We’ve all seen at least one, at least if you’re a Christian. But if you’re a non-believer, you may have crossed paths with one or two of these. Either way, you know what I’m talking about: “Jesus Movies.”
I have nothing against them. They are often a fantastic tool for spreading the gospel, bringing salvation to those who cannot read. But they occasionally ignore one point: Jesus’ personality. And for good reason. I believe that Jesus is one of the hardest roles for a human actor to play because of the hypostatic union.
The hypostatic union, simply put, is Jesus-as-a-human’s state of being simultaneously fully God and fully human. It’s a concept that a lot of theologians struggle with, and one I do not approach without my Bible and a dose of ibuprofen within reach.
How does this theological term fit into portraying Jesus in film and TV? Well, how can a fully human actor portray someone who is fully God and fully human? Answer: you can’t. As such, there are two ways Jesus is shown. In this part, I’ll look at the first: Jesus as being God.
[In criticizing these adaptations, I do not deny that Jesus is God and that he died for our sins. I wholeheartedly believe that.]
This is a common approach. In fact, every adaptation of Jesus that comes to my mind shows him at least with God-like powers, notably turning water into wine and walking on water. Even the ones that parody Christ acknowledge his deific power.
The problem I have with these adaptations is that Jesus comes across as, for lack of a better term, emotionally dead. You have Jesus walk into a room with a demon in it, and he’s just too chill. He walks into the temple, and even as he’s tossing tables over, he’s just too chill. He goes up to Gethsemane to pray, and…do I need to say it again?
I understand that God and Jesus are patient and forgiving, but there are Scriptural records of him showing very human emotions. Sadness in John 11, righteous anger in Matthew 15:1-21 and 21:12-13, despair in Matthew 23:13-39, and others. Blame it on my “literary interpretation” of the Bible, but it’s hard to read verses like Matthew 4:10 in the dry monotone that Jesus films often employ. Our God is an awesome, all-powerful deity, but he is also an emotional one.
Other than a lack of present emotion, there’s little I can say against these films. They’re not all bad, but they’re not all good. There are the low-budget cheesy ones, and there are the big budget ones. Not all of them can be Passion of the Christ.
Personally, I see this as the more theologically sound extreme. I will unpack the other extreme this Monday (the 11th) some time in the morning.