jumping Jesus

Things got a little weird when we unpacked our nativity scene.

Two and a half years old, our oldest showed little response as we unwrapped Mary and Joseph. But when baby Jesus emerged, his entire face brightened: “Baby Jesus. Baby Jesus!”  He snatched the figurine and cradled it in both palms, scrutinizing. So this was the Jesus person he’d heard so much about. I wondered what he was thinking, how this image of an infant Christ was reshaping earlier impressions.

Within minutes he stood by the couch, raising and lowering the figurine in quick jerks. “Baby Jesus jumping. Baby Jesus jumping on the couch!”  Our nativity had transformed into an action figure playset.

I was a bit concerned. When Passion of the Christ came out, many Christians ignored it, hoping not to become stuck with Mel Gibson’s version of Jesus in their minds. Here was my son, stuck with a puny piece of resin for a Savior. He pointed at the bit of swaddling cloth that covered Jesus’ loins and said, “Jesus has a poopy diaper.”  Was this healthy?

A few days later, reading a nativity book after dinner, we came across the baby Jesus depicted in a manger. My son grew frantic in his chair, demanding to be let down. He ran off, then returned from the living room with the figurine in hand. “Jesus the same?” he asked, holding his open palm next to the page.

Of course they weren’t the same. Beyond the inherent variations between three dimensions and two, complexion, eye color, hair color, facial features, even the swaddling appeared different. Still, it took awhile for my wife and I to comment on these differences – we were too busy staring at our son in awe.

Two and a half years old, and he already got it. Art is interpretation, and no two interpretations are the same.

His understanding of Jesus would be just fine.

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4 Responses to “jumping Jesus”

  1. Howard Says:

    Interesting point. One of the arguments from one particular RB pastor was exactly the concern you raised. I just couldn’t agree although the danger is potential. Nevertheless, is it still a form of Idolatry? That is the question I have wrestled with. Would Jesus really have been against photographs of Himself with the 12 on the day before the Crucifixion?

  2. the forester Says:

    Would Jesus really have been against photographs of Himself with the 12 on the day before the Crucifixion?

    My impression is that He wouldn’t have been. The whole point of the incarnation was access, removing the chasm between man and God — Spirit poured out on all flesh, curtain of the temple torn in two, etc.

    Jesus did, at times, instruct people not to blab about His deeds. But I just can’t imagine Him railing against paparazzi.

  3. RubeRad Says:

    I disagree; I think the divine plan had Jesus spending his incarnate time in a cultural context deprived of photography for a reason. Look at what people do with an “image of jesus” burned into a grilled cheese sandwich — there’s no telling what kind of idolatry would result from an actual photograph!

    I think Ellul’s dichotomy of Image vs. Word is helpful; the incarnation was a suspension of the God-ordained mode of fellowship via Word only, and a preview of the consummation, when we shall see Him face to face. But while Christ is ascended (hidden), I think our faith needs to remain the conviction of things not seen; blessed are we who have not seen, but believe. And photos of Christ would not help that goal. The historical witness that has been recorded in canonical Word is all we need.

    Of course, for those that can’t read yet, that’s a picture-book of a whole ‘nother color …

  4. Sirius Says:

    Ah, art….

    As a Christian artist of that most hated persuasion, fundamentalism [though I jokingly refer to myself as a charismoderate and more soberly as a berean], I’ve had to come to practical grips with the issue of how or if I should ethically portray Jesus. Yes, ethically.

    Visual impression is scientifically proven to have a greater impact on our psyche. Certainly, memories associated with images are harder to repress. Enough psychobabble.

    It’s pretty certain that Jesus was no blonde-haired, blue-eyed, white-robed-with-a-blue-sash stained-glass poster child. Yet [though the hair color has now been changed to brown] who can get such funeral fan images out of their heads when they think of Jesus? In fact, so prevalent are the images of Jesus as the Gentle Shepherd that I fear it has warped our theology. He’s so gentle that many in Christendom cannot honestly see him as the Righteous Judge and Conquering King of prophecy.

    This the true danger of idolatry: transference. Either we come to see the image as god or we come to see God as the image!

    I’ve only drawn Christ once. I was commissioned to do a pen and ink of Him walking on the water. I thought it would be simple enough. All I had to do was draw a Jewish man walking on the water, right? So at first I researched Jewish faces. At one point, I even considered using the haunting face of an actual Holocaust victim I’d seen in a photograph to underscore His association with humanity, suffering and the Jewish people. Then I realized I was looking at it all wrong: I wasn’t just drawing a man walking on the water, but God Incarnate! His ethnicity was important, but how could I show His Godhead? I couldn’t. Any face I gave Him would ultimately underscore His humanity, even if I placed Him walking, perhaps even laughing, on the face of a raging sea.

    In the end, I decided to draw him from behind. You see him walking toward the storm-tossed ship in the midst of the furies, though, oddly, the water seems becalmed where He touches it.

    A cop-out?

    I’ve never thought so.

    Perhaps I’ve only drawn a man from behind, but I know I could never draw the face of God.

    –Sirius Knott

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