles and calling them to do the same. That is a skill woefully lacking and needed in today’s world. His teaching was done with such confidence and a sense of authority that when he spoke people marveled and debated and chewed on what he said. The Word of God has the effect. And finally when he healed people, cast out demons, turned water into wine, walked on water and raised the dead, people noticed and they marveled. At no point did his appearance become the topic of discussion. It was all about his message, his love and his power.

Where the follower of Christ must be concerned with portrayals of Jesus is that, as Marshall McLuhan said , “the medium is the message”.  Whatever vehicle one uses to transmit a message will in some way impact the message itself. Radio impacts the message differently from television which is different from a movie which is different from Broadway which is different from a tweet. An ugly Jesus impacts the message differently from “HotJesus” which is different from average looking Jesus. If he came originally as an average looking man then maybe we should be more diligent to see him as such.

Maybe more importantly there is a lesson here on God’s command to not make any images of him. As soon as we make an image of God we confine God to something that cannot contain him and we run the risk of focusing on or even worshipping the image more than God. There is a lesson to be learned from both Islam and Judaism with their connections to Moses. They each forbid any human depiction that may be worshipped or which of necessity would be woefully inadequate, not to mention inappropriate, in its portrayal of deity.  We will never get to that point with Jesus. That ship has sailed. There are more physical depictions of Jesus in art than you could ever count. But that should not keep us from continually moving the conversation away from what Jesus looked like to who Jesus was and is, God come in the flesh, crucified, buried, risen, ascended to the right hand of the Father,the only way of salvation, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and the one who is coming again.