There’s a famous scene from the film “Dogma:” On the church steps, a cardinal unveils a statue of Jesus, rebranded as a winking, relatable “Buddy Christ.” It’s funny because it’s true, right? We’re told to be made in the image of Christ, but Christians are prone to remake Jesus in their image. In Victorian times, a soft-focus, bearded Jesus ambled through daylilies. During the Cold War, we turned on “turn-the-other-cheek” Jesus in favor of a patriotic version whose theology conveniently lined up with Truman’s foreign policy. “John Wayne Jesus” has been making headlines recently, as new books and podcasts relay the damage done when Jesus is forced into the mold of a hyper-masculine authoritarian warrior.
New children’s books and Bibles are challenging all of us to ask: What if Jesus is more than you can imagine and not what you expect? What if God is bigger than our stereotypes? What if it’s ok to ask questions about who Jesus is?
What if God is bigger than our stereotypes?
Children’s authors are emphasizing God’s qualities that are 100% biblical, but typically feminine. In 2022, Beaming Books is releasing “Mother God,” a look at the feminine descriptions of God from scripture. Inside, readers will encounter God as biblical writers portrayed her—as protective mother hen, strong woman in labor, and nursing mother. Flyaway Books offers Franz Hubner’s “God’s Coming to Visit,” asking what happens when God appears in surprising ways. That is God’s style, after all.
Christians also imagine that their enemies are God’s enemies. Yet Jesus calls us to love people we are culturally conditioned to despise. Maybe we all need this fresh look at a Good Samaritan story. In “Who is My Neighbor?” by Amy-Jill Levine & Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, it’s the Blues and the Yellows who don’t mix. Will we be the kind of people who love despite crusty old hatreds? I hope so.
What if it’s ok to ask questions about Jesus?
As a child, I wanted to ask why Jesus told confusing parables or why he healed some people and not others. But I had a nagging feeling that questioning details about Bible stories or Jesus meant I was a bad Christian. We even sang a VBS song along the lines of “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” as if things were that conveniently simple. But God is big enough for our questions!
WaterBrook & Multnomah’s God Gave Us the Bible storybook anticipates and asks the kind of hard questions kids ask, like “why didn’t God simply put a fence around the tree with the forbidden fruit?” (Fair question, right?) Tyndale House recently published “The Big Book of Bible Questions.” The Celebrate Wonder Bible Storybook from Abingdon Press retells 150 Bible stories in a simple way, prompting children to ask questions, imagine, and wonder. And on the cover Jesus wears a pink sash, because…why not?
In God’s upside down kingdom, royalty sleeps in a manger, the poor are blessed, two fish feed thousands, and the greatest is a servant. The Bible asks us to reimagine the world, to re-examine our ideas of God, to wonder at the strangeness and beauty of it all. And since it’s a world where little children lead, maybe children’s books can hold our hands as we are shaped by God and discover what this surprising Jesus we worship is like.