Jesus as a Product

It’s a classic scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, one man trying to convince another man he is dead. When this fails, he finally gets the job done himself. Surprisingly, this is an interesting commentary on the system that underlies how many of us “do evangelism” or “tell people about Jesus” today. What underlies our motivation for “telling people about Jesus” is this story: only Jesus can make you truly happy/fulfilled. This is an incredibly meaningful story for people who are not happy/fulfilled and it is incredibly motivating for those who are doing the telling.

But it takes an awkward turn when Christians try to convince someone who is happy/fulfilled without Christ that they aren’t. In other words, our motivation implies that everyone who is not a Christian must necessarily be unhappy or unfulfilled, even if they deny it. And it’s in this awkward encounter that something significant is revealed.

Underneath the seemingly innocent statement: “only Jesus can make you truly happy” is an entire economic system wherein Jesus is a product and we are his advertisement. If we believe that Jesus’ primary purpose is to make us “fulfilled,” satisfied,” or happy,” then our paradigm for the Gospel cannot tolerate someone being truly happy without Jesus. It would render the work of Jesus impotent, the product dysfunctional, and more importantly—if we want to psychologize a bit—our very reason for being Christian is compromised, since we too bought the product from someone else.

So in order to maintain the belief that true happiness/fulfillment only comes from Jesus, we often do two very harmful things. First, we pretend we are happy when we aren’t. After all, if Jesus is the product that gives me happiness and I’m not happy, I have only three choices (1) say the Jesus product is broken (2) user error or (3) pretend I am happy so I can avoid numbers (1) and (2). Secondly, we have to create a need in those who do not feel they have one. We have to either (1) tell everyone how sinful they are or (2) tell everyone how unhappy they are. Only then will be people “discover” that they “need” to “buy” our product. That is, we are arguing with people about whether they are dead yet. . .

But for many this discussion begs the question, “If Jesus doesn’t do something for you, why would anyone want to become a Christian?” And to ask that question is to still be participating in that same economy, to be trapped into posturing Jesus as a product.

But the economy of Jesus is not one that creates need to sell product but that encourages generosity out of abundance, it is not one where Jesus makes you happy/fulfilled but where he makes you faithful. God is not the product, he will not be sold and bought. He will not be named and he will not be tamed. The story is his and we are invited to participate. So why would anyone want to be a Christian? Because we believe it’s a truer story than all the others, though perhaps one of the most absurd.

But, I must admit that perhaps there is a sense in which this is an appropriate way of speaking of Jesus. After all, doesn’t the Bible itself participate in this economy? What’s the difference between talking about a savior who saves us from our sins and a product who makes us happy/fulfilled? I have no idea but it seems to be a fine line indeed. . .

2 responses to “Jesus as a Product

  1. Great post! Jesus never promised us happiness in this life. He actually promised that we would have trouble. Jesus offers us himself. Entering into relationship with him based on ‘what he can do for me’ is the same as marrying someone based on ‘what they can do for me’ and it’s despicable. All it shows is how messed up we are in the way we value others and that all we really care about is ourselves and using others for our own gain. There are benefits to having a relationship with Christ, but those benefits shouldn’t be the main point. When we talk about Jesus to someone it should be natural, like talking about how wonderful a friend is. I don’t say “you should be friends with so-and-so because they’ll make all your dreams come true!” I say “you should be friends with so-and-so because they are faithful and kind, honest and loving, the kind of friend you want around even though sometimes you hurt and they may have nothing to say about to make it better.” And we should stop lying about how “great it is to be a Christian.” It’s death to self daily. We constantly sacrifice our desires for something greater that won’t be fully realized in this earthly life. There’s joy in Christ to be sure, don’t get me wrong. But it’s costly and people should know that up front. It’s not up to us to “save” anyone. God does that. I think putting the thought of “saving” anyone out of our heads is the first step in correcting this terrible paradigm.

    I don’t think we can compare “you must be sad/get yourself some Jesus” to “you are sinful/you need Jesus” though. It seems similar, but it’s not, because one has to do with what Jesus actually promises us and the other doesn’t. Sinfulness has to do with a part of us that we cannot get rid of on our own no matter what. We can’t be forgiven and right with God on our own. People do need to be convinced of their sinfulness nowadays too, I do believe. We’ve worked pretty hard to overcome shame and guilt, though I think that to be a terrible thing. We *should* feel guilt and shame when we do bad things; the main goal of life should *not* be our own personal happiness, but something much better. Although it does make sense that this is the goal for most people, since eternity is rarely talked about. Christ takes it for granted that men are bad. Until a person recognizes that these tendencies to do terrible things are true of them, and that they are bad, they won’t be in a position to really understand the good news of Christ.

  2. I guess it depends on if material wealth makes you happy or not. The big three–sex, power, and money–are things that people think will make them happy, I guess, but I am not sure if people are at rest, without anxiety, putting those on a pedestal that they don’t belong on. In my experience, I have never been able to convince a person that God will make them happy, but I have been able to help people see that He can give you the strength to love no matter what… Thanks for the post…

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