Friday, 29 June 2012

Jesus' face 'appears on Chinese restaurant'

Jesus' face has a habit of turning up in interesting places.

This week it was spotted (right) on the crumbling wall of a Chinese restaurant in Sunderland.

This is just the latest in a series of such public appearances. 

Here are a few of the most famous:
In 1976, he was photographed by a satellite on the surface of Mars:

During the 1990s he showed up on a grilled cheese sandwich, which didn't display any signs of decay for a decade and then fetched $28,000 on eBay:

A couple of years ago he kindly manifest himself in this student's frying pan. 

2010 actually turned out to be a busy year for Jesus, as he also ensured he would be visible on Google Earth by appearing in this Hungarian field:

The strangest thing of all about the appearances of Jesus' face is that I've never met a single Christian who would consider them authentic. And, having spent most of my adult life in Christian ministry, I've met an awful lot of Christians. All believe in the miraculous, but none would take seriously the idea that Jesus is on some kind of sneaky underground PR campaign by which he chooses to emblazon obscure objects with his image - or, at least, with a crude copy of the supposed image of him from the Turin Shroud.

Maybe you have actually met someone who is deeply touched by such appearances. They must exist because somebody paid thousands of dollars for the sacred cheese sandwich. But whoever these people are, they are still a very tiny minority of Christians.

So, why do these stories keep on hitting the headlines?

Maybe it's partly because they perfectly fulfill the news media's need for a regular diet of stories about eccentric oddballs to satisfy the readers and viewers. We all enjoy reports about women who marry the Eifel Tower or pipe-smoking dogs who hustle baseball fans for money. It's the same thing with reading about the two drunk men who first photographed the Sunderland face of Jesus - it amuses us.

There's no reason, then, to react to the stories about Jesus' face with accusations that the media is part of some conspiracy to paint Christians as silly. When you are a journalist pressed for time, a Jesus sandwich is an easy path to an entertaining article. There is unlikely to be any animosity intended.

Even if there is no ill-will behind the stories, however, they do tap into - and also fuel - a widespread assumption that people trust in Jesus because of 'blind faith' and that they are desperately hoping some evidence might appear to support their hope-against-hope clinging to the possibility that all they believe might be real. So baseless is their faith, these stories seem to suggest, that even a vaguely bearded pattern in the cooking oil will send Christians into rapturous celebration.

Yet, we don't follow Jesus in spite of the evidence, but because we there is compelling evidence to support his existence, his claims, his resurrection from the dead, and the reality of his work in people's lives today. Faith and critical thinking are friends and not enemies.

But stories like those about people seeing Jesus' face in odd places are part of a popular narrative in which faith is for people who refuse to think and choose to 'just believe'.

As philosopher Dallas Willard has written:

"Serious and thoughtful Christians today... are urged to treat their central beliefs as something other than knowledge - something, in fact, far short of knowledge. These beliefs are to be relegated to the categories of sincere opinion, emotion, blind commitment, or behavior traditional for their social group."

Most people currently trying to follow Jesus in Europe have felt this 'urging' described by Willard. Even if we don't go as far as to mentally categorize our beliefs as mere 'sincere opinion', we can very easily fail to challenge that perception in others.

The temptation when we read yet another story about Jesus' face (or similar topics) is to simply roll our eyes and - in conversation with friends - to agree that the woman with the cheese sandwich is just imagining it all.

But maybe we could do more than laugh with others at these news stories, or tear our hair out in frustration. Perhaps, after agreeing that they are absurd incidents, we could take the opportunity to ask our friends what kind of evidence - if any - for Jesus they might find convincing. Doing so could lead to some interesting conversations about the many good reasons for trusting Jesus which have nothing to do with restaurant walls, planetary craters or uneaten sandwiches.

1 comment:

  1. And let's not forget the charming episode of Glee featuring "Grilled Cheesus", along with the resident 'bullied fabulous gay kid' stereotype getting to put forth Russell's Teapot as an argument for atheism, while a room full of purported believers can't come up with any more cogent counter-argument than to sing "What if God Was One of Us?"