Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Missing Essential - His Personality

I have had multiple conversations with friends and people I adore over the last year. Each person had their own heartache that I longed to remove for them. But I know I can't, so I would ask them: "Have you given this to Jesus? Have you surrendered your life to Him in prayer?" The response to my questions have been surprisingly the same, "I don't feel like I can do that." 

As I have pondered on why...what would stop someone from giving their life totally over to the Lord? The answer became clear:

They don't know Jesus. 

They worship Him, they know about Him, but they don't know Him.

I know...because that had also been my story.

Years ago I was reading the scriptures and praying. I was trying to understand why God appeared to be so conflicting sometimes. I prayed and said to Him, "Lord, you are confusing." I heard a clear and totally unexpected response: "That is because you judge Me. You judge Me based on your perceptions of Me. Your perceptions come from listening to others construction of who they believe I am and from your life's perspective which alters your ability to see Me clearly. Ask Me to teach you about Me. Ask Me to show you who I AM."

Mosiah 5: 
13 For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart? 
3 Nephi 14: 
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heave; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. 
22 Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works? 
23 And then will I profess unto them: I never knew you; departfrom me, ye that work iniquity.
For the remainder of this post I am going to share an excerpt from a book I love by a Christian author. I'll tell you the book title later, for now, just consider this authors point of view:


Email and texting have gotten me into a lot of trouble.

The reason is simple - those who receive my electronic missives cannot hear my tone of voice or see the expression on my face as they interpret my words. A very dangerous vacuum. Disembodied words have a way of being haunted. Too many times I've sent along something intended as playful, but without that twinkle in my eye or the slight grin on my face so essential to understanding my intentions, the reader has taken the playful comment seriously and been hurt by it. Sometimes I have intended a word of correction - but it was dashed off in a hurry, and again, without the smile and reassuring tone of voice so essential to convey my heart, the message came across as harsh. 

This is the vacuum many of us bring to the four Gospels. 

Without Jesus' tone of voice, what was in his eyes, the lift of an eyebrow, a suppressed smile, a tilt of the head, an unflinching gaze, we misinterpret a great deal of what we find there. Reading the Gospels without the personality of Jesus is like watching television with the sound turned off. You get a very dry, two-dimensional person doing strange, undecipherable things. 

What comes to mind when you think of Jesus? It might be good to stop and do an inventory. Is Jesus near - or far? Is he close at hand, right here at your elbow, or distant and engaged in loftier things? Does he have a sense of humor? What words would you use to describe him? If you gathered the many books on Jesus and combed them for the words used most often to describe him, you can guess beforehand what you would get: loving and compassionate.

Beautiful qualities are certainly true of Jesus. But two-dimensional. Especially when we color these virtues with religious tones. Love turns sickly sweet and compassion soft and limp. How is it possible to genuinely and consistently love anything so two-dimensional? Loving and compassionate - it's like trying to love a get-well card.

Personality is what makes someone someone.

You simply cannot love Lincoln or Charlemagne like you love your closest and dearest friend. Though historic figures may be admirable, you cannot love them because you do not know them. They are far too removed from your personal experience to win or sustain your true love. Actual experiences of their personalities is something no one ever really gets. But when it comes to friends, family, lovers, we love them because of who they are -- because of their personality. My goodness, we love our pets because of their personalities!

Last May I had the opportunity, while in London, to visit the National Gallery. Loving art, and being with two of my sons -- one of whom is an art major -- I was excited to spend hours there. I loved the Van Gogh, the Monet, the Rembrandt paintings and more. But there was one massive disappointment. No, it was more than disappointment. Massive frustration. I did not see one portrait of Christ, in all the famous works of him, that came anywhere close to depicting Jesus as he really is. Not one. They are all of a wispy, pale Jesus, looking haunted, a ghostlike figure floating along through life making strange gestures and undecipherable statements. 

The Nativity scenes were particularly ridiculous. The classic art depicting the infant - themes now repeated on Christmas cards and in the creche scenes displayed in churches and on suburban coffee tables - portrays a rather mature baby, very white, radiantly clean as no baby is ever clean, arms outstretched to reassure the nervous adults around him, intelligent, without need, halo glowing, conscious with an adult consciousness. Superbaby. This infant clearly never pooped his diapers. He looks ready to take up the prime ministership.

Why did this make me angry?

It's a little ironic that in a sophisticated visual age like ours we still cling to a two-dimensional Jesus. Everyone talks about his "great acts of humility, faith, and compassion." What about his great acts of playfulness, or cunning? What about his brilliance, his wit, his irreverence, the scandalous freedom with which Jesus lives, his exasperation and impatience? Not to mention his humanity; we have nearly forgotten he was a man. Your hamster seems to have a more fully developed personality than most portraits of Jesus.

Furthermore, the loss of personality confounds our imitation of Christ. What happens is, all Christian churches seize upon one or two of his virtues as the essence of Christ for us to follow. Justice. Mercy. Righteousness. Whichever. You cannot live a life on one quality more than you can speak intelligently using one word. Meanwhile, we continue to sound on about the love and compassion of Jesus, like the village idiot banging one note on a piano. After a while the world turns away. Can you blame them? Alas - if only Jesus' followers shared his personality.

Sunlight on water.
Songbirds in a forest.
Desert sands under moonlight.
Vineyards just before harvest.

These all share something in common - they reflect the heart of a particular artist. They are his masterpieces, his expression and his gift to us. The artist's name is Jesus. Something else lies in common between these treasures and Jesus as well - words on a page cannot compare to a personal experience. Sailing the ocean on a bright morning with the wind in your face, wandering under a forest canopy while sunlight filters down, lying on warm dunes beneath a full moon watching shooting stars, driving in the lush beauty of vineyards on a hillside in early autumn - these experiences are far closer to what it is actually like to experience Jesus than mere talk of him could ever be. More words about Jesus are helpful only if they bring us to an experience of him.

We don't need further speculation or debate. We need Jesus himself. And you can have him. Really. You can experience Jesus intimately. You were meant to. For despite the vandalizing of Jesus Christ by the world, he is still alive and very much himself. Though nowadays it takes a bit of uncovering to know him as he is. A simple prayer, at the outset, will loose encounters like a landslide:

Jesus, I ask for you. For the real you.

For to have Jesus, really have him, is to have the greatest treasure in all worlds. 

And to love Jesus - that is to settle the first question of human existence. Of your existence. Everything else flows from there. 

Now, loving Jesus will not be a problem when you know him as he truly is. So that is the place to begin, for some of us, to return to after a long wandering. We have quite an adventure before us, and the greatest treasure in the world to recover as our own. It will help to keep close the simplest of prayers:

Jesus, I ask you for you. For the real you.

If you pray and get a 'yes' on reading this book - it's called "Beautiful Outlaw" by John Eldredge.

No comments:

Post a Comment