The Jesus Who Affirms Our Goodness


Woman stands outdoors with her arms stretched sideways and her eyes are closed. Text reads "If whiteness is about telling people that they are not good enough... then Jesus is definitely not white. Nicole Joshua"

Trigger warning: Mention of sexual abuse

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Full transcript:

The older I’m getting and the more I’m moving toward a faith that is more my own, the more the passage in John that says, “I am the way, the truth and the life” is becoming much more significant for me. I feel that in some ways that verse can help me navigate the challenges around dismantling any kind of mess around who Jesus is. 

Let me begin by sharing first the picture of Jesus I was given for many years before I entered my theological studies. Jesus was kind of given to me as a magic talisman. In Genesis 3, we read that a crisis happened. The traditional interpretation of that crisis is that suddenly we went from being good to being bad, that there is an intrinsic evil inside of all of us. And in order to be loved by God, that evil needs to be taken away. That evil needs to be done away with. So if I say the sinner’s prayer, then this magic talisman of Jesus’ blood suddenly washes all the evil away and now I’m good enough again and God can love me. 

Now this is an easy story for me to believe because it matched the shame narrative that has been unconsciously shaping my life for most part until last year October, when I came to a revelation of just how deep-seeded the shame narrative is in my life, and how it has shaped so many of my choices I have made in my life. 

The shame narrative says: I am an intrinsically bad person, and in order for me to be a good person, I need to do stuff. I need to be helpful. I need to be brilliant, I need to be hard working. I need to be available whenever people need me. It was all about external validation. Jesus kind of perfectly fit that;  there was an external validation that I was receiving that would suddenly make me feel good. 

But I don’t believe that anymore. The more I reflect on that simple line that says,”I am the way, the truth and the life,” the more I was starting to develop a very different picture of who Jesus is. It is a picture that in many ways decenters Jesus from the story a little bit, and shifts the focus more on God. 

This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot since my theological studies because Jesus is very centered in the Christian faith. But to such an extent that an entire new religion has been developed around Jesus, and I don’t think that is what he came to do. I don’t think Jesus came to start a new religion. I think he came to point us to the truth. 

When I think about Jesus as the way, I think that a Jesus who is God-clothed in flesh. Jesus is the way to restore or remind us of the goodness that has been placed within us right from when we were born. The flesh is not evil. Humanity — who I am — is not intrinsically evil, but it is good. And by God taking upon God’s self —  flesh — God is saying flesh is good. The material world — there is goodness in it. There is beauty in it because God deemed it good enough to become us, without us needing for us to do anything first. Right from the get-go, we are good. 

Jesus is the way. He shows us that because God became flesh, flesh is good. There is goodness in it. 

When I return to the core of the shame, the origin of woundedness — which was I was sexually abused as a child — when those narratives play in my head that [says] I am bad, I am evil, that there’s something wrong with my flesh because I asked for it, because my body wanted the gratification (the sexual gratification), then I have to remind myself that the truth is that I did not ask for it. I was groomed. The truth is that sexual desire was awakened far before I had the maturity to be able to handle it. Having those feelings at that age was not a bad thing. It did not make my body bad. It was that the bad thing was done to me. And by God becoming flesh, she reminds me that my body is good. There is a beauty about how my body is created. 

Then if I think about this life that Jesus is, then I look at his life. And I look at how resurrection wasn’t something that happened when Jesus died. Jesus was bringing life from the death that comes from oppressive structures and systems, that breaks people, that marginalizes people, that oppresses people.

When I read the stories of Jesus, I see how Jesus challenged oppressive political powers, the Empire, how Jesus challenged unjust economic systems that benefited the rich, how Jesus challenged rigid religious systems that tried to impose goodness from the outside without affirming the goodness within us and affirming the message that God already loves us. That we do not need to do anything for God to love us because he loves us anyway. Jesus brings life in what he did and in what he said. 

Jesus is the way. Jesus is inviting us also to live in that way — to challenge systems that marginalize and oppress people, and break people, and affirm a message that is just not true, {which is} that we need outside, external validation when actually what we are is goodness. If we live into that goodness like Jesus did, and we own the goodness that is in us because of God gave us, then there is life. 

There is life for not only us, but also the broader communities within which we operate. We are the ones that continue the work that Jesus began. 

In light of this, beside the fact that Jesus was born Jewish and Middle Eastern, I know that Jesus is not white from a race perspective. But I also know that Jesus challenged whiteness. If whiteness is about oppressive systems, if whiteness is about telling people that they are not good enough or that they are intrinsically bad people because that was how they were born, then Jesus is definitely not white because he brings a message that is opposite to that. 

He brings a message that brings so much healing, so much beauty, and so much inclusivity and acceptance. Jesus introduces us to grace, that we are loved just because. We are loved just because. Anybody who even tries to use Jesus as a reason to oppress someone else or to marginalize, that’s not my white Jesus. That’s definitely not my white Jesus.