In his irreverent and darkly sarcastic song, “Chocolate Jesus,” singer Tom Waits points a finger at Christians who use faith to anesthetize themselves against reality. He points to the danger of turning Jesus into just one more commodity competing for consumer loyalty in the marketplace of feel-good remedies for the aches and pains of our sorry lives.

Well I don’t go to church on Sunday
Don’t get on my knees to pray
Don’t memorize the books of the Bible
I got my own special way
I know Jesus loves me
Maybe just a little bit more
I fall down on my knees every Sunday
At Zerelda Lee’s candy store

Well it’s got to be a chocolate Jesus
Make me feel good inside
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
Keep me satisfied

Well I don’t want no Anna Zabba
Don’t want no Almond Joy
There ain’t nothing better
Suitable for this boy
Well it’s the only thing
That can pick me up
Better than a cup of gold
See only a chocolate Jesus
Can satisfy my soul

When the weather gets rough
And it’s whiskey in the shade
It’s best to wrap your savior
Up in cellophane
He flows like the big muddy
But that’s ok
Pour him over ice cream
For a nice parfait

Well it’s got to be a chocolate Jesus
Good enough for me
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
Good enough for me

Well it’s got to be a chocolate Jesus
Make me feel so good inside
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
Keep me satisfied

The temptation of feel-good religion is a risk for any faith system. It is always tempting to try to draw a crowd by packaging the Gospel as “Things go better with Christ.” The lure of a quick fix solution to all the aches and pains of life is a deeply compelling misrepresentation of Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus did not point the way to a carefree life. He did not promise to smooth over all the difficulties of living in this world. He did not offer a recipe for transforming life into “a nice parfait.”

Jesus was a clear-eyed realist. He knew life in this world is never easy. He knew human beings will always struggle.

A lot of life hurts. Even in our extraordinarily privileged over-developed western world, we often experience life as deeply troubling. The only surprise is when we are surprised. The danger is that we turn to religion, or science, or entertainment, or work, or family, or pharmaceuticals, as an anaesthetic against the inevitability of pain.

One of the earliest and most zealous teachers of the Jesus way, a man named Paul, complained about his own lot in life saying,

to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me. (2 Corinthians 12:7,8)

Elsewhere, Paul lamented,

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24)

Paul had no chocolate Jesus. He wrestled with the realities of life, just as most of us struggle from time to time. He knew the pain of temptation, and experienced the agony of physical suffering. His deep and compelling faith in Christ did not remove Paul from the difficult realities of the human condition.

But, Paul did not stop simply with lamentation and complaint. He went on to affirm that, in the midst of his struggle, he sensed God saying to him,

‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’

And so Paul concluded,

I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

We do not need a chocolate Jesus. We are diminished as human beings when we seek to escape from the pain that is an inevitable part of the human condition. We only need to stop being puzzled by the pain. We need to give up our fear that pain has the power the annihilate us. Faith is the deep inner knowing that pain is not bigger than the reality of God’s presence dwelling in our lives.

While it is not possible to escape the pain; it is possible to discover a measure of peace when we stop resisting. When we open to the pain and walk the way Jesus chose to walk, the pain will open us to the heart of compassion that pulses at the centre of all life. We will be nourished by the sustaining presence of God. This is a steady reality no chocolate Jesus can provide.