Thursday, February 9, 2012

What Did Jesus Christ Look Like?

What did Jesus Christ look like?

Well, first of all, he was white, or black, had blue eyes, was skinny and had good hair. He walked around in a white bathrobe with a blue prom sash over his shoulder and wore epic screen-printed tee-shirts and Birkenstock sandals and, evidently, glowed. He carried a lamb around and placed his hand on the tops of little children's heads. I understand He also played baseball and football in the backyard with some of the kids in the 'hood.

If I spend too much time thinking about
the silliness of how Jesus has been depicted over the years, it actually trips me up. If I really pay attention to the way He has been represented by awful paintings, kitschy church stained glass, bad Sunday School flannel-graphs, Christian bookstore coffee mugs or even children's story bible illustrations and the yearly Easter pageants, not to mention on South Park and the movies, I begin to wonder if it could all really be true. Frankly, with Jesuses like this, I don't think I'd want it to be true.

Maybe that's why the Amish forbid any images of Jesus.

Don't get me wrong: doubts are as normal as can be, and any Christian who says he never doubts is either not being honest with you (or himself perhaps) or is not really thinking about it all very much. I mean, what Christianity asks us to believe is that God the Son, Jesus Christ, who was an invisible spirit, took on human form (they call it the Incarnation) and walked the earth for 33 years and then was unjustly murdered, buried, and three days later rose from the dead, returned to heaven for a time and is coming again one day to gather those sinners who have put their saving trust in His death in their place so that they may live with Him, never to be sick or sad, enjoying His Presence forever.

This is asking a lot. And we've piled onto that zillions of caricatures of Him that strain our ability to believe the story.

I was thinking about these things one day when it struck me like a lightning bolt out of a blue sky: yes, we do have these various and often ridiculous caricatures of Him....but if Jesus Christ really did walk the earth 2000 years ago, well, He had to look like something. I mean, if the Incarnation really happened, and God really took on humans skin and bones and blood and hair and everything, well, He obviously would have had some kind of looks. Facial features. Pores. Arm hair. Fingerprints.

This came as kind of a relief to me - to accept that He had looks. We've tried to represent Him, but every single man-made depiction cannot possibly be accurate, since there was no photography two thousand years ago. The only description the bible gives is that He wasn't particularly remarkable looking:

"...he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
   and no beauty that we should desire him." Isaiah 53:2.

It also kind of comes as a relief to not have a detailed description of His appearance. By not having a description of His looks, we are more able to consider His message without distraction. Because the big thing about Jesus isn't his looks, it's His message. The gospel message He brought, the story of freedom for captives of Sin, is so big that it defined history. I know they're changing the way we talk about the division of history, and are now using B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era), but the historical fact is that B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini - the year of our Lord) were in place for fifteen hundred years. All of history hinges on this man who really did walk the earth and revealed what God is like to needy human beings.

Obviously, all of this depends on the story of Jesus as related in the bible. So it begs the question: is the bible a historically trustworthy document? It seems that everything hinges on the answer to that question. Here is a link to a good article about the historicity of the bible.

Anyway, for myself, I just don't want to look at human depictions of Jesus anymore. The only portrait of Him I think I can trust is the character sketch that's given in the bible. It's the only thing that in my gut feels like it has the ring of truth. So maybe the Amish were on to something....

"And the Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:14.


  1. This is great. I particularly liked the collections of pictures you gathered!! haha!! That was great.

    And this is something I never really considered, so, thanks for that!

    And that poor soul on the wire - d'ja think they would have rehearsed that a bit and seen it coming?????

  2. That was me on the wire. Don't you remember Carol?

  3. The wire video is just too much. I had to watch it in silence (because it is late), so I have no idea if the people are singing, laughing, applauding or gasping (will check back again tomorrow morning). So apparently someone felt a "front robe" was the absolute perfect way to resolve the forward bend caused by the climbing harness lift. That guy was like "Aaaaaaargh! I never calculated the spin factor over against the bend factor!! If ONLY!!!"