A few years ago, it was popular for some Christians to wear wristbands with the initials WWJD on them. The letters stood for the question, “What would Jesus do?” The question is probably a good one. But it seems to assume that what Jesus would do is always evident to us. This isn’t always the case. In fact, the question the disciples asked more often than not was a very different one. Instead of wanting to know what Jesus would do, they asked, “Why did Jesus do that?” The disciples were often puzzled by Jesus. They were as confused by His actions as they were by His teaching.
In the April issue of Christianity Today Scott McKnight writes of an exercise he does in his course on Jesus of Nazareth. On the opening day of class he gives students a standardized psychological test divided into two parts. On the first part the students describe Jesus’ personality. On the second they compare their own.
“The test is not about right or wrong answers, nor is it designed to help students understand Jesus” McKnight explains. “Instead, if given to enough people, the test will reveal that we all think Jesus is like us. Introverts think Jesus is introverted, for example, and, on the basis of the same questions, extroverts think Jesus is extroverted.” According to McKnight, this is something we all do. “If the test were given to a random sample of adults, the results would be measurably similar. To one degree or another, we all conform Jesus to our own image.”
After reading McKnight’s article, I was reminded again of how little we know from Scripture about Jesus’ personality. The Gospel writers emphasize the person of Christ but not his personality. I do not mean that they portray him as someone without a personality. They tell us that Jesus wept, was grieved and grew angry (Mark 3:5; 14:33; Luke 12:50; John 11:35). They also give evidence of Jesus’ interest in the marginal people of his day–women, children, the poor, the despised and sinners (Matt. 9:20-22; 19:13-14; Luke 5:30; 21:2-3). But the picture we find of Jesus in the Gospels lacks the kind of chatty detail and color commentary that are a stock feature of modern biography and talk show confessions.
What does this mean for us? Certainly, as Scott McKnight points out, this creates the possibility that we will try to conform Jesus to our own image. But it also provides God the opportunity to display the reality of Christ through a variety of personalities. Maybe this is what Gerard Manley Hopkins meant when he wrote:
I say more, the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is –
Christ – for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.