Where’d You Get that Image of God?

by Andy Wood on March 15, 2010

in Turning Points

This is not a picture of God.  It’s a picture of a Nanga Sadhu, or naked Hundu holy man.  His face and body are smeared with ashes and he’s breathing out marijuana, not brimstone.

But look again.

I think in a lot of people’s minds, when they think of God, an image sort of like this emerges.

Angry.

Ashen.

Fire-breathing.

Other people imagine the opposite extreme – sort of like the teenager who wrote my youth pastor son-in-law, complaining about the depressing image of God she was getting from his teaching.  She said she wanted the “happy go lucky” Jesus.

The what?

I know right where that verse is – right next to the one that describes Him as a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”

My first image of God had the Father looking something like an Indian snake charmer – tanned skin, turban, the works – sitting next to the Sunday School Polaroid version of Jesus, looking down on me with delight.  “Oh, Jesus, look at little Andy!” He would boom in a rich, bass voice.  All the time, the photo-brightened picture of Jesus the Homeboy would just smile and nod.

The answer to your next question:   I have no idea.

I tried to explain this at age 6 to older, wiser Beth Phillips, age 7.  Beth was brilliant.  She was also Methodist.  Not sure if that’s relevant, but there you have it.

“I just sort of think that God is like this magician or something,” I said with delight and wonder.

Beth looked stone-faced at me.  “You’re not supposed to make fun of GOD!” she said.

Oh.  Crap.

(Replace said image of snake charming turban-top with something like the one pictured above.  I had it on the authority of a seven-year-old:  God was pissed and He knew where I lived.)

Where’d you get your image of God?  A cartoon-like depiction of your own father?  A book?  A preacher?  An experience?  A religious figure like a nun or choir director?  A movie?  A seven-year-old redhead who’s smarter than you could ever dream of being?

One thing is sure:  Whatever your conception of God, it will change; mine evolved as recently as this past Thursday.  Why?  Because He delights in revealing Himself to those who seek His face – and no conception you have of God can contain Him.

So that leaves a problem.  Often our God pics distort our faith-image, because they’re built on a lie or a half truth.  Other times they’re frozen in time – inadequate for the life He wants to manifest today, now.

The J. B. Phillips classic title is often true – Your God is Too Small.  But that’s just for starters.  For many of us, our “God” is too stupid, too powerless, too narrow-minded, too hapless and helpless, too cold-hearted or drunk. The problem is not with God, of course – it’s with the caricature of His character we’ve drawn in our minds.

So, where did you get your first image of God?  What did He seem to be to you?  Don’t leave me dangling here… I’m feeling a little vulnerable.  Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Meanwhile, the more important question is, what is He revealing Himself to be to you today?  And what are you doing about it?

(Photo Credit:  AP Photo/Bikas Das)

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