I am Charlie? Before January 7, 2015, no one had ever tweeted the phrases #iamcharlie or #jesuischarlie. But within days of the massacre in the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, the phrases became the most popular hashtags ever. A dozen people were gunned down by religious extremists—over a cartoon? Seriously?! Even in the name of religion, killing out of vengeance is horribly wrong. Recoiling in horror, everyone wanted to stand in solidarity with the victims. Overnight, “Je suis Charlie” symbolized the stand against terrorism, and placards sprung up everywhere. I had never even heard of the magazine, but in some sense, I too, wanted to take my stand against terrorism. Should I jump on the bandwagon and lift a banner high: “I am Charlie”?
Who is Charlie? In the aftermath of the attack, the humble pencil also achieved worldwide recognition as a symbol of freedom of speech. Dozens drew memorial cartoons featuring pencils as weapons or broken, bleeding pencils. In the million-strong anti-terrorism rally, countless marchers held pencils aloft in identification with those champions of free speech who were murdered for their cartoons of the prophet Mohammed—an offense that Muslims consider to be blasphemy.
Mocking someone for their religious beliefs is certainly nothing new. The ancient graffiti sample below—carved into a wall on the Palatine Hill in Rome—dates back to the second or third century AD. The cartoon-like drawing features a young man with his hand lifted in worship before a man on a cross with the head of a donkey. The caption reads, “Alexamenos worships his God.” If he were with us today, Alexamenos could testify that Charlie and his antics are not all that novel. What is new is the ability to offend on such a global scale, thanks to images on the Internet. Arguably, the degree of graphic crudity has also reached new heights—or depths.
Defending freedom of speech is important. But the more I learn about Charlie Hebdo, the clearer it becomes that the magazine has abused the freedom. Charlie’s cartoon covers have disgustingly debased the human representatives of many religions. Furthermore, Charlie has graphically blasphemed the holy Trinity in such a vile way that it literally turns the stomach. A growing number of people who do not want to stand with Charlie have responded with their own fast and furious volley of hashtags: #iamnotcharlie #jenesuispascharlie. I, too, do not want to bear the name Charlie. I am NOT Charlie!
Then, when I am sitting here feeling a bit smug and patting myself on the back for not being Charlie, it hits me like a dagger—or maybe a pencil?—to the heart. In a way, I am Charlie. Although I have not drawn cartoons mocking God graphically, I have blasphemed God in far more subtle ways. The Creator-King made humans in his image so that we might walk in relationship with him and worship him, perfectly reflecting his glory back to him. But then humanity rebelled against God, tarnishing and distorting that image. My own sin turns my life into a caricature of the image of God. At times I’ve worshiped cheap forgeries of God. I’ve struggled to lighten the shade of my sin, and I’ve attempted to sketch Almighty God in my own image to make him more approachable. I’ve even tried to cut and paste myself into his rightful place as King over my life, and I’ve grasped at the glory that only he deserves. The evidence is in: I am guilty of blasphemy. The truth is, we all are. Blasphemy carries a sentence of death. “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord. “I will repay.” The threat of death hangs over my head. I am Charlie.
Jesus: “I am Charlie”? Ironically, Jesus himself was sentenced to death under charges of blasphemy. After all, he had made audacious claims like “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). At his trial, when asked outright if he was the Christ, the Son of God, Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God's right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64). Horrified at his blasphemous claim, the religious leaders turned Jesus over to the Roman governor. Pilate ordered that Jesus be nailed to a cross under a sign that posted the charge against him: “King of the Jews.” When the religious leaders objected and asked Pilate to clarify that Jesus only claimed to be King of the Jews, Pilate refused. And so, Jesus died under the charge of blasphemy, just like Charlie.
Jesus: “I AM Charlie”! As the sinless Son of God, however, Jesus was not guilty of blasphemy. His claims were true! He was God—in the flesh. Still, Jesus died for the sin of blasphemy, but not his own. In essence God was saying, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay.” And he did: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And so, Jesus voluntarily stepped into human flesh and died to pay for the charges of our blasphemy. Bearing our sin and shame, the very Son of God hung shockingly debased on the cross. The Bible describes it like this: “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the proof that God was indeed reconciling the world to himself in Christ. Because of Jesus’ humble, loving obedience, “God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–10). One day Jesus will return and reign as King over his redeemed people in a newly restored heaven and earth.
I am Charlie. All Is Forgiven. On January 15, one week after the massacre, Charlie Hebdo released a new issue, the first in response to the brutal attack. This time the magazine cover featured a cartoon of Mohammed holding a “Je suis Charlie” placard, a single tear rolling down his cheek. Above his head on the green background are the words, “Tout est pardonné”; “All is forgiven.” The cover seems to imply that Mohammed himself sides with Charlie and forgives him. Although the actual drawing is much less offensive than many others in the past, a representation of the prophet in any form is still a blasphemous insult in Muslim eyes. The new cover is unlikely to convince Charlie’s opponents that there has been a true change of heart.
I am Charlie. All can be forgiven. God’s gracious offer of forgiveness is available for everyone. However, it cannot be earned, nor is automatically conferred on all who continue to stand opposed to him. Instead, it is freely available to those who will repent and believe. What exactly does that look like?
When we do this, God adopts us into his family and begins restoring the priceless image of God he placed within us. We receive complete forgiveness, the gift of God’s indwelling Spirit, and the assurance of an eternal life in the presence of God. As amazing as God’s gift is, it demands a response. Incredibly, God’s offer in Jesus still stands available to every sort of sinner who repents: even murderers, even mockers, even the likes of me. I am Charlie. And I am forgiven!
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