A Muslim would never dare depict the prophet Mohammed as a cartoon, and yet many of us seem to have no problem treating Jesus with about as much reverence as a buddy in a bar. I’m not trying to come off self-righteous or condemning, but I think we need to consider very carefully what it means if we are OK with treating Jesus in such a casual way.
And it’s more than just internet memes. A shockingly casual view of God pervades much of our church culture today. I believe that this attitude reveals three things about us that we need to take very seriously.
1) Our traditions have become meaningless.
We most commonly see religious-themed memes during Christian holidays (e.g. Christmas and Easter). I find this odd because, if there’s any time we ought to experience a deeper sense of religious reverence, it would be when we commemorate Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection.
For Christians, there are no more significant moments in history than these. Our entire reason for hope hinges on God having intervened in this way. These should be moments of both great joy and deep gratitude. The fact that the Son of God was willing to die for me ought to invoke profound awe: He showed incredible mercy despite my unworthiness.
Christian traditions were intended to represent important times of remembering what God has done. Instead, they have become rituals, polluted by commercialism, and devoid of sincerity and respect. Rather than reflecting on the greatness of our God, we buy stuff, eat food, and post cartoon jokes about Jesus.
For many believers, it seems, Christian traditions have become meaningless.
2) We have conformed to the patterns of this world.
Portraying Jesus as a bro with a toothy grin reveals that we have simply fallen in line with the spirit of our age. Secular culture has completely jettisoned the idea of reverence and respect. Nothing is sacred and anything can be mocked. Concepts like submission and honor are seen as antiquated and puritanical.
The reasons for this can be traced back to the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment. Before this seismic cultural shift, God was at the center and man subject to Him. The Enlightenment moved God out of the picture, making man the focal point. Today, personal autonomy and self-worship are the norm. Traditional institutions are viewed with suspicion and no longer command the respect they once did.
The rise of irreverence in Christian culture is evidence that we have simply capitulated to the prevailing mindset of our day. As followers of Jesus, we need to heed Paul’s warning not to conform to the patterns of our world and instead, by the renewing of our minds, reclaim a proper understanding of who God is.
3) We have a low view of God.
In his book Knowledge of the Holy, AW Tozer wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
If this is true, and I believe it is, then what does the use of irreverent memes reveal about our view of God? I think it shows that we have lost sight of who He is.
The Bible reveals a God who I would not choose to portray so casually.
In Old Testament times, the temple high priests would have ropes tied to their ankles when entering the “holy of holies,” so if they were struck dead, their bodies could be pulled out.
Isaiah experienced the holiness of God and said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)
When John saw Jesus for the first time, he said, “He is the One who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:27)
After recognizing who Jesus was, Peter fell to his knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)
Our view of God is critical because it is the lens through which all else is surveyed. To have a high view of God means taking Him and His word seriously. It means accepting all of who He is, not only His more palatable attributes. We worship the God that is loving and merciful, yet is also holy and just.
A high view of God will lead to an accurate perspective of ourselves. We are of infinite worth and value, but also desperately dependent on Him, sinful, and powerless. To see God for who He is means we are neither impressed with ourselves nor the world, but only with Him.
What we envision when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
AW Tozer says, “Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, ‘What comes into your mind when you think about God?’ we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man.”
If a cartoon Jesus is our answer to that question, then our spiritual future is in great peril.
I am sure that many of you feel that I need to relax. After all, it’s just a joke, and God surely has a sense of humor, right? Of course He does! He is more passionate, more creative, more joyful than we can imagine. Yet this is all the more reason why we need to treat Him with great respect!
Our faith is one of apparent contradictions. This is illustrated in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Have you considered the odd pairing of the words throne and grace? To our modern ears, the idea of a throne fails to convey the full power that the image was meant to convey. We don’t understand the incredible authority and power a throne connoted to the original readers of this passage. In those days, a throne meant absolute and unquestioned power. No one was allowed to approach a throne of an ancient king without an explicit invitation, or they would risk being executed. And yet the writer of Hebrews couples this powerful symbol with the adjective grace, and urges us to approach God’s throne confidently. This is amazing!
It is within this apparent paradox that the secret lies. God is King! He demands our total respect and reverence, and yet at the same time, He calls us His friends, extends His hand, and invites us into an intimate relationship with Him.
To understand and live in light of both is not only good and right, but an indication that we have understood who God is in the first place.