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Making God in Our Image

Any god who is mine but not yours, any god concerned with me but not with you, is an idol.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

The first and second commandments in the Bible say:

  1. "You shall have no other God's before me" 
  2. "You shall not make for yourself any graven images"

In the Biblical narrative, 12 chapters after the 10 commandments were given, the Israelites created an Idol. They made a golden calf to worship in place of God. It's tempting to ridicule them. How silly to worship a god that they created themselves! But they actually are not that different from us.

Growing up, I had a picture of Jesus in my room that I looked at a lot. It was an image of Jesus guiding a sailor through a storm. I looked at it frequently because my dad was a sailor, and he had been in some storms. Whenever he was out on the water, and it was stormy outside I would look at this picture and pray for my dad.

I drew comfort by looking at this image. It is the picture of Jesus that I grew up with. Insofar as the picture was a symbol of God, it was a helpful reminder that I could always pray to God to protect my dad.

Yet, as I reflect on this now, I can't help but notice one detail in the painting isn't accurate. Google Jesus and notice how often Jesus is depicted as a white man. As a white kid growing up, that was helpful for me. Jesus was relatable to me, he looked like me.

But sometimes relatability can become harmful, especially if the "relatability" happens at the expense of others. A god for me but not for you can become an idol. 

I posted about this picture a couple of years ago on Facebook and made the point that every culture should have a "relatable" Jesus. I was defending the image of God that I grew up with. But some people disagreed, and I received a thoughtful response from a friend online who said: 

"He was a real person with a real complexion. White Jesus is not Biblical. It was used by white slave masters to propagate a white hero, white savior, white God complex, etc... This was a tool to brainwash them (Slaves) into believing that they were inferior because of skin color."

This perspective helped me change my mind. Imagine if a historically accurate picture of Jesus had always been the standard. It would have been harder for slave owners to beat their slaves if they pictured the people, they were whipping looked like Jesus. 

Another of my friends commented on my post saying:

"As a child, I wanted to be white because I only saw white people in the Bible or in Bible movies. I thought that it was God’s favorite color of people because I never saw anything other than white. It wasn’t until I learned better. I had to eventually stop hating my skin color and learn to love my complexion because of the discovery of TRUTH!"

The fact that so many pictures depict Jesus as a white man. The fact that missionaries used pictures of a white Jesus to spread the gospel, should make us pause and reflect. I ridiculed the Israelites for worshiping a golden calf, but was blinded to the idolatry of worshiping a white Jesus.

God is not a white man. God is not a man. God is love. Any portrayal that is oblivious to this can become idolatry.

In the beginning, God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.




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