January 23, 2008


When people ask "Was Jesus God?" they usually think they know what the word g-o-d means and are asking whether we can fit Jesus into that. I regard this as deeply misleading.

N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus

Coordinate two of your right-hand fingers in such a way as to press control and P on your keyboard at the same time, and watch as something marvelous transpires nearby: Your printer will give birth to a piece of paper, the contents of which will bear a remarkable likeness—in many cases, an exact image—to what you first saw on your monitor. Remarkable! Yet it was not always so.

Some of you remember early word processors, with their cryptic style-codes and boorishly plain text on the screen. One never knew what a memo to the boss or a biology term paper would actually look like until it was printed out for inspection. It was possible to go through half a ream of paper before the desired output was secured. But the smart folks at Xerox changed all of that.

Borrowing a throw-away line from comedian Flip Wilson—His drag persona "Geraldine" always explained her curious behavior with "Well, what you see is what you get!"—programmers at Xerox developed WYSIWYG: software that would display on the screen exactly what one would get from the printer. To see one is to see the other; what you see is what you get.

There is a kind of WYSIWYG woven deeply into the New Testament: the bold affirmation that what we see in Jesus of Nazareth is what we "get" in God.

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.
Colossians 1:15, The Message

Just as there is a 1:1 correlation between what you see on your screen and what you get from your printer, we are bold to imagine that there is a 1:1 correlation between Jesus, ensconced in all the particularities of a 1st century Jew, and the living God, eternally universal in the heavens. Colossians teaches us that to see one is to see the other.

Moreover, we are invited to bring our most prized assumptions about God (e.g. God mostly likes my kind of people) as well as those suspicions that are burdensome (e.g. God is probably out to get me) and to lay them at the feet of Jesus for redemption. Like a suited herald at the flap of the circus tent, the New Testament beckons us: "Step right up! Come one, come all! See for yourself! Come and see what Jesus does and says! Come and imagine that this is the living God at work!" Every gospel story, every odd and marvelous encounter between this traveling rabbi and some derelict personality is one more reviewing stand for re-imagining what God is like, for reforming our assumptions about the divine.

Take the laden leper in Mark 1:15-20. "If you choose," he insists, "you can make me clean." As Jesus reaches out to touch him (lepers were considered highly contagious and therefore were isolated from others), we are given a glimpse of a God who daringly reaches across the terrible boundaries of sin and sorrow that isolate us from such quickening grace. As Jesus is "moved with compassion" ("pity" in some translations; even "anger" in a few), we are granted a vision of a God who co-suffers (literally, co-passion) with those who are broken by the afflictions of this world. Finally, as Jesus chooses to exercise his startling power over the brokenness of this man's blistered body, we learn to imagine God's resurrection power setting the world ablaze with Easter newness. Jesus' ministry in the gospels is not merely some meandering excursion of good deeds on the way to his eclipsing death; it is the "image of the invisible God" born out in our midst, the fullness of God "dwelling among us" (Colossians 1:15-20).


I'm coming to believe that the Christian life is basically the daily prayerful vocation of imagining what the world and my life in it might look like if, in fact, what we see in Jesus turned out to be what we get in God. What if the voice of an often silent heaven turned out to sound like Jesus' response? ("I do choose.") What if the underlying fabric of reality was not stitched together from scraps of isolation, hatred, and decay, but instead turned out to be a gracious canopy hemmed together with community, compassion, and (re)creation—these latter three, a vision of God forged from Jesus' simple interaction with a lonely leper. How would we reorganize our congregation if in seeing what Jesus was up to we pictured God as being up to the same? What difference would that make in how (and even if) I roll out of bed each morning to greet another day?

What might be different about my life if I practiced a WYSIWYG Christianity?