On Monday, June 14th, lightning struck the 62' tall statue of Jesus along Interstate 75 near Monroe, Ohio. The fiberglass and foam statue of Jesus burned down to the ground leaving behind only its steel frame as well as the main church building and the adjacent women's shelter sponsored by the church.
Naturally, the incident has drawn much attention and elicited various kinds of interpretations. On the one hand it has fueled a barrage of sarcastic remarks by those who relish the supposed irony while on the other the episode has served as a reminder to some that Jesus took the place of sinners and bore the judgment that their sin deserved as He died on the cross of Calvary.
But before anyone "sprains a brain muscle" striving to understand how to read the "omens" it would be prudent to consider a few facts. First, and less important, is the fact that this is not the first time a statue of Jesus has been hit by lightning. In 2007 the 33' high statue of Jesus in Golden, Colorado was hit by lightning knocking off an arm, and then in 2008 it struck the world famous 130' high Christ Redeemer statue that stands above Rio De Janeiro causing some minor damage to eyebrows and fingers. Of course, statues of all varieties are hit periodically throughout the world. Does it mean anything when these sorts of things happen? Perhaps it does, but unless one has a specific word from God on the matter, events of that sort will "mean" just about anything the observer wants it to mean. A heart that does not welcome Christ will see this recent event as reinforcement for the rejection of Him. But a heart that is hungry for God will see a profound picture of grace.
"It looks like Jesus took a hit for you last night," said Darlene Bishop of Solid Rock Church to the residents of the home for at-risk women next door who were likely grateful that the house in which they have been living was not damaged or destroyed. This last point is well made because Jesus did indeed "take the hit" for all sinners (including me) who have placed their faith in Him.
But the second fact that we would be wise to remember is that Jesus is not synonymous with the images that we make of Him. We must not confuse symbols of Christianity or even effigies of the Savior with Jesus Himself. It is true that images of the Lord can invoke profound feelings of the immediacy of Christ, but such portrayals of the Lord do not actually bring Him any closer than He already is, nor does the absence of a statue or painting of Him mean that He is any less present than when we set one on a shelf in our living rooms, hang it on the wall in our hallways, or wear one fashioned of gold draped about our throats on fine necklaces.
Maybe there is more than one reason to feel sorrow over one reporter's sarcastic remark that "It appears that God has sacrificed His only Son… again," aside from the overt irreverence. I have no doubt that treating lightly and even jokingly the fact that God gave us so much in His Son is grievously belittling and offensive to the Lord.
But it is also sad that the one who quips so carelessly about a love so wondrous is simply ignorant of the love that God has for him or her and is perilously close to an eternity apart from Him because he or she will simply not humble him or herself to personally receive God's gift of forgiveness and eternal life.
"In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30 NIV).
But, again, the real Person of Jesus is not contained within a statue representing Him along Interstate 75… or in Rio… or in a lovely prayer garden outside a church. One might logically conclude that if "the God Who made the world and everything in it… does not live in temples built by hands" (Acts 17:24), then He does not live in stone, wooden, golden or steel-reinforced fiberglass statues of Jesus either. But if "we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by man's design and skill" (Acts 17:29), just where can we look to find Him?
God's Word tells us that "He is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:27b). In other words, He is here with you right now although your eyes may not see Him and your ears may not hear Him. And He is not only present, He is actively involved in your life, loving you as only God can. He is ready and waiting to intervene in your heartaches, struggles, and sin if you will simply stop trying to live life on your own. The mind of God is so great that He both sees and comprehends even the most remote sub-atomic particle swirling through the apparent endlessness of space, yet the heart of God is so great that He both sees and loves you even if you feel as though you are lost and swirling through an apparent endlessness of pain or meaninglessness.
His love reaches for you because He longs for you to "seek Him and… reach out for Him and find Him" (Acts 17:27). Because God desires that you know Him and find Him as He reveals Himself to the world through Jesus Christ, He urges you to come to Him through faith in His Son which is done not by bowing down to an image of Him, but by receiving Him in your heart and living under His banner of lordship in every facet of every day.