Have you ever thought about this issue?
- Each of us follows an imperfect god!
I am not saying that God is imperfect; I am saying that each of us has a picture of God in our minds that is not fully accurate or complete or matches up to the God revealed in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ. It is this distorted “picture” of a god that we have that we actually follow or believe in. When we act in obedience it is the god we are trying to submit to. We are actually imperfect people trying to follow a perfect God; this means that we will always fall short of the mark in our worshipping activities, which then implies that we have room to “grow” in our spiritual life. None of us need to ever be worried about missing the worship mark, there is no sin involved if we are giving him all of what we have, even though we may be doing it imperfectly. I am reminded of this scripture where Jesus implicitly recognizes this:
John 4:23-24 – But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. NASU
God knows this about us, our inability to worship Him in absolute truth due to our imperfect view of Him, and has a remedy for this, which I’ll discuss at the end of this blog. Before that I want to talk about the origins of our personal picture of God, and then talk about some common examples of our pictures of God.
Origins of our pictures
A god is the ultimate authoritarian figure in any person’s life. This is accurate whether they follow themselves as their own god, or follow false gods such as Allah or Shiva, or some physical idol such as a piece of gold or wood, or even the one true God. When a person follows a god, the built in mechanism of needing to worship is coming out. All humans are designed to worship the God described in scripture, and so many of us choose to worship something or someone other than Jesus.
No matter what kind of god we worship, we all have some kind of picture in our minds, which has been developed there over time, of what that god might look like or be like. These pictures are like canvas paintings where several artists have come along and added to the picture, so that it does have some kind of form but it is distorted by the artist’s personal views of what God looks like. If you do an internet search for children’s pictures of God you will see this in action.
Every human created by God is soft wired to need Him; we are all looking for the God we lost at the fall. Adam and Eve had it perfect; they had each other, and God would regularly visit with them as they worked and rested in the garden. (For the record, I believe that it was Jesus Himself who would be physically present with them in Eden) When they looked for Him, He was there. Then they disobeyed Him, and as a result were sent out of the Garden, out of His presence.
Gen 3:23 – Therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. NASU
The result of this is that although Adam and Eve knew what God actually looked like and had an intimate relationship with Him, their offspring, which is all of us, would never get to see and know Him intimately. The further result of this is that we who followed, who were designed the same as Adam and Eve, having psychological software that prompted us to look for and need God, had to develop our own view of what God might look like.
It is probable that Adam and Eve tried to give their children an accurate view of God. However as we see in Genesis chapter four, Cain, their first born, although he knew God, he didn’t have an accurate picture, because in response to God’s discipline he killed his own little brother, Abel. Ever since that time all of mankind has been looking for God, and developing their own individual ideas of what God looks like, both physically and spiritually.
The initial primary source of any “god image” we may have is our caretakers. For most of us this means our parents, although in some cultures it could include extended family, such as grandparents and uncles or aunts. As we get a little older our caretaker circle widens to include other authority figures in our lives, such as teachers. In these formative years our picture of a god is basically what these authority figures tell us, combined with what we observe about how they act. The pictures of a god developed at this time can be deep seated and dictate our thoughts, feelings and orientation to the god we follow in the future.
As we grow older, we experience even wider influences such as pop culture (Movies, music and published material) and our peer group. Probably our last big influences, before we become significantly independent thinkers, are our high school teachers and most importantly our college professors. In some cases we allow these things or people to completely supplant the idea of a god that we had from our early years, with something new.
Nevertheless, we all enter adulthood with some kind of view of what a god looks like. Once a person accepts that there is only one true god, the God of the Bible, then we transfer that mental picture we have developed of a god to Him. And it is always imperfect! Below I’m going to look at some the most common imperfect pictures of God that I’ve come across. I am going to start with the two components of the picture I had of God, angry and abandoning.
The Angry God
Growing up I had a classic god-image father, he was an angry man. (For the record, he had an easily understood anger due to all he had been through in his childhood.) His anger was not so much a sudden outburst type, such as a raging person might exhibit; it was more the kind that was always present. This was a man who seemed exude anger in every word. My brothers and I were never quite sure if he would have an outburst which he would do from time to time, we were always uncertain of how he would act. My most solid memory of relating to him in my childhood is one of avoidance, I simply stayed away from him, because then he wouldn’t get angry with me.
Other individuals grew up with a father or mother who raged at them. Some caregivers might have even gone as far as acting out of their anger and causing physical harm to their children.
The result of experiencing anger in the people who we looked at as the authority figures in our lives is that we have an inbuilt bias to perceive God as always angry. This is actually compounded when we discover that God is indeed a God who gets angry. However He gets angry at wickedness and sin, and not at us. Here is an example of this truth, where God is pictured as angry but the context is that He is angry with unrighteousness (wickedness and sin):
Ps 7:11 – God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day. NASU
Even though we know this or learn this, it is still hard to free ourselves from the deep rooted sense that God might be angry with us. This is why we must be cognizant of how we were raised, and what we experienced in our childhood from our caregivers. If we lived in an angry environment, this will most likely color our picture of God until the day we die.
The Abandoning God
Some of us were “left alone” when we were young. It happened to me, I was placed into a sanitarium at 3 years old and didn’t go back to live with my family of origin until I was five because I has Tuberculosis. Even though it was to save my life, I was still abandoned for 21 months. This made it hard for me to believe this promise (also quoted in Heb 13:5):
Deut 31:6 – Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. NASU
There are many ways we can be abandoned which would cause us to have a picture of God that says He won’t be there for us, and when times of trouble arise He will abandon us. We could have been literally permanently abandoned, as in left by ourselves. We could have been emotionally abandoned, where even when parents or other caregivers are actually physically present, they don’t connect with us relationally. This is common in the household of parents where at least one is an addict of some kind. (For the record, adopted children are not abandoned, because the caregiver recognizes that the child still needs care and they are unable to give it, so they make arrangements for adoption, a caring action.)
If we have been abandoned in any way, we might have trouble believing that God is going to be there for us. Our abandonment gives us a false picture of God.
The Distant God
This is really a variation on the abandoning God. Sometimes our caregivers are in our lives, but we don’t really have a closeness with them. It is as if we live in the same home, but they still seem to be somewhere else. There is no, or very little, intimacy between the still forming child and the adults in charge. So we develop a picture of a god who is really not with us. Because we lived with parents that always seemed to be concerned about things other than us, we came to believe that God is like that. We might believe that He has more important things to do than relate to us.
1 Peter 5:7 – Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. NIV
Even though we have many verses like the one quoted here that suggest God wants to be intimately involved in our lives, some of us don’t accept that. Our picture is one of an emotionally absent or distant God.
The Unpleaseable God
Some of us grew up believing we could never do anything to please our parents, and we may have heard expressions like these:
- You can do better.
- If you had just tried harder.
- Maybe next time you can get an “A”.
- Let me do it, you obviously can’t.
Because of this we may have a picture that we carry of God that says we can never do anything right to please Him. We think He is a critical and nit-picking God.
Rom 8:8 – Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. NASU
In this verse we see the truth. Those that walk in the flesh (worldly actions) can’t please God; therefore those that follow Him do please God. It is as simple as that, and I hope that none of us will ever allow anything or anyone to tell us any different. One of the great lies of Satan is that we are not good enough, and it will work on us, tearing us down, if we have a picture of God that says he is unpleaseable!
The Punishing God
Some of us believe that God will punish, condemn and judge us if we mess up, because that is the way it was growing up. We may have been surrounded by people who physically or more likely psychologically chastened us in some way on a routine basis. This could even have been out of proportion to some offense we committed. God says this:
Prov 3:12 – For whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights. NASU
Rom 8:1 – Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. NASU
God speaks to this issue of punishment for those that believe in Him. He says that He will discipline us, which is always for our benefit, but he will not condemn us. Condemnation, judgment and punishment are always done for the benefit of the person doing the condemning. If we have a picture of God that says He is a punishing God, then we will avoid Him, and we may get into a performance trap. This trap occurs when we “perform” for God to avoid punishment by God.
The Permissive God
Some of us grew up in a permissive environment. This is where members of the family seemed to be able to do whatever they wanted to. There may have been some kind of boundaries, but they were more like wet noodles than walls. We were consistently allowed by our caregivers to get away with breaking the rules, if there were any, and not having any meaningful consequences. This kind of upbringing resulted in us believing that our god would let us do whatever we wanted with almost no consequences.
So when we finally accept Christ as Lord, we have a picture of Him that says something like this. Yes I know He has some instructions for us to follow, but if I break them, there won’t be any significant consequences. This is of course not what the Bible says.
In a sense God is permissive, because He has designed us to be able to make free choices. However He clearly warns us that there will be consequences for our choices. As our pastor says from time to time, “We can choose our sin, but we can’t choose our consequence.” Scripture says it this way:
1 Cor 10:23 – “Everything is permissible”-but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”-but not everything is constructive. NIV
When we view God as a permissive God where He lets us get away with things with little or no negative consequence, we end up with troubles. Whenever we indulge ourselves in the fantasy that God is permissive we are mocking Him.
Gal 6:7 – Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. NASU
Viewing God as permissive is at its core a contemptuous view of God, and is a dangerous view to hold.
There are many other pictures of God. Each of us has a picture of God that is unique to us. As a person reads this blog, they may be able to identify what their picture is. All I have done here is to describe five of the most common pictures I have personally experienced.
If you are a person who journals or writes in your Bible, can I suggest something here? Write down whatever the Holy Spirit is helping you to understand about your current personal picture of God.
At the beginning of this blog I said that God has a remedy for this problem.
The remedy starts with acknowledging Him, and accepting His Lordship. We call this salvation. At the moment of salvation we begin the process of sanctification, which is where God works within us to clean up our souls. Part of this cleaning up is to help us see that our picture of Him is imperfect and distorted, that it needs to be corrected.
How does He accomplish this? Primarily through prayer, study of Him in His word, the Bible, and interaction with other believers. We do these three things, which are usually called spiritual disciplines:
- Interact with Him directly. (Prayer and Meditation)
- Study what He says about Himself. (Bible Study)
- See Him in action in other believer’s lives. (Fellowship)
If you work consistently on these few things your picture of God will become more accurate over time.
Finally I would like to encourage you to share this whole idea of pictures of God with other believers. When we address this in our lives we can sometimes achieve breakthroughs in our understanding of living a Christ centered life. Our personal distorted picture of God is often a barrier to becoming closer to Him, and the barrier needs to be removed.