Photoshopping Jesus



Aldous Huxley

Sitting along the Gulf, I let the ocean spray and the afternoon reverie wash over me. Lazy thoughts really, drifting like the clouds overhead. Back at home my computer was loaded with projects. One of my hobbies is graphic design; that is, helping others graphically portray or “flesh out” their ideas. Thus Photoshop was on my mind that day at the Gulf.

“The clouds aren’t show-y today. No matter; I can always add more. Photoshop can work wonders with a plain day.”

The wind sent a paper cup tossing across the rocks. That would have to be removed. No trash in my picture.

“Too bad the water isn’t blue. I could make it blue; Photoshop it. It’d be easy to do. I wonder what shade of blue would work? Perhaps some green tinges near the shoreline? Yes. Depth perception is important.”

But leaning back on a sunbaked rock, inhaling the salt and the sea and the irony of that last point, I wondered. Depth perception? Really? Why bother? After all, it is not real. Why go to the trouble of altering reality, only to bother about making it look… well, real?

Why? In a word, perfection.

I call it my “eight pixels of perfection.” By definition, a pixel is really just a small part of a larger design, typically a small square on a camera or computer screen. More pixels allow for greater detail and graphic definition. Since I mainly do print material, my designs run in the multiplied thousands of pixels. Thus, in the grand scheme of things, eight pixels is a proverbial drop in a digital bucket.

But in the moment, those eight pixels. Are. Just. So. Very. Important.

The danger of course, is that, in establishing the art of perfection, we lose the texture of reality. The image doesn’t ring true. There’s a cognitive disarray, an impoverishing enhancement that comforts us with an illusion of perfection without the reality of it.

In his book The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley dealt with the subject of reality and man’s often vehement reaction to it. Describing his experiments with what he called “chemical vacations,” (that is, experiments with mind-altering drugs); he offered this (rather dismal) commentary:

“That humanity at large will ever be able to dispense with Artificial Paradises seems very unlikely. Most men and women lead lives at the worst so painful, at the best so monotonous, poor and limited that the urge to escape, the longing to transcend themselves if only for a few moments, is and has always been one of the principal appetites of the soul.” [1]

But if Huxley missed the cure, he at least recognized the problem. What he craved was an escape—a way out of reality. For him, drugs became the “… comforting darkness of selfhood as a reborn human being, or even as a beast, an unhappy ghost, a denizen of hell. Anything rather than the burning brightness of unmitigated Reality—anything!”[2]

Huxley postulated that mankind shrinks from a too vivid view of reality because it brings forth shadows of the Divine Other. What he wanted was a way back to the Garden—a way to see “as Adam had seen on the morning of his creation—the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence.”[3] But Adam’s eyes were opened and the way back has since been barred (Genesis 3:24). Huxley forgot that Adam too needed an escape (Genesis 3:8-10). Yet fallen Adam had a hope that Huxley never saw: the Incarnation.

The incarnation of Christ was the immersion of God in the misery of man. It is Immanuel, God with us. God made flesh—fully God and fully man—hurting for us, healing us, and ultimately transcending our pain for, Christ offers us “the hope of eternal life, where there will be no pain or suffering, no tears or tragedy (Rev. 21:4) [and] the certainty that the cries of the sufferer do not go unheard. The sufferings of Jesus Christ, God incarnate, who suffered and died for our redemption, make this great hope and assurance available to all who accept His offer of salvation (Heb. 4:15–16; 12:1–2).[4]

Where Huxley sought an escape from the pain of reality; the Incarnation made the pain of reality the very prerequisite of our redemption (Hebrews 2:10–15). So you see, in the end it does no good to cover our eyes with a hand-stitched hope (Genesis 3:7). In the end it’s nothing more than a way to try and reclaim an old patch of lost Eden; our way of listening to the echoes, of reconstructing something our eyes have never seen. But that’s not life. It’s certainly not reality. Life is hard. Life is full of scars and garbage and murky waters churned by storms.

Lots of storms.

“The Fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery,” it’s true; but our humanity, our fallen-ness, our brokenness –far from being repulsive to Him, has been made the very condition whereby we must come (John 7:37; Matthew 12:28). He was despised so that we might be loved. He was broken that we might be healed. He was abandoned that we might be abandoned no more (Isaiah 53:2-6; Hebrews 4:14-16). In the Incarnation, Christ was made one of us. Fully God, He was yet fully man. Wrinkles, tanlines and the toll of the years would have been part of His world too. Would I have Photoshopped one wrinkle from His magnificent face? And if so, why would I do it? To mimic perfection?

(Irreverant thoughts, these.)

Would I dissolve the laugh lines that marked the moments of divine joy? And the frown lines carved by love and grief over their sin and mine? Would I rid the world of those too?

For that matter, would I dare to Photoshop the people of God—the Body of Christ as it exists now? The dirty masses. The vulgar appendages of the poor and needy and terribly ignorant? What about the outright annoying believers? Seriously, wouldn’t the Church look oh so much better if we cropped a little here and shaded a little more there?

In a word? No.

“This is the most remarkable achievement of the Christian world picture: that it could take slaves, cripples, imbeciles, the simple and the mighty, and make them all secure heroes, simply by taking a step back from this world into another dimension of things, the dimension called heaven.”[5]

This is the triumph of the Incarnation.

In an indescribable moment, mercy split eternity as the hammer hit the nails, we know; but the nails that pierced the hands of Deity also pierced the callouses of His Incarnation — hands, hardened by service and love and an honest day’s labor. Could I, were I there, change that? Would I do it now? Would anyone dare to breathe the word “imperfection” in the presence of such battle-scarred love?

He carries His scars still (John 19:37; John 20:24-29; Rev. 1:7).

And He bids us too, to take up the common, ordinary implements of His incarnation: dusty feet and a basin, a towel (John 13:13-17) and some nails, and of course that old cross (John 9:23). He calls us to follow Him all the way to Calvary. The walk that bridged eternity. For me. For you.


[1] Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell (HarperCollins e-books, 2009), location 599.

[2]Ibid.,

location 501.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Gary Stewart, Basic Questions on Suicide and Euthanasia: Are They Ever Right?, BioBasics series (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 42.

[5] Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death, 1st ed. (Free Press, 2007), location 159.