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Jesus ‘knock knock’ picture

October 1, 2013

I’ve seen the following Jesus ‘meme’ do the rounds on various atheist social media at the moment.


The picture is a well known image of Jesus standing at the door knocking. It is based on Revelation 3: 20 where Jesus speaks to the church in Laodicea and says, ‘Listen! I am standing at the door, I will come in to you and eat with you and you with me.’ The encouragement is for the church in Laodicea, a church who is lukewarm in following Jesus, to open the door of their ‘hearts’ and to enjoy the full company and presence of Jesus. The passage is encouraging a deeper, intimate, more faithful relationship with Jesus, which results in blessing – eating with the Lord himself.

Yet the meme has presented a very different view of Jesus. The meme describes Jesus as angry and threatening – open up so I can save you or else. What the meme has picked up are the biblical themes of salvation and wrath i.e. that Jesus saves us from God’s wrath delivered to those who reject him.

Now the claim that Jesus saves us from the wrath of God is theologically correct. Yet Implicit in this meme is that humans don’t deserve wrath or punishment. It implies that we’re sitting inside the door happily living a morally exemplary life, when along comes a bullying bash at the door from Jesus who says – open up and I’ll save you from my angry wrath. Yet this is not the message of the Bible at all. The message of the Bible is that we all reject God and his goodness – we’re all corrupt. As Christopher Hitchens admitted, ‘man is unquestionably evil’. It’s in this context that Jesus comes, seeks relationship with people to save us from the implications of our rejection. We deserve punishment and Jesus comes and saves us from wrath.

‘God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, we will be saved through him from the wrath of God (Romans 5:8-9)’.

From → Bible, News

  1. Hi Rob,
    This is a joke that I haven’t seen before. It’s obviously light humour, of course, but does highlight a major inconsistency that many non-Christians (ie., not just atheists I expect) see with Christian teachings.
    We all get the positive Christian “spin” on the whole salvation thing. We were all doomed, but because of Jesus, we have the opportunity now to avoid the fires of hell after we die. Phew. Hooray. Thank God.

    It feels weird having to explain this, because it seems so downright obvious. But the problem that many atheists have with this is your assertion that humans deserve the default punishment and that Jesus is the only path to salvation.
    To be clear about assumptions – and this seems implicit in your argument above – the default punishment we’re talking about is being doomed to the eternal fires of hell after we die, right? It’s the default, because we’re all inherently bad from the moment of birth, since we’ve inherited the original sin of Adam and Eve from The Fall.

    Let’s park to one side for a moment how utterly ludicrous is the notion of inherited evil (as if it were like eye colour, or the number of toes we have, etc.). And I reject BTW your quote of Christopher Hitchens about man being ‘unquestionably evil’, because this is clearly out of context. Assuming the quote is true, Hitchens almost certainly would have been referring to the realities of horrible human behaviour in general, observed world wide and throughout history. There is absolutely no chance that Hitchens would have used a phrase like this to mean original sin in the Christian context, or to mean that ‘evil’ is somehow the absolute moral opposite to the supreme Goodness of the Judeo-Christian god.

    Anyway, as I said, leaving the ‘original sin’ notion to one side, let’s instead consider this salvation business. Central to Christian teaching, as highlighted in the knock-knock joke and your own commentary above, is that by accepting Jesus Christ and forming a relationship with him, we’ve earned this salvation. (Of course, Catholics and reformists vary somewhat on this, because the protestants play the Sola Fide card and are saved simply by virtue of their belief, whereas the Catholics have to do good deeds as well as affirming their belief through prayer, etc.)

    But the whole doctrine collapses for all of those unfortunate souls that have never had the physical opportunity to learn about Jesus during their lifetimes, through no fault of their own. Children dying in 3rd world countries that have never had the intellectual capacity to understand Christianity, let alone the well-meaning missionary lessons that never quite made it into their village.
    Or the Muslim man, going on with what he’s been taught all his life – that women are chattel and non-Muslims are infidels that deserve execution – following these rules and still basically being a good person until the day he dies.
    Or the millions of people that lived and died before the coming of Jesus was even prophesised.
    Or the growing number of skeptics, that have tried to accept Christianity, but whose critical thinking just can’t bring them to accept with honesty the nonsense wisdom of iron-age goat-herders made up and mis-translated numerous times throughout history.

    If we are indeed all equal before God – as we’ve seen you write elsewhere on this site – then the notion of salvation is fundamentally cruel and fatally flawed. So many of us will be burning eternally in hell because of circumstances over which we’ve had no control.
    John 3:18: 18“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

    • Paul,

      I’m intrigued that you reject my quote of Christopher Hitchens without knowing where it comes from. How can you say it is out of context when you don’t even know the context that it was said in? The quote is most definitely true. Could you tell me where the quote is from and how I’ve taken it out of context?

      I didn’t really say that Hitchens’ was speaking about ‘original’ sin. I was (as he was) speaking more generally about the human condition – i.e. that we’re corrupt, evil, ‘sinful’ – which is the Bible’s term. This is the rejection of the good.

      Also, you’ve actually conflated a number of other issues in your series of questions (which I’ll get to answering in time). But I’ll respond with two comments:

      1. God is just and will judge justly. His judgement is consonant with knowledge. In Matthew 11 Jesus says that the judgement on cities which saw his miracles and rejected him would be more severe than even Sodom – the epitome of evil in the Old Testament. This is because they have rejected a clearer and most decisive revelation of God.

      2. You do have control over your circumstances. Salvation is not cruel. If you reject God, you’ll suffer ‘hell’ because that’s ultimately what you want – is that true? You don’t actually want a relationship with God – so surely he’s just giving you what you want? Is that a fair summary of your position? (And if you think that God is imaginary – I’m a little puzzled what you’re upset about – for we’ll all just become ashes and dust and it won’t really matter at all).

      Thanks again for the interaction. Always enjoy your comments.


      • “How can you say it is out of context when you don’t even know the context that it was said in?”

        Because you don’t even know the context that it was said in, since it’s not there. Your question answers itself.

  2. OK Rob, there are a few points to address here. Let’s get Hitchens out of the way first. Is it possible I’ve misinterpreted your intended use of the quote? Maybe. And if so I’ll withdraw my criticism of it. However, the way you used it looked quite clearly as a reference to biblical original sin.
    I don’t really doubt that the quote is genuine. I’ve never read more than a chapter of any of his work, so I can’t tell you the source or the context of the quote. However, because Christopher Hitchens’ personality was well-known (at least, to atheists), I don’t need to know that context because Hitchens simply didn’t believe in the concept of “absolute ‘original sin’ evil”.
    We could probably go on and debate the meaning of the word ‘evil’ another time, but it will suffice for now that I don’t (nor did Hitchens) accept the concept of biblical ‘evil’ as some kind of absolute. If you’re prepared to accept that ‘evil’ can simply be interpreted as the clearly horrible things that some people sometimes do to other people knowingly, then we can move on from it.

    Your point 1 seems to be a partial summary of the inconsistency I was trying to point out. However, the reference to Mat 11 doesn’t clarify anything. Perhaps you can be more explicit here and interpret Mat 11 for me? Are the residents of Tyre and Sidon spared from Hades because they simply did not have the opportunity to directly witness miracles (ie., those done in Chorazin and Bethsaida)? And how does that in turn translate to a contemporary setting…?

    Your point 2 is full of loaded questions and pre-supposition, and as far as I can tell just re-emphasises the weirdness of what is and isn’t required for your soul to avoid suffering in hell. And there’s no need to be puzzled at what I’m upset about – certainly I’m not concerned about my own heaven/hell fate. (If I die and find out I was wrong all along, I know exactly where I’ll be headed…! I’m not too worried though. I’ll have so many annoying questions for whoever’s running the place that I’ll probably get kicked out with a personal escort upstairs anyway.)
    No – I’m taking issue with the flaws of salvation logic. According to what you’ve said above, the choice is a binary one – you either want a relationship with the god of Christian teaching, or you want to suffer in hell.
    The failures here are: 1. Some people choose neither (and from your logic, this would seem to default to the hell option, so the choice is a false one), and 2. Many people are not aware of the choice at all and from your descriptions the result for them is vague. Presumably nice people that haven’t heard of Jesus get the pass in, possibly including children, but those that are not so nice get eternal burny torture? Unfortunately the selection criteria for theses option are never made clear anywhere.

    So, I want the specifics clarified so we can untangle the logic failings.
    What do Christians believe is the fate of our hypothetical Muslim that I described?
    What is the fate of the atheist that insists free will is an illusion?
    Given that acceptance of Jesus is surely a spectrum (ie., some people are devout fundies, some people barely accept he was a true historical figure, and all other Christians presumably range somewhere in between), then where is the dividing line on this spectrum for harp music vs. crispy skin?

    • Lots to say, but I’ll be quick. Re: Hitchens the quote is from a conversation Hitchens had with Lennox and Larry Taunton after a debate in Alabama. Hitchens was asked the question if man was basically good or evil and he responded ‘unquestionably evil’. I think it’s legitimate to use that to suggest the universal sinfulness of humanity (it means much the same things). Read the first chapter of ‘The Grace Effect’.

      The reference to Matt 11 indicates that judgement is proportional to knowledge. i.e. those who have been revealed much, much is expected.

      The questions that you have about the people are very good.

      Those are very hard questions to answer. I can’t ever presume to stand in the position of God who is the just judge of all. It’s getting late at the moment (and I have a breakfast in the morning). I’ll have a think and get back to you on this one.

  3. Rob,

    Regarding the ‘laws of salvation’, take as much time as you want.
    I have never heard a convincing or satisfying response to any of these challenges (or variations or derivations of them) from any theist. Don’t feel less of yourself for trying and failing on this one! 😉

    The most typical response types are:
    1. The caricature. This is the fire-and-brimstone believer that knows the scriptures backwards and takes most of them literally. They have a precise answer for almost every scenario and their thinking is so appallingly one-dimensional that they make almost all educated Christians cringe.
    2. The avoider. This guy has given these issues some thought and has realised that you can get tied up in knots pretty quickly when you try to take them on in debate. Fortunately Christianity has given us an out, since the NT frequently makes the point that God is the one to judge us, not people. The avoider points to this clause and therefore doesn’t have to answer difficult questions like these.
    3. The escapologist. This one is also thoughtful and at least makes a sincere attempt to speculate on the various fates of our hypotheticals. When pushed, they often fall back on the avoider’s God-is-judge clause. Or like the fabled Euthyphro, explain that have to attend to other matters and, unfortunately, leave us hanging with the promise of a satisfying answer to come later.

    On the subject of revelation – knowledge – judgement, the flaws with this take us into logic rat-holes that are just as murky as our laws of salvation. You’ve said that ‘judgement is proportional’, and by this I assume you mean that God takes into account our experience, our knowledge and our intelligence in determining which path of the binary outcome we are driven down.
    So I ask you again – what of the thoughtful atheist? If God has granted this person free will (regardless of their acceptance of it), then you must accept that He has also granted them the capacity for free analytical thought, as well as the environment in which their personal analyses about God’s existence (and anything else they form an opinion on) are made.

    You say “those who have been revealed much, much is expected.” Indeed, our thoughtful atheist may have read the Bible many times over, considered the huge body of history and philosophy on the subject and a vast array of learned opinions, and been far more reflective on the question than the overwhelming majority of all Christians that have ever lived. And they’ve still come to the conclusion that God is just a concept created by the human mind (like art, for example).
    Is more “expected” of this person than the average Christian?
    How does a Christian reconcile the honest reflectiveness – and perhaps inner turmoil – of this person, with the teachings that (i) their opportunity to know Jesus through the Bible etc., is undisputed, (ii) that they have still rejected Him, (iii) the likely judgement is pretty damned clear from Biblical teachings, and (iv) this person is therefore sentenced to the indescribable horror of being one of Satan’s peeled, cooked and skewered shish-kebabs for the rest of eternity?

  4. Steven Carr permalink

    ‘ Yet Implicit in this meme is that humans don’t deserve wrath or punishment.’

    Why are you not in prison if you deserve punishment?

  5. Steven Carr permalink

    ‘The message of the Bible is that we all reject God and his goodness – we’re all corrupt’

    That includes the Gospel writers. The Gospels were written by evil people, who deserved punishment.

  6. Bob Reece permalink

    Christians, here is the issue. God is supposedly the supreme creator/ruler/overlord. He established whatever may exist. No authority higher. King of kings, Lord of lords. He establishes that a certain set of activities are unacceptable and furthermore, that people who don’t come to him to get forgiven for those activities get tortured for eternity. If there is a greater force than God that constrains him to this rule, he is not God. He;s playing by the rules of his own game.

    As such, yes, God makes an arbitrary set of rules for salvation, then condemns anyone who doesn’t understand, recognize or meet them. So yes, in “his mercy” he offers to save us from the hell he’s decided to unleash on us.

    If I tied you up and started the timer on a bomb under your chair, then later elected to disarm the bomb because you begged, I didn’t “save” you.

  7. RB Shaikh permalink

    All religions say that humanity is essence of our religion. Humanity overrides all religions.But Pope did reverse. He declared Mother Teresa saint based on her two miracles rather than her life time service to poor suffering Indians. Thus, Pope proved supremacy of religion over humanity.
    He was moved by Alan Kurd’s photo and appealed to bombing countries to accept Syrian refugees.The US and European jingoist countries responded,willingly or reluctantly. But he did not address the root cause by appealing them to stop wars, killing millions and rendering more millions homeless! Because they are non-believers of Christianity? What a great humanity show!

  8. Hi, thank you for the short reflection. I was searching for the meme on google and found it here. The meme is revealing on Protestantism i.e. God killed God so that God wouldn’t be angry and would accept us. This view is not compatible with the Orthodox or Catholic Christian teaching. Ultimately it is why I left Protestantism and was received into The Church.

    If you’re interested in looking further into this understanding I suggest Catholic Answers YouTube channel and iPhone app — very helpful in my formation.

    Also, this podcast by Bishop Barron is well done too, check out this episode: How Are You Saved

    Thank you again for the meme and reflection!

  9. CBaker permalink

    This commentator misses one other very important point. Western Christianity often promotes—what Eastern (Orthodox) Christians view as—a terrorist God. This meme is certainly written in response to that Western doctrine. Originally Christianity, however, didn’t teach that Christ held hell (i.e. Gehenna) in His hands. The Lord’s wrath is considered His anger—and that tends to be understood in human terms. As a result we equate it with being “mad”—which developed as a term for being out of one’s right mind with fury.

    As such Orthodox/Eastern Christians look at this and say, “I understand why people are atheists. Who wants to believe in that! Even if it were true, that God isn’t one that one wishes to adore and worship.”

    The Eastern Orthodox view is that the Lord’s wrath is experienced when He—the source of light/life/love…—walks away from the door and leaves. Hell/Gehenna is experienced most acutely as a burning because people will be in the presence of God, but not enjoy it. It is like being in the sunshine: is that good or bad? Well it all depends on the state of your heart. Is it earthly (like clay, becoming hardened like a brick), or is it ready to rise up (like wax, becoming soft and fuel for light)? It is up to us to work on our hearts to help them respond well to Christ who loves all—even enemies.

    The state of the heart is crucial in determining one’s experience. Furthermore, is God experienced as light or heat? Too intense or gentle? Western views, I think, can be too one-sided and harsh. That is what the meme addresses.

  10. From an ex-atheist/now Catholic perspective, I just did a video segment on the Jesus knocking meme that you can view here:

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