By Anthony Casperson
If a comic book superhero has been around long enough, you’ll usually notice that their personality has a tendency to change. Sometimes it’s the subtle change of a small quirk going away. On occasion, the change will be a little bigger, like a shift of what their main driving force is. You might also notice an increase or decrease of certain powers. But then, there are times when the change is a lot more of a big deal. Like a total personality shift, where they’re almost unrecognizable.
These changes often happen when a new writer steps up as lead of the comic book. Maybe the change needed to happen because the exact story they wanted to tell didn’t have room for some old idiosyncrasy of the character. Or the new writer didn’t like something about the previous writer’s preferences.
A couple of other more-controversial reasons for the changes also exist. One is that the new writer has some sociological/political soapbox which they try to force into the comic book where there had been no existing connection. And another is that the writer decides to place a self-insert into the book, making the character an idealized version of themselves. Basically turning the character into a re-skinned clone of the writer’s personal opinions and system of beliefs.
Any of these changes can be met with resistance from the audience as they claim a distortion of the character. And those latter examples prove the claimant’s point much more than the others.
However, it’s not just comic book superheroes where people step up to portray someone in a method that drastically shifts the person’s character. One such place comes up when we speak about Jesus.
There seem to be as many different portrayals of Jesus as there are people who consider him. We especially see the differences when people on opposing sides of a disagreement try to show how he would be on their side. (And I’m sure I don’t need to get into instances of this for you to think of one.)
Some people will point out that Jesus gives one command to his followers: love one another. (Though they tend to leave out the rest of it (“as I have loved you”), which he explains in the next two verses as laying down his life for his friends who obey his commands. But that’s beside my point.) While others will point out that Jesus spoke more about hell than any other topic, thus indicating that judgement and condemnation of unrepentant sinners was a major talking point of the God-man.
Then, you’ll find people who emphasize that he accepted people and ate with tax collectors and “sinners.” But others will point out that Jesus always called people to go and sin no more, meaning that there was some sense of change assumed in the acceptance. And even more will show that he stood in stark contrast with the self-righteous individuals who thought that they knew everything and had no room to grow with regard to their system of beliefs.
I could go on with more caricaturizations, but will stop there.
And I used that word “caricaturization” on purpose. When we only emphasize a small handful of Jesus’ teachings, we’re distorting his character for our own purpose. To prove our point, or make us feel justified.
The truth is that the God-man who enfleshed himself in humanity is much more multidimensional than most of us give him credit. As a real person who existed on this planet, he’s much more like us than even a comic book superhero. There’s a nuance to the place on the spectrum that any one of us falls. So, how much more do you think that’s true of our Creator?
We’re not comic book authors facing a decision about how to portray a character for the best use of our desired stories. Rather, we followers of Jesus are those who should desire to shift our own perspectives more toward his, not the other way around.
And honestly, if the version of Jesus we follow doesn’t challenge our beliefs and actions in some way, then maybe the one we’re trying to go after is just a self-insert. A more-Palestinian clone of our own system of beliefs.
So, is the Jesus that we follow a caricature of the few parts of Jesus that we like? Or do we follow the real Jesus whose character won’t change from writer to writer? The answer to that question might just make a difference in our lives.