“Mama, I don’t like Jesus.”
From the back seat of the car, this statement came from my young son. My gut clenched.
I wanted to sermonize to him. To tell him why we love Jesus. To explain how important Jesus is. To ensure that I was passing along the lessons from my faith.
I choked back those instincts.
Instead, I said, “What do you mean, honey?”
“The song. I don’t like this song.”
Then, I chuckled. In his young mind, the song by Chris Tomlin, “Jesus”, was long and repetitive. Therefore, boring.
I chose a different song on our playlist and we continued along our day.
The thing is: I knew what Rafa was talking about. I knew that sometimes I wondered if I still liked Jesus.
I’m a classic church kid. Raised in Sunday School, memorized all the Scripture verses, sang in the choir, helped out in the nursery. If it was something at church and it included Jesus – I was there.
It wasn’t just the community that church gave me, either. It was the sense of knowing the right way and following it. As long as I was on this train, I’d be headed straight to Heaven. I didn’t smoke, I didn’t chew, I didn’t run with those that do, as my grandpa liked to rhyme.
It was a tidy faith. I learned how to look like a put-together person. I was nice and clean. I was a part of a group that strove for perfection for God.
But over the years, as I grew older and moved away from my church of origin, things shifted.
I began to engage with other humans, outside of my realm of church. People around me then shared with me their sorrows and losses. I met refugees from war-torn countries, divorced moms, people with incurable sicknesses, and vulnerable children. The reality of what they were feeling and experiencing hit me like a tidal wave hits the sand.
Was the Jesus I thought I knew relevant for the world I was living in?
I wasn’t sure.
When I thought about Jesus, mixed definitions came to mind. The Jesus I knew loved the world but hated smokers. The Jesus I knew died for sins but disapproved of girls who got pregnant before they were married. The Jesus I knew was kind to poor people, but didn’t want anything to do with working mothers. The Jesus I knew saved souls but expected a lot of rule following afterwards.
The Jesus I knew, in short, was not actually the Jesus found in Scripture. He was the Jesus found in the church I grew up in. I’d been confusing two versions of God’s Son.
The God I understood was similar to the God represented in the first part of the story of Noah and the Flood. This angry God wants to destroy all humanity for its wickedness and depravity, saving only one family. Noah had done all the right things in God’s eyes, so he and his family got the ticket to life. Everyone else on earth perished from God’s judgment.
I knew I was constantly not doing all the right things, or following all the rules, or living up to a standard of measurement that I didn’t understand. I understood God’s anger and the idea of punishment. I got it. I also understood the idea of judgment upon other people who weren’t following God’s way.
But, there is a twist at the ending of the Flood story. God says He never again will destroy mankind, no matter how bad it gets. He puts a rainbow in the sky as a promise. He sets up a covenant with Noah and the future generations. This covenant between God and humans foreshadowed Jesus’ coming to earth. Jesus, as the Divine Human—God’s Son, consistently showed that He wanted to be in relationship with people. Jesus the One Who showed up one dark night in Bethlehem.
God on earth, God as human, God with us.
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder a new and glorious morn!”
When I realized I didn’t like Jesus, it was because my view of him had been clouded by my construct of Him. Jesus wasn’t trying to make people more religious and follow rules. He wanted to forgive them, love them, and show them the abundance of life with God the Father.
The writer of the book of Hebrews puts it this way, brilliantly, as translated in the Passion version of the New Testament:
“Jesus became human to fully identify with us. He did this, so that he could experience death and annihilate the effects of the intimidating accuser who holds against us the power of death. Jesus sets free those who live their entire lives in bondage.” -Hebrews 2:14-15
Jesus was not angry at people for sinning. He did not condemn or judge or punish. Instead, He came to change them from the inside out. He healed diseases. He stopped to listen. He grieved with the grieving. He let little children sit on his lap. He was never in a hurry. He was available and open and kind.
He pulled people to Himself in abundant love.
He offered grace and freedom and forgiveness.
This Jesus was the One who compelled me to Him.
This Jesus was the One I could tell everyone of.
This Jesus was the real One, not the man-made version.
He came to set us all free.
That is the Jesus that impacts the world around me, that comes into my every-day life. He meets me in my sin, heals my soul, and stays with me through every hardship. This is the Jesus I’m still following, still amazed by, and thrilled to celebrate this Christmas.
I still chuckle when the song, “Jesus”, starts playing on Rafael’s playlist. I settle back in the driver’s seat while Chris Tomlin bellows out. “Who stands in the fire beside me? Who roars like a lion, Who bled as a lamb, Who carries my healing in His hand?”
What else can I say?
I like Him.
“You can read every fairy tale that was ever written, every
mystery thriller, every ghost story, and you will never find
anything so shocking, so strange, so weird and spellbinding
as the story of the incarnation of the Son of God.”