What is the God-image you had growing up? Was God good? Was he distant? Was he passive? Was he mean? Often your childhood God-image you will carried into your adulthood.
A God-image can be shaped by your parents, caregivers, authority figures, religious models or experiences. The way these influencers cared for you could have spoke louder than what they taught you doctrinally or theologically about God. No influencer was perfect and that can have a powerful affect on your private God-image for good or bad.
Underneath our pains, fears, despairs, behaviors or expectations can be buried a belief about God that does not match who God really is. This leads to distortions about God, which can cause great suffering for people.
A.W. Tozer said,
“Our real idea of God may lie buried under the rubbish of conventional religious notions and may require an intelligent and vigorous search before it is finally unearthed and exposed for what it is. Only after an ordeal of painful self probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God” (The Knowledge of the Holy, 10)
My parents were very young when I was born and they had to grow up fast with a baby to take care of. I didn’t spend a lot of time with them as my mom worked to support me and I only spent time with my dad every other weekend. My earliest God-image was a God who was distant (away most of the time) and spoiled me on occasionally because he felt bad that he didn’t get to spend much time with me.
My parents aren’t to blame for my God-image. They did their best and actually taught me many good things about God. That he was real, friendly and caring.
There were other influencers, like the nun who taught my catechism class. She disciplined me for asking difficult questions about God. My God-image grew to think that God is busy and shouldn’t be bothered by my questions.
I also grew up going to church festivals where old-ladies played Bingo and adults drank excessively in the beer garden. From this I grew up thinking that God was rather permissive. He doesn’t mind a little naughty fun even now and then as long its followed by a trip to the confessional.
What comes to your mind when you think about God? Your God-image is the most important thing about you and is the most revealing part about you.
Just to be clear when using the term “God-image” it is not the same thing as “image of God”. “Image of God” is the means by which God created man and women in his likeness, primarily giving man the ability to have dominion over the earth. “God-image” is one’s view of God learned from others or experiences. “Image of God” is something we are, while “God-image” is something we think about God.
Distortions come from false teaching, bad experiences, and poor models. It is shocking how these distortions creep into our thinking. Here are a few of the most common distortions about God.
Great Expectations God. If you had parents, teachers or bosses that expected too much of you, then you may think that God has even higher expectation of you. Often the expectations are nebulous or impossible, and you are left feeling a lack of love from God unless you meet his expectations.
Replacement image: Compassionate God; Caring God.
Scriptures: Psalm 103:1-14; Matthew 7; 1 Corinthians 13; Exodus 33:19; 34:6; Lamentations 3:22; Luke 15:20
Merit Badge God. Some parents can give approval when you do good, but when you do bad they withhold affection or affirmation. You can view God as a scout leader with a sash keeping count of all your good and bad. You get trapped in a performance based faith fighting for God’s approval. You feel guilt you aren’t doing more good.
Replacement image: Providing God; Rejoicing God.
Scripture: Psalm 27; Matthew 6:26; 11:28; John 13; Philippians 4:19; Romans 15:13; Psalm 16:11; John 16:24; Zephaniah 3:17
Easygoing God. If your parents were permissive with a live-and-let-live attitude, then God can be seen as a fun-loving God who winks at sin. You grew up with too much freedom and no boundaries.
Replacement image: Just God; Holy God; True Freedom God.
Scripture: Isaiah 30:18; Job 34:12; Exodus 15:11; Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 72:4; Psalm 99:4; Romans 12:19; Acts 10:34-35
Game-Playing God. If your parents made a lot of promises, but didn’t keep many of them, then God may seem too good to be true. You grow up thinking that God is a tease and simply unreliable.
Replacement image: Faithful God; Promise Keeper God; Generous God.
Scripture: Psalm 23; Deuteronomy 7:9; 2 Timothy 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Lamentations 3:22-23; Joshua 23:14; Philippians 1:6; James 1:17
Too-Busy God. If you were left alone to figure things out on your own because you parents were busy, then your God-image tends to think God has more important things to attend to than you. You may have felt abandoned or neglected by your caregivers and God.
Replacement image: All-Knowing God; Pursuing God; Always Available God.
Scripture: Psalm 139:1-18; Psalm 3; Psalm 40; Hebrews 13:5; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 Kings 8:27; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Proverbs 15:3; 1 Corinthians 3:16; John 14:18; 1 John 3:24
Emotionally Distant God. If your parents didn’t help you when you were struggling through difficult emotions like anger, pain, despair, or fear, then you may also think that God is impersonal, cold and not emotional. Maybe there is an unspoken rule that when it comes to emotions, you don’t go there or don’t talk about it.
Replacement image: Empathetic God; Gracious God; All-powerful God; Protector God.
Scripture: Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 Peter 5:10; 2 Samuel 22:33; Job 26:7-14; Jeremiah 10:12-13; Psalm 34:17-19; Proverbs 29:25; Romans 8:37; Hebrews 13:6
Punisher God. If your parents or caregivers were abusive, then you may think that God is mean for allow it. You may think that God hates you because horrifying things happen on his watch. Or maybe you had a dream for your life or career (or call from God), but it didn’t pan out as you had planned, then you may think God is crushing your dreams for no good reason.
Replacement image: Healer God; Patient God; Kind God; Forgiving God; Merciful God.
Scripture: Matthew 20:29-34; Isaiah 40; Psalm 36; Psalm 86; Luke 6:36; Ephesians 4:32
There are likely a dozen more distortions to be uncovered, but these are by far the biggest. It is possible to believe a combination or all of these distortions, but what is important is to acknowledge that they are distortions of God. It is not an accurate image of who God really is.
Growing a God-like God-Image
When you have a distorted God-image, you can wonder how can I know what God is really like? Here are three helpful paths towards having a God-like God-image.
First, Look in the Book. The best and most accurate God-image you have is from God himself. Discover what is said about God in the Bible. Memorize verse about God that counter the distortions you believe about God.
If you think that God couldn’t love you, then read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 with the reality that each word describes God’s love towards you. It is as if God is writing you a love letter. Or read the Gospels, see how Jesus demonstrated love and put yourself in the place of those he shows love towards. Jesus is God’s love with shoes on.
I have found that studying the Scripture, particularly some of the verses gathered above about God that counter my distortions. I have sought to memorize or post these Scriptures in prominent stops as mental and visual reminders not only to aid my intellect, but to affect my heart.
The Bible has a storehouse of images about God. For example, when reading the Bible you hear that God is a Good Shepherd, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Forgiving Father, Gift Giver, Healer, Lover, and Comforter. Those are powerful life-changing God-images. The Bible’s God-images have a way of penetrating through the distortions you have built up over the years.
Second, Ask others and God how you see or respond to him. By asking it will help you discern your distortion about God.
It may be helpful to draw a picture. Take a piece of paper and draw images or symbols that depict your God-image as a child, adolescent, young adult, or most currently. Show it to others and explain what you see, ask what they see.
Third, be in a safe community. Christian relationships are crucial. It begins at church and small groups in church. As you learn about God from other people who love God this affects your God-image. If you learned a distorted God-image in relationship with others; it will take relationships with others help you say “no” to distorted God-images.
When you shed distorted images of God and replace them with true images of God from the Bible you will display to others a beautiful image of God. How the world needs to see a God who is patient, kind, loving, generous, helpful, humble, available, fair, faithful, merciful and so much more.