There I was, a one-year-old stranded on a powder blue, crushed velvet couch in my grandmother’s den wearing a puffy, white dress. My mom had left me there while she and my aunts were in the kitchen slaving over a gas stove. The couch I was seated on was surrounded with paintings on every wall. There was one painting that hung on the farthest wall that caught my attention. It was a circular painting of White Jesus. I always wondered about White Jesus. I sat there for a while with my pacifier secured in my mouth, watching the eyes of White Jesus to see if I could trust him.
I took note of all of his features; his eyes were ocean blue, his hair was long and golden, his skin was glowing and he seemed to be very fragile in nature. As a one-year-old, I did not recognize completely who this gentle androgynous figure was; I just knew he looked terrifying.
As I grew older I found that there was a counter figure to the beauty of White Jesus: Black Jesus. For those not acquainted with Black Jesus, he is depicted with chocolate skin, rock-hard abs, black eyes, dreadlocks/braids/afro and, depending on the artist, his wrists are trapped in shackles. Although this is a very ravishing image of Jesus, it is as inaccurate as its White counterpart.
These two depictions of Jesus are not the only ones out there, they are just the most popular. In each and every culture, there is a version of Jesus who physically resembles the people of that culture.
The problem with White Jesus, Black Jesus and every other physical version of Jesus is that they are not biblically, historically or geographically accurate. The Bible actually provides no concrete image of the physical appearance of Jesus. The one scripture that people I know quote about the physical appearance of Jesus the most is in Revelation 1:14-15, when John describes Jesus’ hair like white wool and feet like bronze. This is not meant to be translated as a representation of what Jesus looked like here on earth; it is a figure that John saw in a vision who, he says, is “one like the Son of Man.”
Nevertheless, people have become attached to John’s description as well as other’s obscure descriptions in the Old Testament. I understand the desire that we as Christians want to know what our Savior looks like, but I don’t understand why the images we conjure up appear more like us and not like a man from Jewish descent. Is it that Jesus becomes more relatable to cultures when he resembles their physical characteristics, or is it that we are projecting our own racial issues on the appearance of Jesus?
Having these different images of Jesus helps illustrate that Jesus came to bring freedom to all cultures and not just one. These different depictions show that the kingdom of God is diverse and rich in culture. But I cannot help but think how much more powerful the story of Jesus is when it is read as it is written: a Jewish man who was murdered for the sins of people from all different cultures, including those that were not yet in existence, so they could experience the fullness of his Father.