A Tale of Two Tales

…two Tales about Jesus, that is.

For those involved in homeschooling (especially of the “classical” variety), antique educational materials have a certain cachet — a certain stamp of authority. It is with such an expectation that I approached Charles Dickens’ The Life of Our Lord: Written for His Children During the Years 1846 to 1849. I was shocked to find nothing inside but liberal moralism. As evidence, I pick two extraordinary quotes from the plethora available. On page 2, Dickens has the angels announcing to the shepherds:

There is a child born to-day in the city of Bethlehem near here, who will grow up to be so good that God will love Him as His own Son.

What? I thought Jesus was co-eternally the Son of the Father! On the last page of the book, Dickens defines Christianity thusly (his own capitalization):

Remember! — It is Christianity TO DO GOOD always… If we do this, and remember the life and lessons of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and try to act up to them, we may confidently hope that God will forgive us our sins and mistakes, and enable us to live and die in peace.

So the ground of or forgiveness is the sincerity of our effort?

Some might argue that little kids can’t handle and don’t need doctrinal details. To that I would say; as I read this book to my kids (at least the first few chapters before I gave up), every page or so I had to stop and add qualifications or corrections. Those additional words I used were understood by my kids, so I’m sure they would have been understood by Dickens’ kids, and he obviously had the artistic skill to write them better than I could say them.

And so it was with the taste of Dickens in my mouth that I was awaiting The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones (no relation) which Aunt Barb had said she was sending the boys for Christmas — eagerly awaiting, because Barb knows books. Instead of trying to express how much better this book is by talking about it, it would be much simpler to just give a big, juicy quote from the first story:

Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.

Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.

No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne — everything — to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come to true in real life!

You see, the best thing about this Story is — it’s true.

There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle — the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

And this is no ordinary baby. This is the Child upon whom everything would depend. This is the Child who would one day — but wait. Our story starts where all good stories start. Right at the very beginning…

See, now you want to buy a copy and read it to your kids!

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16 Responses

  1. I want a copy, and I don’t even have kids!

  2. You can thank a young blogging Christian mom, a friend of Ellen’s through UNC connections, for the recommendation. (This Classical Life–she has lots of Refomed folk links.) However, I am all about the “Big Picture;” the way I teach many of my SS classes or give my talks is to relate the particular to the overarching Biblical narrative. So naturally I fell in love with the story Bible. I think I gave away 11 of them this Christmas but I missed two important little gals (as Karen reminded me), so I will get another one or two when I’m in GR next week. BTW, it was in the running of Amazon’s best illustrated book of 2007 but I don’t know the results of the customer voting.

  3. That’s the problem with un-Inspired texts… you have to look at them critically before you know if they’re any good. :)

  4. HORRIBLE bastardization of the Christmas story by Dickens. Ugh… I guess he took all of his liberal notions with him to the text. That’s the problem with having a grid we place over the Scripture. Let the Bible speak for itself.

    On another tangental note, we had quite a dustup in a Sunday night Bible class over whether or not angels sing. I simply mentioned that the text doesn’t say that, and, BAM, people went nuts trying to defend their favorite Christmas carols. Now, they may indeed, sing, but the text doesn’t say that.

  5. Rube,

    I did want one, until I saw pictures of Jesus… BOO!!!

    E

  6. You mean you didn’t like the picture of Jesus, or you object to any picture of Jesus? I dunno, I empathize with our Sunday School’s policy of pictures allowed in the 2-3 Y.O. class, but not in 4-5, when children are expected to start reading.

    ‘bino, that’s interesting. I am quite surprised there is no singing mentioned in Revelations or Isaiah or other depictions of angels in God’s throne room.

  7. My Mom emailed me this verse in Revelation 5:13

    Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!

    I guess this would include angels, but I need to study the Greek here again to be sure.

  8. Yup, “singing” can also be translated, “saying”, or “crying out”. Seems we still have our problem.

  9. No graving images of the God-graven Image?

  10. Rube,

    He-he, so funny all the aghast attention things like Harry Potter and Golden Compass get when classic lit obscures the Gospel so directly. Even so, I’d encourage you to not give up on classic literature so quickly: I am of the mind that we must fear less and engage more (and not always as pseudo-apologists or evangelists).

    I am almost done reading Llyod-Jones’s book to my girls (it accompanies our catechism). From time to time, I re-read that “big, juicy” quote again.

    I am getting a nice chuckle over your Dickens experience. Seems it helps make my point that no matter what form of education one chooses, there will always be some measure of correction a parent must do from time to time–that is what it means to live in the world, even when “insulated” in Christian day schools, “classical” models, etc. There is no such thing as a “stamp of approval.”

    Here’s to lower views of education and higher views of the ordination of (believing and un-) parents alone to nurture and shape young souls. Warning: it may lead one to see that unbelieving marriages and families are 100% complete (I love taking that shot, bro!)

    Zrim

  11. Rube et al,

    There is a simple syllogism involved in understanding whether or not images of Jesus can be used.

    The second commandment forbids worshiping God (the one true God) through the use of images. So for example, the golden calf that Aaron made, calling it the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, that was exactly what was forbidden. (For those of you advanced students of theology, this is where we get the regulative principle.) So anyway, making images of GOD is prohibited. Using images in worship is prohibited. Deut 4 makes this very explicit.

    So making images of God is prohibited.

    Jesus = God

    Therefore, making images of Jesus is prohibited.

    Here’s why. If you make an image of Jesus, that is an image of God. Now you might wonder what’s wrong with that. Well, it’s contrary to God’s explicit commands in Scripture, that’s what’s wrong with it. But what is the reason for the command?

    The reason for the command can be easily understood. I’m not a “because I said so” type. I always want to understand the reason. It’s true, we are bound to obey God even when we don’t understand the reason. If Adam and Eve had known that, we wouldn’t be in the mess of sin we are now. We are bound to obey whether the command makes sense or not. Submit first, understand later. Nonetheless, we are sinful, so understanding the commandment helps to motivate us to obedience.

    So why this command? Well, simply put, God wants to be the one who is in charge of how he is revealed to us. He wants to be the one to shape our conceptions of him. And his revelation of himself is his Word. His Word alone comes from him. That’s all we have that he has given us for revealing himself.

    So if we draw a picture of God, what happens? Well, our own imagination shapes how we conceive of God. God has not given us a picture of him to reveal himself. And Deut 4 makes it quite clear that God has not and will not reveal himself through an image, but through his Word. Oh, alright, I’ll quote it for you.

    Deut. 4:15 “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth.

    So the context is that Moses is talking to the people of Israel. He’s telling them to be sure to remember that they ONLY heard the voice of God, but SAW NO FORM. Moses is saying that this is very important, and that they are never to try to make an image of God. Ok, that’s the point.

    So the problem with images is that God IS NOT part of the creation. He is different from anything we’ve ever SEEN or can see. We can only see creation. We can only see people and animals, plants, etc. We cannot see God.

    “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:18 ESV)

    Of course the only God who is at the Father’s side refers to Christ Jesus, the one who is being talked about in John 1, who reveals the Father.

    So if we make an image, it is necessarily of something in the creation, because that’s all we’ve ever seen. That’s all we can comprehend. We cannot comprehend things that are not of the creation. We cannot really comprehend things like “infinity” or what it means to transcend time and space. That just doesn’t compute in our brains. We can only understand it as the opposite of something we DO understand, but we still don’t really get it. Anyway, when we talk about God, we really only understand what he is NOT. He is NOT part of the creation. He is NOT bound by time and space, he is not limited, he is not created, he does NOT exist according to some law of nature, he is NOT dependent on anyone, he is NOT bound by any law, he is NOT in submission to anyone or any thing, he does NOT have a beginning.

    This is how we must understand God. He is NOT part of the creation. So if we make an image of him that resembles – necessarily – that creation, then we necessarily fail to comprehend him properly, because we should absolutely NOT be thinking of the creation when we think of God, we should be thinking of how he is NOT LIKE creation.

    But now we come to Jesus. Do the same rules apply? Yes, they do. They apply because Jesus is God. Now, it’s true that God became a man. God clothed himself in flesh, entered time, and laid down his life for us. Very true.

    But where in the Bible do we have a physical description of Jesus? What color were his eyes? How long was his hair? Was he fat? Was he skinny?

    What if Jesus were fat? Do you think in today’s culture that anyone would conceive of the SINLESS ONE as being overweight? But what if he was “overweight”? Yet every picture you ever see of him, he’s in perfect shape; very thin. Go to any Roman church and you’ll see him hanging there on the cross, so thin you can see his rib cage. It’s almost an ascetic Jesus. But what if he was overweight? If he was overweight, then all the images of Jesus that portray him as thin are idolatrous and wrong.

    Because if Jesus was overweight, then it cannot be a sin to be overweight. Yet if he was overweight, and we make a picture of a skinny Jesus, then we are saying that we are offended at the idea of Jesus being overweight. We are saying that the overweight Jesus offends us, so we make him skinny. But if he really WAS overweight, then when we make him skinny, we have CHANGED him. We have made him into something other than what he was. And that means that we are accusing him of wrong. Because if we make a picture of a skinny Jesus, but he was really overweight, then we are saying that Jesus surely WASN’T overweight, because everyone knows that being overweight is sinful, and Jesus wasn’t sinful. But if he was overweight, then that means we think he’s actually a sinner, which he wasn’t. But if he was a sinner, he’s of no value to us. So if we accuse him of sin, then he is of no value to us.

    Look, if Jesus was skinny, then there’s no problem with the skinny Jesus. But if he was overweight, if we DEPICT him as skinny, then we are accusing him of sin and he is of no value to us.

    What if he had really long hair? Should we depict him as having short hair? Didn’t Paul say that a man shouldn’t have long hair? What if Jesus did, and Paul had some other reason for saying what he did? Or what if Jesus had short hair, but we depict him as having long hair? There are a lot of pictures of Jesus out there with shoulder length, relatively long hair. But Paul seems to suggest that this is shameful for a man. Does that mean sinful?

    1Cor. 11:14 Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him,

    Is “disgrace” a way of saying that the man is sinful, acting contrary to nature? But did Jesus have long hair or short? I suppose he kept it short, but how does that compare to our understanding of “short”?

    This is a delicate thing. How should Jesus have dressed at the time? Was there a certain Jewish thing he had to wear, where a failure to do so would have been considered sinful at the time? Would Jesus have worn it if it was a man made law? I don’t think there’s any law in the OT about certain markings on the clothes or whatever, but I think the Pharisees dressed in a certain way, adding to the law. So did wearing your clothes a certain way measure your piety? How would Jesus have dressed?

    Was he naked on the cross, or did he have a loin cloth? If he had a loin cloth, but you depict him as being naked, are you sinning by being pornographic? Or if he was naked on the cross, aren’t you doing away with the shame of the cross when you depict him as wearing a loin cloth? Don’t you make his experience less shameful than it was? And if he was naked on the cross, is it appropriate to have a picture of a naked man in church? Is that really wise?

    And does Scripture answer these questions? No. It doesn’t.

    Because we don’t know the answer to these questions, no matter HOW you depict Jesus, you run the risk of depicting him sinfully. Any image of Jesus is an image of God. This is a picture of someone we worship. It is a picture of an object of worship, and that is clearly prohibited.

    Scripture makes it clear that we are not to make images for the purpose of depicting an object of worship. We are not to worship images. Period. And that doesn’t only mean you can’t bow down in front of the picture.

    So it’s prohibited. No images allowed.

  12. Echo_ohcE:

    Not to mention so many images of Jesus as Caucasian when he was born in the Middle East… what an absurd ethnocentricity! But, of course, your points about weight and hair length can be applied to any physical attribute.

    I think that, even if we were able to make a perfect physical image of Jesus (say, hypothetically, that someone invents a time machine and goes back with a camera), God would not want us to have or display it. Even if were sure that we weren’t running the risk of imperfect representation, making an image that we can set before ourselves robs Him of His Deity.

    Fashioning something in physical space to represent any aspect of the Godhead gives us the opportunity to confuse Him with the image we have made. And if we begin to think of God as “the picture over the mantel” or even “the cross necklace with a sculpted Jesus,” we can begin to feel that in some sense we understand or can control Him. Who fears a painting or any immobile work of art? Anything that can dull the sense of fear and reverence for ourselves or for others is an obstruction to God’s relationship with His church.

  13. Sorry, that last sentence wasn’t clear. I was referring to the fear and reverence of God that exists in ourselves and others.

  14. OK, so what if you’re a missionary who has stumbled on a “new” people group with a totally unknown language. There are sticks, and there is dirt. Are you allowed to scratch stick figures to try to communicate the gospel story? Or do you have to wait to tell them about Jesus until you have mastered enough of their language that you can do it with just words?

    Aren’t our 2- and 3-year-olds just miniature, illiterate natives that need to be taught about Jesus? It’s (arguably) not possible with just words. (And this brings us back to the argument against EP: if we are commanded to sing, but not given tunes, then we can infer that we need to just do the best we can figure out)

  15. OK, I am bifurcating this thread. All discussion of depictions of Jesus in children’s storybooks and Sunday School materials is fair game. The larger question of images of Christ is moving to a new post

  16. […] A Tale of Two Tales […]

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