We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Just Plain Wrong

The wallpaper to the left presents a disturbing, theologically ignorant portrayal of Christ as a steely-eyed warrior doing battle toe-to-toe with the devil.  It is a dualistic vision of reality in which good and evil stand in stark and clearly differentiated contrast to one another.  Good is good.  Evil is evil.  Never the 'twain shall meet.  Jesus, just to cap things off, is clearly a north European—smooth-skinned but tough at that.  The picture says little about Jesus and much about one of our world's popular takes on him.  He is Jesus the Cold War Warrior.


At the very core of the biblical portrait of  Christ esp. in the four gospels, is the messiah who would not be a warrior and did not lead God's army into Jerusalem.  He did not go toe-to-toe with the devil but, rather, refused to play the devil's game (see Matthew 4:1-11).  He was not a tough guy, and he certainly was not a northern European Cold War Warrior.  The problem with the dualism portrayed in this picture, furthermore, is that the world is not neatly divided between the green pastures of paradise and a hell of molten lava.  The real world we live in is at once beautiful and polluted, home to gorgeous song birds and countless hordes of stinging, biting insects.  It is us at our best and us at our worst.  The world assumed by the picture, that is, doesn't exist except as an ideological breeding ground for prejudice and injustice.  This wallpaper, in sum, denies a core spiritual truth of the Christian faith, which is that we gain resurrection not through arm wrestling with evil but by learning to transform it through non-resistance, beginning with our own hearts and heads.  We are not called to go off to war but to come home to peace.

As popular a vision of Christ as it may be in some circles, then, this portrait of Jesus arm wrestling with the devil is unbiblical, unrealistic, and unfaithful to Christ himself.  It is just plain wrong.