Shayne Looper: Mistaking a caricature for the real thing
Political cartoonists must love President Donald Trump: He is so easy to caricature. It only takes a few swipes of the pencil, the outline of a hairstyle, and everyone knows they are looking at Donald Trump.
Of course, every president gets caricatured. President Barack Obama was pictured with a prominent brow and gigantic ears, while Presdient George W. Bush was sketched with close-set eyes and jumbo ears. President Bill Clinton’s nose was oversized, President Jimmy Carter had big lips, President Ronald Reagan a goofy smile, and President Richard Nixon a ski-jump nose. (Okay, President Nixon really had a ski-jump nose.) The point is that every president gets caricatured.
Now imagine someone who has never seen an actual photograph of President Trump. They only know the man from his caricatures — the pointed hair, sagging jowls and arched brows. How likely would it be for them to recognize the real President Trump if they sat next to him in a restaurant or followed his foursome on the 18th hole?
He almost certainly would not recognize the president, even though he had seen a thousand caricatures of him. By exaggerating a trait to the point of absurdity — Trump’s hair or Nixon’s nose — caricatures are readily identifiable in a way that real people, with their nuanced manners and fine distinctions, are not.
Of course, it is not just a president’s looks that get caricatured: So do his policies. A few swipes of a political columnist’s pen can caricature a president’s position on an issue as quickly as a cartoonist can caricature his face — and can be just as absurd.
Unfortunately, what happens in politics also happens in theology. Presidents are not the only ones who get caricatured: God does too. Only with God, people may not realize they are looking at a caricature. Thinking some ridiculous depiction of God to be realistic, they reject him, even though they would not recognize the real God if they sat next to him in a restaurant or followed his threesome on the 18th hole.
When God did rub elbows with humans in the person of his Son, most people didn’t know who he was. The Bible says, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” The world expected him to look like his caricature.
In political cartoons, President Trump has pointed hair and President Obama big ears, but how is God caricatured? How do the theological equivalents of political cartoons depict God?
First, there is the angry God caricature. His eyes could bore holes right through a person. Are those clouds behind him or is that steam coming from his ears? The angry God is always mad at someone.
Then there is the killjoy God, who always wears a permanent scowl. His eyes “go to and fro throughout the whole earth,” to misquote the Bible, looking for someone having fun — so he can put a stop to it.
Next is the distant God. He is usually not pictured at all — he’s too far away. Instead, he is symbolized by a light shining through clouds in some distant heaven, reminding us that he is far away and uninvolved. We’re just fooling ourselves if we think the distant God is going to help us.
The accountant God is a common caricature. He wears a visor and spends his day bent over his desk, tallying the sins and virtues of his employees (his creatures) as they appear in the accounts receivable column. This God never whistles while he works. His lips are pursed.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous caricature is the Our-Grandfather-In-Heaven one. This is the old man God, who sits on a throne, presumably because he is too tired to stand up. The Our-Grandfather-In-Heaven God is neither angry nor dour; he just wants his little ones to be happy. He passes out blessings like grandpa passes out Life Savers.
The trouble with these theological caricatures is that otherwise intelligent people confuse them with the true God. When they discard the ridiculous parodies, as they should, they mistakenly think they are done with God. The truth is they haven’t even begun.
— Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County, Michigan. Read more at shaynelooper.com.