Monday, March 21, 2011

In the Image of God

I have heard people say that the way we view God is often in relation to how we view our fathers. If we view our fathers positively, we will likely view God positively. If we view our fathers negatively, we will likely view God negatively. I believe this is true because it seems to mirror how I have felt about God before. There have been times in my life when I felt a lot of anger, disappointment, sadness, or frustration with my dad, and, looking back, I can see how during those times, some of those same feelings were projected onto God as well. Then, there have also been times when I got along really well with my dad, felt very close to him, and likewise felt that way toward God. Knowing that God is the ultimate father, it is simply hard not to compare our earthly fathers to him. However, I would say that our view of God may be influenced by more than just our fathers.

From biblical teaching, we know that God is always referred to in the male form, but that he created both male and female in his own image. So, mightn’t our view of God also be in light of how we view our mothers? I think it is certainly possible. Our mothers, above all, can show us the gentleness of God, the patience of God, and the unconditional love of God, perhaps better than our fathers ever could. I say this because these are characteristics more commonly expressed by females than males, but not to mean that all women are like this or that no man can be; either could be true. With this in mind, if the relationship with our mothers becomes strained, might we not also experience a strain in our relationship with God?

There is another area of influence which goes beyond gender itself, and one which I believe more commonly influences our relationship with God than anything else does, and that is in our relationships with those of authority. Our fathers and mothers are certainly authority figures, but so are church elders and deacons, preachers, grandparents (or older relatives), teachers, politicians, and employers. These are people we can look up to or look down upon, have good relationships with or poor relationships with. If we feel unloved, uncared for, and unwanted by one or both of our parents, by a teacher, an elder or deacon in church, a preacher, or our boss, might we not also feel that their treatment of us in this regard is an extension of how God feels about us? If we constantly disapprove of and mistrust our political leaders, might we not also grow to feel the same about God? All of this is possible, because of the correlation we may see consciously or unconsciously between those having great authority over our lives, and God, who we are told has the greatest authority, not only over our lives but over everything.

Two other areas of influence may be in our relationships with peers and how we view ourselves. If our peers reject us, then might we not also feel rejected by God? When one is friendless, it is easy to become isolated, lonely, bitter, resentful, and just in general to become an outcast, if not in reality then at least in mind where the thought that nobody, including God, must want anything to do with you. And if you begin to think little of yourself, for whatever reason, it can certainly become difficult imagining anyone else feeling any better about you. If our peers flock to us thinking we are really something special, though, then might we not also feel that God wants to be with us and thinks we are special? If we feel good about ourselves, or like whom we are, then might we not also be more likely to think God will like us too? I think it is possible.

Looking at all of this, it is very likely, at least to my mind, that our view of God can be greatly viewed as an extension of how we view others in our lives who hold similar traits to God. Here’s an example just to illustrate this theory. If a man’s father wants nothing to do with him, his mother isn’t gentle, caring or considerate in her approach to him, his preacher, teacher, or other authority figures are not patient with him or have broken his trust somehow, and his peers reject him, then might that same man not also come to believe that, in general, he isn’t wanted, loved, respected or cared about by anyone, including God? After all, if everyone else treats him a certain way, why would God be any different? Mustn’t there be something about him that makes him unworthy of God? It is easy to see the mindset that can form against God when looking at how people treat each other. Maybe that is why Jesus commanded us to do to others the way we would want done unto us. Our influence over each other is so profound and lasting that it can reach all aspects of our lives, including influencing our relationship with God.

The good news, however, is that God is not everybody else. He is flawless, perfect, and pure in everything he does. Humans are not this way. We are fallen, imperfect, and certainly far from pure in most cases. Just because someone fails you, that doesn’t mean God will do the same. Just because someone hates you, doesn’t mean God hates you. Just because someone rejects you, doesn’t mean God will reject you. What we have to keep in mind is that we are in God’s image, and not the other way around. God is not an expression of us, we are an expression of him, one that has been weakened and flawed because of our sin. So when we view God through the lens of how we view others, we are wrong to do so. We can certainly see God at times through other people, but that doesn’t mean that we can see God in everything somebody else does. Only Jesus holds that distinction. The rest of us, too much of the time, fall short.