This post was originally written on 9/17/2020.
This week I’ve seen a handful of posts trying to figure out what Jesus’ skin color was. One that stuck out was a rendering of what Jesus might have looked like, generated by a computer algorithm that had been fed historical records.
The post argued that this algorithm was closer to “reality” than the Renaissance paintings of old, or the pictures in Children’s story books. After all, “Generative Adversarial Network (GAN)” sounds very science, and much smart, so there has to be some truth to it. (Not to mention, this looks far more pleasing than Popular Science’s attempt in 2002 with forensic scientists.)
It’s easy to make the assumption that “A.I. algorithms” are unbiased, and see things as they really are. The reality is algorithms are FRIGHTENINGLY biased. Consider Amazon’s prototype of a resume screening algorithm that filtered out female applicants. The COMPAS algorithm, used by courts to assess risk when setting bail, was found to be harsher on black defendants than white defendants. Even if the algorithms are trained on a neutral dataset, there’s no guarantee that it won’t still develop an unfair bias.
I doubt that this algorithm has generated anything resembling Jesus, in the same way that I doubt the Renaissance artists got it right. Now there’s nothing wrong with making an image of Jesus, whether with a paintbrush or with code. But these posts go on to emphasize something about this image in particular.
One of them, purportedly written by a Christian, reads: “If these features and complexion bother you, I’d strongly and lovingly suggest you check your heart and remove the idol you’ve probably placed there.”
A line is crossed when you try to use what man creates to judge men’s hearts. Doubly so when we pretend we had no part in the creation. We find ourselves like Aaron, in Exodus: “I don’t know, we threw all the data in the algorithmic melting pot, and this golden calf just kinda… came out!”
I’m sure that somewhere, there’s a person whose faith hinges on Jesus being white. But this strikes me as an odd way to tear down their false idol: by setting up another one next to it that’s supposed to be better, because it’s “scientifically accurate”. The only way to tear down a false idol is to point to the truth in scripture.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
The best description we have of Jesus in the Bible is a verse from Isaiah: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Is there any wonder why we don’t have a better description? The reason is quite simple. We would either make his skin color an idol to worship, or a weapon to divide those with weaker faith.
The Bible says, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” But still, we get to use many of our other senses to experience Jesus.
- “Taste and see that the Lord is good!”
- “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
- “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”
As for touch, there’s something special to me the way the hymn writer Fanny Crosby puts it. Crosby was blind from almost birth, so knowing Jesus’ skin color would be of little benefit. But she had another way to identify Jesus. From the story of doubting Thomas, Crosby knew that Jesus would not deny her the sense of touch.
This is what she wrote in the hymn, “My Savior, First of All”:
Through the gates to the city in a robe of spotless white,
He will lead me where no tears will ever fall;
In the glad song of ages I shall mingle with delight,
But I long to meet my Savior first of all.
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
And redeemed by His side I shall stand,
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
By the print of the nails in His hand.