By Carol Harper
Author of Through the Eye of a Needle
Have you wandered recently through a Christian bookstore, amazed at the plethora of items that are being sold? I have. Sure, there are books and Bibles, yes—but wait, there’s more! Jewelry, cross pendants, rosary beads, angel figurines, Jesusfigurines, nightlights, prayer rocks, CDs, DVDs, Bible covers, furniture throws, tapestries, t-shirts, music boxes, toys and games, scripture plaques, picture frames and wall decorations, collectors’ plates and spoons, coffee mugs, key chains, kitchenware, clocks, candles and candleholders, even brass door knockers, and…get this: chocolate bars in scripture wrappers!
I passed a clearance table filled seasonal novelty items, and I suddenly had this ironic, overwhelming urge to take the tablecloth and pull everything onto the floor. However, I resisted my random compulsion and scurried out the door—but not before I bought a chocolate bar for $1.95 that read: “Be still and know that I am God”. Okay, okay…message received.
As I walked into the parking lot, I noticed that my van didn’t have a fish emblem or “Jesus Loves You” bumper sticker. Could’ve bought one, I guess. I didn’t have rosary beads or a crucifix hanging from my rear view mirror, either. Could’ve bought one of those, too. My Bible doesn’t have a fancy leather cover with colored pencil holders—the cardboard edges are pretty frayed and worn out, many pages dog-eared and torn. I didn’t have the latest Contemporary Christian or gospel CD to slide into the stereo. But somehow, I didn’t feel left out. I’m still a Christian; I’m still a disciple of Jesus, minus the John 3:16 cross-stitched wall hanging that could have reminded me every day that I was. And as I pulled out of the parking lot I was grateful that I didn’t do something that day that would have warranted a security escort through doors that read: “God Bless You, Come Again.”
When the Lord God of Israel said, “Thou shalt have no graven images…” (Exodus 20: 4, 22) I wonder if that just meant totem poles, golden calves (or angels with trumpets on the top of steeples facing due East), or soapstone-carved faces with rings in their noses and tongues sticking out. But what really constitutes an “idol”, and do you think Jesus wants to be worshipped like one? Do you think He ever did? I think of all the beautiful, inspiring Medieval and Renaissance paintings of Jesus, of Mary the “Madonna” and her holy Infant. Depictions as a fair youth or conquering king…or as a man in white robes with dark, shoulder-length hair, a beard and mustache (exhibiting, of course, an interpreted rabbinical appearance). There are so many renditions through the centuries that I’m sure the “Papal-razzi” had a heyday in guessing the Lord’s image. Or I wonder if Jesus has been better represented as a more modern, dramatic “Holy-wood” star-type icon.
“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,
And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Matthew 21: 11-13)
There were no photo ops for Jesus and John the Baptist and the heavenly dove. There were no press releases sent out announcing His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. There were no courthouse renderings being hurriedly sketched while Jesus stood before Pilate, awaiting sentence. There were no commemorative stamps, coins minted, figurines crafted, or crucifixes forged that would facilitate a remembrance of the event, nor even differentiate His disciples in a crowd. And just as well, because obviously both Jerusalem and Rome didn’t need any dead giveaways (no pun intended) ascertaining whom the “Jesus-believers” were, either.
No, what we have is all we’ve ever needed: His Word. Thank God for the scribes of the Gospels and for the Bible canon that has miraculously made it through the centuries—even through the dark times when Christianity was (and is) its own worst enemy. And before we all get too comfortable, there may again come a time where identifying ourselves as Christian would not necessarily be such a brilliant idea. Think about a world where the only identifying factor that you’re a Jesus- believer is that His name is written upon your heart. Think of a world where there is nothing but your faith to sustain you—no idols to cling to, no beads to clutch, no candles to light, no prayers to recite, no secret handshakes or rituals to perform, no “scripture of the day” calendar. Could you from your own memory, with eyes closed, tongue silent, remember His parables, miracles and teachings—healing words that would give you peace in an angry, turbulent, troubled world? Would you know where to find those words in that $4.95 quilt-covered mini-Bible, or from the one you picked up in the hotel room marked “Placed by the Gideons”?
I wonder why human beings have this innate need to package an Infinite God into an idol, a religion or an idea, when they’re all just distractions from where the true focus should be. I know that there are probably a vast number of people who see nothing wrong with erecting monuments, sculpting statues, busts or figurines of saints, pioneers and martyrs. Hey, one has to make a living, so why not market Jesus to the masses? How else is the message going to get out there? And what’s wrong with making memorials and tributes to remember the sacrifices made by the righteous, selfless Christians that went before us?
I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it. There is only one Sacrifice that matters, that you’ll ever need to remember in this life and forever. And that great and last Sacrifice comes in the package of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. And I don’t mean that in a pompous, dogmatic “you have to believe this or you’ll go to hell” type of way. I’m saying it in a “wake up, this is the most amazing gift the world has ever been given” type of way. I’m talking about grace, and you cannot buy it online, “as seen on TV”, in a circular insert in the Sunday paper, nor even on that clearance table at the local Christian superstore. You won’t find it in a painting at the Louvre, in a statue at an LDS Visitor’s Center, or a ritual in a temple ceremony. It’s not in that vial of healing water you bought from the televangelist you saw on a late-night infomercial sermon. It’s not in a scripture-bound chocolate bar, or on a trendy t-shirt that exudes an “I’m a Jesus-freak” fashion statement.
When temples built by human hands begin to crumble, when tapestries fade, paintings crack, and little idols are lost, stolen or broken…when the money’s gone, when nothing else is working, nothing else seems to matter, no one seems to care…when there’s nothing left in the world but the sound of your breath and your heart beating in your chest, remember:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16, underline added).
The only thing we’ve ever needed—the only thing we’ve ever had to do—was to believe in Him. Because that is all He has ever asked of us. You can take His Word for it.