When we reach those sticky parts of the New Testament where Jesus lost his cool and called people names, we still portray him as having a gleam in his eye or as suppressing a kind smile, because Jesus would never be that rude. He wasn’t really mad, says the underlying message. He just raised his voice a little to get everyone’s attention, like a tour guide on a busy street.
I once treated exclamation points that followed expressions such as ‘hypocrites!’ and ‘brood of vipers fit for hell!’ as if they were merely biblical italics. Jesus was emphasising a point – he didn’t actually yell at anyone….Talk about spin. I did a lot of damage for my Saviour.
I created my own sanitised, unauthorised translation, The Nice Guy Bible (NGB), which I continue to see a lot of other guys carrying around. I rewrote some parts and took others out of context to hide from God and from what he really wanted of me. I kept this distortion of Jesus neatly in my mind, the way a Nice Guy feels he should, until it was destroyed by an unusual and unexpected epiphany: Christ’s humour. His blessed sarcasm helped me begin to see how he actually lived and talked, as opposed to how I’d thought. A mental fog lifted. At last my life received a long-needed clarity. I neared the red-hot bonfire of truth, which warmed and saved me. A greater taste for life awakened.
I began to ask questions like: How come when we ask, WWJD?, we almost always assume some form of quiet, mellow response, when he often spoke and behaved in undeniably rugged ways? If Jesus said we are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, why have I heard countless sermons admonishing me to live in innocence – a more gentle virtue – but precious few on how to apply wisdom, a more rough-and-tumble virtue that sometimes requires conflict?
Looking back, I once believed this caricature of ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ because it was what I internalised during well-orchestrated church services designed to make God palatable to contemporary taste buds. I was told, though not in so many words, that the safe and pleasant route is really the best.
The popular fiction that Jesus is the Supreme Nice Guy no longer holds any water for me. Have you seen the bumper sticker that reads ‘Jesus Is My Best Friend?’ Puh-leese. I don’t ask my best friends to forgive me for my sins. I don’t pray to my best friends. I don’t worship my best friends. The Lamb of God is also the Lion of Judah. He is good, but I can’t say he is nice.
From Chapter 1 of No More Christian Nice Guy – when being nice – instead of good – hurts men, women and children, published by Bethany House 2005