What is your image of God like? It may be distorted. You may not see God for who he really is—you may equate him to a critical father, distant mother, abusive step-father, or someone who hurt you in childhood.
Generally speaking, if we are helped to heal from any childhood hurts, we are better able to see God for who he is. Often, our distorted image comes from a teaching we heard as a child.
For example, in the best-selling book Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt writes about the time he found out he was born four months after his parents married: “Why am I doomed? It isn’t my fault. That’s why I don’t go near the chapel anymore. Anyway, you’re doomed.” (Page 39 in the paperback edition.)
This powerful book portrays a sad example of a child who grew up surrounded by ‘religious’ people but was terrified by God, not at all encouraging an intimate relationship with him.
If you somewhere learned such an unmerciful view of God when you were a child from a parent, a teacher, a preacher or any other important authority—even if you learned something else later in life—that fearsome image may lurk in the corners of your mind to make it hard for you to develop a close relationship with God—or with Jesus. And it’s even harder to feel God’s love.
There are positive images of God in the Bible. He is the loving Father and the Good Shepherd (read Psalm 23 sometime), and even a nurturing mother bird found in Psalm 91. When one of these positive pictures of God gets in your heart and mind, you’ll feel different about him, yourself, and life in general. And yet, in our heart of hearts we may feel something very different.
What Is Your Image of God?
Sheridan Voysey says we all have our own image or concept of God. It may be explicitly known or held in our subconscious, but we do have one—pieced together from a variety of books, movies, conversations and experiences. The ideas we have about God affect not just our spirituality but our self-image, our view of others and even our view of the world. It’s therefore worth giving them some serious thought. So, who do you worship?
- Who is God to you?
- What pictures come to your mind when you think about God?
- Do you think of God as a strong father, a consoling mother, an indulgent grandfather or a bully?
- Is God a companion, policeman, friend or warrior to you?
- Do you imagine God as an artist, builder, king, judge, or something more impersonal like light, energy, wind, thunder, lightning or something else?
Try writing, sketching or even photographing the images you associate with God. What words would you use to describe God’s character? Is God stern or merciful? Forgiving or punishing? Arbitrary or fair? Is God serious, compassionate, patient, angry, generous, vindictive or humorous to you? Use as many words as you need.
Now consider how your ideas about God have been shaped over the years. What was your very first experience of being aware of God? How old were you, who was present, what was happening and what image of God did you develop as a result? How did this change in your teenage years?
What about today? What books, films, courses, crises, conversations, paintings or other stimuli have shaped the way you presently imagine God? To the degree that you can, trace each image and characteristic of God that you wrote down back to its origin.