In Focus: an Authentic Image of God
Last week Brent wrote about thought patterns that are negative and how to replace them with more helpful ones.
This line of thinking reminds me of the thought patterns we fall into when we talk about God.
You see, it's an odd conundrum. Our experiences with God are shaped by deeply personal faith stories and by a shared corporate religious story. These sometimes lead to vastly different ways to look at God. Unfortunately, it can be a little dangerous to our faith.
God is not Santa Claus
I blame the corporate experience on this one. While the bible tells us, "ask and you will receive," God is not making a check list to accomplish all of our life's wishes. When we think about God as some great cosmic genie, we run the risk of really resenting God when things do not go our way. God keeps God's promises, but sometimes we forget how short that list actually is. We are not guaranteed a life without suffering. Sometimes our prayers contradict each other and sometimes we pray for things that are contrary to the will of God. Now here's where you might expect me to pull out the "God's plans are not our plans," or "Everything happens for a reason." And I will never, ever do that. But for now, keep reading...
God is not a Police Officer
Sometimes we look at God like some wishy washy deity, just floating around waiting for us to break a rule. And even though the Old Testament is full of rules (and some of them are really strange) this image of God isn't very biblical. From the very beginning God has been involved in our story in active, tangible ways, not just as a Declarer of Rules. Furthermore, you can't even begin to have a relationship with God if you're convinced all God does is wait for you to screw up. That's not based on anything other than fear, and God tells us over and over again that we are in covenantal relationship. We are not prisoners under tyrannical rule.
God is not a Scorekeeper
Scorekeeper God watches you all the time. Scorekeeper God writes down everything you do in a great golden notebook. You'll get some leeway, but if your sins outnumber your good deeds, you're out of luck. Does that sound like a god who sends a beloved child to die on our behalf? Does that sound like Jesus who forgave those who murdered him? Not to me.
Because here's the unfortunate part: there is a very good chance your sins will outnumber your good deeds. We're human. Sin is kind of our thing. Given the opportunity, we will mess it up, even "good" people. God meets people where they are and being in relationship with Christ is like a Mardi Gras parade of forgiveness. If you're afraid of messing up your score, you can't be authentic in confession, and in time you may forget that God loves you and chooses you – in spite of all the things we do.
God is not the Great Smiter
Bad things happen to good people. It is a fundamental truth, and it's not fair. It ticks me off and I've shared many angry rants with God about it. I encourage you to do the same… it's healthy. When bad things happen to you or your loved ones, God is not punishing you. Although I'd venture to say that people think they're being helpful when they tell you that "everything happens for a reason" and "God's plans are better than ours."
But I really don't think that evil and untimely death are a part of God's plan for us. These things are sometimes the result of sin, and sin is not a God thing. Sin is a human thing. And a god that hands out cancer in response to anything sounds different than the one we praise in our worship. There's plenty of room to explore our thoughts on God, evil, and judgment further, but save it for when you're in a good place. Tackling this one while you're hurting will not lead to fruitful spiritual development.
Here is what we do know about God and the images we lift up:
God is a listener.
God is always present, always interacting with us, always walking our journey with us. God wants to be in a relationship with you and will hear you when you cry out.
Seriously… you are a beloved child of God. No one, no thing can change that. God is never indifferent.
God does act, speak, and move throughout the world today, sometimes through others, which is beyond amazing. God did not set the universe into motion and sit back to watch it turn. Whether or not you're in relationship with God, God is in relationship to you.
Questions for you:
What images of God have you struggled with, and which ones bring you greater peace?