In Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller transitions from considering humanity’s “lifeboat” culture to how Jesus fit into this picture while on Earth. The lifeboat theory dictates that the most attractive, most popular, most powerful people win. They reach the top of the social ladder. But Jesus didn’t choose a good-looking body or rich parents with lots of friends in high places. He was born next to livestock and was raised by a father who did manual labor. Miller reflects on how Jesus contradicted our lifeboat ideas and wasn’t who the Jews expected to save them.
Miller summarizes a few important traits of Jesus in a list:
- He believed all people were equal.
- He was ugly.
- He liked to be with people.
- He had no fear of intimacy.
- He was patient.
- He was kind.
- He was God.
- He is I AM.
Each of these traits go against comparing and ranking people in value. Jesus showed everyone has value. Many of the traits Miller points out are often connected to Jesus, except for one. The one that stood out to me, as shallow as it sounds, is that Jesus was ugly. Think about any image you’ve ever seen of Jesus. He’s ruggedly handsome and dressed in a flowing white robe. If you read Isaiah 53:2-3, it describes Jesus as having “nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” He didn’t gather crowds just with his attractive face, unlike our modern celebrities who don’t need talent for us to love them as long as they have good looks. In one of my recent theology classes, another student made the argument that Jesus was short. Miller considers whether we would pay attention to him if Jesus came to us today like he appeared to Israel back then. Probably not.
Today, we have trouble facing the real Jesus. We instead prefer to imagine our own make-believe Jesus, one we wouldn’t mind watching on television or inviting to dinner with our friends. We want an attractive Jesus who doesn’t cause controversy, but that kind of Jesus wouldn’t have been crucified. And then where would we be? With a Savior we like to show off but who otherwise leaves us in our hopeless state just as before.
If we can’t accept Jesus as-is, it only follows that we couldn’t accept his gospel either. Miller moves onto our current treatment of the gospel and connects it back to where he started the book with our love for formulas, step-by-step bullet points of information to give us what we want. Christian tracts and pamphlets used for ministry often condense the Bible’s message into five or six short points, or a small paragraph at the most. But as one friend pointed out to Miller, the Bible doesn’t include these concise ideas as the tracts represent them. They are found throughout the book and hardly summed up in a few words. Miller recognizes the important use tracts like these have in missions around the world, but he still puts forward the question of whether they really can give justice to the beauty and mystery of the gospel. “Perhaps our reduction of these ideas has caused us to miss something,” Miller says. In fact, it often does.
At this point in the book, Miller addresses a topic of many contemporary Christian sources struggling to break through the foundations of tradition to reveal what creation and all history up to Jesus’ resurrection–what the whole Bible–is really about. And even that we like to sum up in one word: relationship. I’ve noticed this trend, if I can call it that, of Christians addressing other Christians about developing a relationship with Jesus, and with God.
To be honest, I don’t remember a time in my faith when I didn’t hear that Christianity was about living with Jesus like you would a parent or spouse, not at all about whether you are a good person. Trying to be a “good person” was hopeless anyway, I heard, because Christians are bad just like everyone else. We are all fallen, broken, diseased. But God knows us, loves us even as we are, and wants us to love him back. He doesn’t want good deeds unless they come along with our hearts. He wants a relationship, not servitude.
Like the other Christians I’ve heard on this topic, Miller feels concerned that our formulas for the gospel cut out the relational aspect. The bullet points sanitize the gospel into objective facts to understand and accept. There’s no allowance for meeting God and falling in love with him. This doesn’t reflect the message Jesus taught. Miller says:
“It seems, rather, that Christ’s parables, Christ’s words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, were designed to bypass the memorization of ideas and cause us to wrestle with a certain need to cling to Him. In other words, a poetic presentation of the gospel of Jesus is more accurate than a set of steps.”
We’ve instead turned the gospel into a sort of formula to get into heaven/have a happy life/look spiritual. We’ve bought into the world’s ideas of what deserves our attention and effort to attain. Isn’t life about getting what we want, what will make us happy? And those things are money, success, and sex, right? That’s not what Jesus tells us. We are not meant to live for the bottom line or to reach the top. The gospel isn’t some step of the ladder to happiness. The gospel is Jesus, who came here to reunite us with God, and being with God is all that matters. Forget everything you’ve absorbed about seeking to earn wealth, power, and medals. Forget about winning the most friends or having the hottest man or woman. It’s not even about getting your college degree, buying a house, and raising a family. That way of life is meaningless compared to the only one who is The Way.
- Searching for God Knows What Part 4: Comparison Living (reviewedthought.wordpress.com)