Guest Author: Rachel Gorman
It took me most of my adolescence to truly meet Jesus—bad decisions, misdirection, lies and chaos followed me through high school and college. It wasn’t until the end of college that I could say I truly wanted to know Jesus. During this time I read Philip Yancey’s excellent book The Jesus I Never Knew. I’ll never forget reading about what he describes as the “flannel board Jesus.” (Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 85). Somehow, I’d missed actually seeing the true character of Jesus for the first twenty-one years of my life. I only saw the flannel board Jesus, packaged neatly for Sunday school—one dimensional and flat. What kind of hope is there in a story without a hero?
Looking back, I think I would have admitted that this version of Jesus wasn’t someone I really wanted to know or spend time with—and definitely not follow or obey. A flannel board Jesus is boring. A flannel board Jesus is weak. There’s no hope with this type of character. No hero to be found. But then I read these words I’ll never forget: “Two words one could never think of applying to the Jesus of the Gospels: boring and predictable. How is it then that the church has tamed such a character—has, in Dorothy Sayers’ words, ‘very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.’” (Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 23)
With those words the flannel board was beginning to fade, and I was starting to see the Lion of the Gospels. Jesus is not weak. Jesus is not predictable. Jesus is not tame. Jesus is not boring. Jesus is Aslan, the powerful and kind lion in the Chronicles of Narnia books. That was someone I wanted to know. The hero of the story was beginning to take shape.
As I began this journey to put away the flannel board Jesus and know the real Jesus, I still struggled to understand which parts of me and my personality were acceptable. As a Christian, was I allowed strength and femininity? Was I allowed to feel bold and gentle? I was trapped by these thoughts—I was too much and never enough. The world with its misconceptions, and often other Christians, dictated how I should act and what I should feel. Always too much. Always never enough. Since all expectations contradicted each other, I was at a loss.
It was when I discovered these powerful words by Dorothy Sayers, in her book Are Women Human?, that I started to finally feel free. Accepted. Wanted. She said,
“Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man—there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.” (Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human?, 68).
As I read these words, my confusion began to dissipate, and I started to see clearly for the first time. Here was my hero. The Jesus Sayers describes, the real Jesus of the Gospels, pulled at all my misconceptions about myself, my world, and Jesus himself. Sayers’ words simultaneously did two very powerful things for me: First, I’m not the only woman to feel this dichotomy between who I am and who the world tells me I should be. And second, here is a man I want to know, here is the Jesus who accepts me, frees me, and puts my fears and insecurities to rest. I can trust this man.
Whoever you are, no matter how you grew up, what you’ve experienced, what kind of hope you’re longing for, or situation you need fixed—I believe we are all looking for hope. The longer I’m alive and the more people I begin to truly know, I’m realizing every one of us has experienced sadness, longing, and loneliness. Even if it’s hidden and no one else knows—not one of us is exempt. We long for hope.
And because we know Jesus,—because we know the hero, and much more importantly, because he knows us!—we are gifted the very hope for which we search. This is the hope promised in God’s Word: that God keeps His promises, that we are not alone. And that we can find our hope in the Scriptures through Jesus. I love theses verses in Hebrews, “We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us.” (Hebrews 6:18-20, MSG)
Maybe you’re like me, always feeling too much and not enough, or maybe you’ve always understood your place in the world. Maybe you grew up knowing Jesus as a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional hero, or maybe you’re longing to put away the Sunday School flannel board and meet the lion, Jesus. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19, NIV) Our souls are anchored. Our hearts are secure. No matter the storm, we are tethered to the very Hope that sets us free. We have Jesus, we have the Lion, we have the Hero. All is not lost.
Adapted for this blog post from God’s Wisdom for Women by Patricia Miller and Rachel Gorman.