BookLog: Where’s Your Jesus Now?
I first came across this book, Where’s Your Jesus Now? by Karen Spears Zacharias, several weeks ago when it appeared as a recommendation for me (based on my past purchases) at Amazon.com. The title hit me like a kick in the gut, for two reasons. First and foremost is the situation with my Dad, who is still in the hospital, facing one medical problem after another.
The second reason is because I still remember vividly being asked that question 20 years ago, when I was a probation officer. A fellow officer’s husband, a DEA agent, had been shot during the arrest of a big-time drug dealer. As he lay in a coma on a hospital bed, his wife looked at me with tears in her eyes and said those words to me: “Where’s your Jesus now?” She wasn’t angry; she wasn’t accusing. She was pleading.
At that time in my life I was a deeply-closeted evangelical and, steeped in the apologetics of Francis Schaeffer and C. S. Lewis, I thought I had all the answers. But even at that time, full as I was of “certainosity,” I knew the only response I could offer my friend and colleague was to embrace her, silently, as she wept into my shoulder. Her husband died a few hours later.
In her book Where’s Your Jesus Now?, Karen Spears Zacharias devotes a whole chapter to “The Religion of Certainosity” – the religion of having of all the answers, of never questioning one’s assumptions, of seeing the world in black and white. Zacharias sees it as one of the dangers that can keep us from experiencing the true presence of God. Like me, Zacharias “used to belong to the herd” of people stricken with certainosity: “We placed a high value on doctrinal creed, foremost in which was the belief that it’s better to be right than redeemed.”
Zacharias gives a list of historical figures who espoused the religion of certainosity: “Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Castro, Osama bin Laden, Dick Cheney – to name a few.” I’m sure her inclusion of Dick Cheney in that list, as well as her sharp but insightful comments about Ann Coulter, will ruffle more than a few conservative feathers. But like so many good writers I’ve been blessed to read this year (Brian McLaren, Marcia Ford, Tom Davis, Peter Rollins, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Chris Seay), she seems to transcend categories of “conservative” and “liberal,” offering insights and opinions usually associated with both (and neither) perspectives.
Zacharias looks at other ways “fear erodes our faith,” including false images of God: “God is not a capitalist wizard. Nor is he a medical magician,” she writes. She offers the new-age hit The Secret as an example of how people relate to a God who is more of a magician than a God.
I could relate to what she writes about those false conceptions of God. During my Dad’s extended hospitalization over the past 3 months, I’ve frequently found myself angry at God. But the God I get mad at is not even a God I believe in. I don’t believe God caused my Dad to get sick. My Dad’s medical problems were started, back in July, by two gallstones that got lodged in his pancreas – not by God. The resulting stress on his body – not God – led to a domino effect with the subsequent heart failure, lung failure, kidney failure, and brain damage.
In the midst of my current “cloud of unknowing” I don’t know from day to day what I do believe about God. But I can resonate with what Zacharias writes:
I only know that when I pray, God hears me. My doubts. My fears. My cries for help. My gratitude. My songs of praise. And even the most inaudible, inarticulate of prayers, he hears. And never once has he said to me, there’s no room for your doubts. Not has he ever suggested that I ought to go about claiming stake to anything – health or money or big screen TVs. The gifts he gives are given out of his good pleasure, not because of who we are, what we believe, what we claim. If there is anything I know for sure about God, it’s that he doesn’t barter in Green Stamps.
Where’s Your Jesus Now? can be difficult to read at times, especially when Zacharias is writing about tragic cases of murder and violence she has covered as a journalist. This is not a theological tome but more of an extended, Anne Lamott-type essay. It’s written in a breezy, conversational style that some might find inappropriate given the subject matter. But I found it engaging. And during those times of darkness over the past 3 months when I could only read novels, not theology, this is the only Christian book I found I could read and relate to. For that I am extremely grateful.