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Damn That Second Commandment

There is a very old joke wherein on coming down the mountain with the tablets, Moses tells the people he has good news and bad news. “The good news is I got Him down to ten; the bad—adultery is still in.” For one who is a history buff, the bad is not the inclusion of the sixth commandment, but rather the second commandment’s prohibition against graven images. Because of that, our picture of Jesus is woefully incomplete. Indeed, it would not be until 300 years after Jesus’ time that any depiction of the Christ would be attempted.

But it is worse than that. Not only no pictures. No description of the Lord. Moreover, virtually no indication of Jesus’ character. Read the gospels and instances of Jesus having emotion or personality traits are incredibly lacking. He shows anger in the scene with the money changers, fear at the Garden of Gethsemane, but aside from a few instances, the evangelists hide Jesus’ character portrait, in accordance with the Second Commandment.

Clearly from Jesus’ teaching and His good works essential parts of what kind of person He was can be parsed together. Yet intellectually knowing Jesus was a loving person is different than reading emotive words that powerfully convey the message. Moreover the dearth of descriptive terms waters down Jesus’ humanity. Oh sure, it is easy to think of Him as divine. Raising the dead, resurrection, ascending into heaven—all signs of deity and easy to appreciate Jesus as Lord. The divine chews up the human however. All too often our conception of Jesus as a sinless person is underappreciated. “Sure He did not sin—He is God!” Which underscores that overemphasis on Jesus’ divinity and diminishes His humanity.

As much as this world needs divine intervention, we are in desperate need of a role model embodying goodness and decency in the human setting. I am currently writing the novel To the Close of the Age, wherein a scientist from the 21st century time travels back to the seminal moment in history: to see if Jesus truly rose on that first Easter. Put yourself in my fictional scientist’s place. If you were able to go back and see Jesus as a living, breathing person, what would He be like? Would He have a sense of humor? What would make Him happy? Sad? Would He embody all the things that make us human?

It is what I am grappling with as an author and what we all grapple with in trying to decipher a fuller picture of Jesus. All because of that darned Second Commandment. Not that that is all bad. Perhaps the effort to appreciate Jesus in His fullness, the human as well as divine aspects, puts a certain burden on us to be cognizant of these issues and in so doing to live up to the essential message of love that was, and is, at the core of Jesus.

More about my book as it gets closer to publication in a few months. If I fall short of the mark, I guess I can always blame the Second Commandment.

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