The painting above is The Good Shepherd by Bernhard Plockhorst. I remember a print of this painting, or one just like it, hanging in Fellowship Hall at Redeemer Baptist Church in West Los Angeles, the church I grew up in.
It’s an interesting painting. I didn’t notice when I was a kid, but I can’t help but notice now that Jesus looks awfully, well, German. The setting looks very un-Middle Eastern as well.
Why point this out?
I point this out because it’s not just that a German painter would imagine a Jesus that looks German. It’s not just that a German painter would imagine a German Jesus walking in the German countryside. It’s this: All Theology is Autobiographical.
When you talk about God, or No God, or Whatever, you’re mostly talking about yourself. That is, you’re attempting to ask and attempting to answer the Big Questions about reality, about the universe, and about your place in it, from the perspective of who you are and where you’ve been so far. Who we are and where we’ve been will change over time. You will continue to change until you take your last breath, and what happens after that is unclear.
When men were in charge of telling stories, the heroes in their stories were all men. Bernhard Plockhorst couldn’t help but see Jesus as German, just as Democrats can’t help but see Jesus as a Democrat, and Republicans can’t help but see Jesus as a Republican.
Does this mean that we are creating God? In part, yes, it does. If the God, or the Tao, that can be described is not the eternal God or Tao, and if what we are mostly doing in talking about God is projecting autobiographical human images up into the sky, then we’d do the world a service by being better projectors. Whatever the ground of being actually is, the images of God as a father, creator, maker, potter, judge, king, emperor, etc. are the results of humans using their own world to try to describe the unseen world.
The Christian Bible describes the streets of Heaven as being “paved with gold.” That’s an unappealing image for me. But I’m sure the person who wrote those words thought Golden Streets were as good as things got.
BE A HERO FOR A BETTER US
I belong to the YMCA, and the other day, I was visiting a Y near my in-laws’ house. Over the entrance was this banner:
The Y is a great organization. It boldly declares that all people are welcome there. As I went in to exercise, and as I reflected on this banner, I, as is natural for me, thought about the bold theological statement this banner makes.
To make the world be a better place—to make humanity be a better community—work on making yourself a better human being. I’m not just talking about being healthy and working out at the Y. I’m talking about working on your heart, working on your spirit. As you reduce suffering in your own life, as you reduce reactivity towards others, you will naturally project love and healing on the people around you. And I assure you, you will not be alone as you project a better world.