When I looked up the lectionary texts for this Sunday, I thought I had won the blog lottery. Acts 11:1-18 (Peter’s “kill and eat” vision), Psalm 148 (all creation praises God), Revelation 21:1-6 (the new city, where death and pain will be no more), and John 13:31-35 (love as the mark of Christian discipleship). As a person who has spent her entire adulthood navigating the intersection of animal welfare and Christianity, I couldn’t have put together a better grouping of scriptures to use to talk about how our faith ought to impact how we think about and treat God’s other creatures. I’ve written about that a lot. Like, a lot. And there’s still more to say.
But then my favorite gym coach, who isn’t, as far as I know, particularly religious, asked me if I’d read The Shack. I did read it, about ten years ago. I remember quite vividly because it was the first book I read after giving birth. In hindsight, maybe not such a good choice of postpartum reading material. Anyway, my coach liked the depictions of God in the book, the way the persons of the Trinity were portrayed. The idea of God as multifaceted was new to him. And I realized when I read the book, that was a new idea for me, too.
Because I grew up mostly with this Jesus.
Yes, there’s the “classic” Jesus on the right, and Ewan McGregor on the left. McGregor, a Scott, played Jesus in a 2015 film. Not surprising, since of the 42 actors Wikipedia lists as having portrayed Jesus on film, only six are from non-European origins. It’s this two-dimensional Jesus that’s the first to come to mind when I think of an “image of God.” This image is so deeply embedded in my consciousness, in fact, that when I was doing a visualization exercise with my spiritual director, recently, Jesus appeared to me as a curly-haired, blond, California surfer-type.
But of course, Jesus isn’t two-dimensional. He also wasn’t European. And the God who created the whole universe can’t be contained by a single gender or ethnic origin.
And yet, I remember feeling really surprised when I first saw “Forensic Jesus,” an image created by a team of forensic anthropologists.
I wonder how our ideas of what it means to be made in the image of God might affect how we receive and process artistic depictions of God. The following is a collection of some of the images I’ve come across in recent years that have made me pause and wonder, and sometimes to notice and interrogate discomfort.
Can I see the image of God in others, when the others don’t look or act like me?
Can I “image” God to others, when the others don’t look or act like me?
If God is something beyond (and better than) my default “old white man on a mountain,” I wonder how my misperceptions of God might have impacted my ability to see God in refugees, in imprisoned people, in people who smell bad and act weird or do drugs or breed dogs or spank their children or live according to my idea of what the world should be.
What does it mean to see Jesus walk beside a man in a Nazi uniform?
Can I see the risen God in a nightclub, laughing with her friends?
How do these representations of God expand my heart? How can they contribute to furthering my ability to look with compassion on the whole world?
What does it mean for me to take two-dimensional white Jesus off the wall, and replace that with three-dimensional complex Jesus?
About the Author
Sarah is the author of Vegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith (Zondervan, 2016) and Animals Are Not Ours (No, Really, They’re Not): An Evangelical Animal Liberation Theology (Cascade Books, 2016). She spends her days working for CreatureKind, helping Christians put their faith into action. She lives in Eugene with her husband, son, and animal companions and enjoys action movies, black coffee, the daily crossword, and dreaming of her next international journey.