The Color of Preaching

What we need is to return to a biblical theology of the church, right worship, and right preaching.

Strangely, for all the problems the New Testament addresses, it yet brings the people of God (culturally divided as they were) into one church to participate in one worship service to the one triune God. The gospel was the bridge that transcended barriers.

 

What color is God? This is a strange question, but one that many have wrestled with through history, especially as it relates to the subject of social justice and the church (an issue that is becoming increasingly important—particularly among millennials).

Having recently finished preaching through the entire book of Exodus, it is striking to me that for all that the Israelites and Moses saw, they never saw God’s face. If there were ever a time when God might have given his people an artistic depiction of himself, this would have been the time. A painting of God might have looked lovely in the tabernacle. However, God never gave Moses any instructions for depicting God in any particular way; in fact, God strictly forbade it. As John Calvin would later say, our hearts are idol factories, and the Israelites would surely have worshiped the image of God rather than God himself—if God had given them such an image.

All the “images” that God positively gave Israel were means of grace to point to God’s redemptive work in the covenant, not to a physical description of his person. The Bible does not depict God as being white, black, or any other color. In short, the God of Israel does not “have a body like men,” as the children’s catechism rightly states.

When Jesus came, it is equally striking that he never sat down to have his portrait painted (and yes, they had artists back then). The apostles never gave us a picture of Jesus. We are not told how tall he was, whether he was heavy or thin, the color of his eyes or skin—anything. Though the New Testament does not give us a physical depiction of Jesus, his image is sweetly expressed through his Word and sacrament, and through his redeemed people as we walk in his ways.

For this reason, pictures of Jesus have always puzzled me—because they all tend to look like the artists who painted them. Sometimes Jesus is depicted as having wavy blond hair and blue eyes. This is pretty poor history, but it again reflects exactly what Calvin said: our hearts are idol factories, and it is our constant inclination to conform God to our image. We all want “our own personal Jesus” (to quote a great 80s song). I have seen “white Jesus” in white churches and “black Jesus” in African American churches, and I can’t help but wonder if anyone sees the self-reflective narcissism in this. The contemporary zeal to recast Jesus into our image lies somewhere between the pragmatic idolatry of the golden calf in Exodus 32 and the postmodern narcissism of our day. Whatever Jesus looked like, he did a pretty good job of keeping it a secret.

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