“In any true picture of God there will always be room for mystery.” – Trevor Hudson
A well-ordered life, it seems, is one in which there are sure things. We grow up learning that order and structure is preferable to chaos. Figuring things out, getting ourselves together, having an organized life; all contribute to a sense of well-being and success. We seek mastery of subjects in school, we strive to make sense of everything. In most of life, we get it right when we work it out.
But when it comes to spiritual things – when we look at our concept of God – to “have it figured out” straps us into a religious box that is often detrimental and even destructive. This is not to say that we can’t learn about God, experience His presence, understand His character. Jesus reveals God to us on multiple levels. But far too often, distortions “creep into our picture of God”, as Hudson says. We remake God in our own image – often more connected with our personal experiences or our upbringing than something grounded in the life and teachings of Jesus.
The truth is, God is wholly undefinable. There is simply no one else like God – how could there be? It’s almost impossible to wrap my brain around how utterly unknowable God is, in all the fullness of whatever that Divine Creative All-Knowing Love might be.
This is messy; it can be complicated. It can unmoor you, set you adrift – even seem blasphemous. It’s so much easier to just believe in God. But without a willingness to consider our image of God – how and why it came to be, and what, exactly it is – we miss out on the breadth and depth of wonder and awe that is wrapped up in the mystery of this life, and whatever is beyond this life. If God is more than I imagine him to be, what new possibilities might there be for how I am experiencing this life?
I was initially taught about God within a framework of information and facts. Growing up in a mainline Methodist church (for which I am grateful), I memorized scripture and books of the Bible; I memorized creeds and came to understand liturgy. I sang the hymns and played the handbells and essentially was raised to accept that the existence of God was a fact, and that the transactional nature of learning those facts made me good.
That transactional structure expanded when I meandered into a Southern Baptist church, where the emphasis on a God of justice who hated sin fashioned a structural premise of redemption – trading one thing for another. Again, facts: I was a sinner, Jesus died for my sins because God can’t have sin in heaven. Believe these things and that would make me good – even better if I walked down the aisle during a service to acknowledge and affirm those facts.
In Discovering Our Spiritual Identity, Hudson describes some commonly-held views of God: As an impersonal force, a heavenly tyrant, a scrupulous bookkeeper, a divine candy machine. Between the implications of dysfunction upbringings, religious power structures and cultural ideas, the image of God can be a crapshoot. And the point here is that there are huge consequences, for behavior follows belief. As Brian Hughes pointed out yesterday, when you believe in something – like gravity – you tend to order your life around that belief.
If you believe God is an angry judge who will demands penance, you’ll spend a lot of time trying to keep things together so you don’t get in trouble.
If you believe God is a hands-off, impersonal creator who doesn’t much care about anything on earth, you’ll likely deal with some bitterness.
Behavior follows belief.
So, that begs the question; and it’s one of the most important things you must ask if you are interesting in finding out who you are.
What is your image of God?
Take time to consider. Be ruthlessly honest with yourself. When you picture God, what do you see? When God looks at you, how is his countenance? Do you believe that God wants to interact with you personally? When life goes wrong, do you feel like God is punishing you? Do you try to hide from God? If so, what are you hiding? As you reflect on these questions, note any negative components. Can you remember where these came from? Who told you these things? Why do you see God in this way?
Mystery – not knowing – makes us uneasy. If we can’t define God, tame him, manage and control how life works, we become uncomfortable.
Or so we think.
I encourage you to take a risk, to step into the unknown and consider what you believe about God – and why. Grab a pen and paper and start writing. See what appears.
Don’t be afraid. He is wise, and He is good. And there is so much for us to learn.