Where Do Your Ideas About God Come From?
Picture by Greg Rakozy (CC0)
I remember once, as a 6 or 7-year-old, lying in my bed feeling hopeless. At the time my parents were involved in one of the world’s more zealous religious sects, and I was being raised according to its tenets.
As best as this primary schooler could, I contemplated what the God associated with this faith wanted from me. To have any chance of gaining his favour I’d have to knock on stranger’s doors every weekend, trying to convert them. I didn’t want to do that – I felt too shy. But then again, if I understood things correctly, I could visit every home in my town and there was still no promise that I’d make it to heaven.
Suddenly I felt trapped. And life began to look like a sick joke.
The God I imagined sitting up there in heaven seemed mean, arbitrary and hard to please – a God whose judgement you could never be sure you could avoid.
What is (Your) God Like?
I share a little more of that experience in the podcast above; the story is drawn from my newly re-released book Unseen Footprints. (The podcast is from a 2011 series based on the book. You can find the rest of those episodes here).
Basically put, all of us have an image or concept of God in our hearts and minds. It may be explicitly known or held in our subconscious, but we have one – pieced together from a variety of books, movies, artworks, conversations and experiences. Where is yours from? Here are some common images.
The Bearded Grandfather God (think most classic artists, like Cima da Conegliano)
The Impersonal Life-Force God (think Avatar, The Secret, and most new age authors)
The Family Guy God (he drinks, swears and reads girly magazines. He’s, umm, lenient)
The Far Side God (ready to smite at a key stroke)
Humour aside, 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, what is your God like? What images and characteristics come to mind when you think of him?
Uncovering Your Images of God
Here’s an exercise I include in the study guide for Unseen Footprints to help uncover the images of God you hold. (By the way, the study guide is FREE; you can sign up for it below.) Back to the exercise. Take a journal or notepad and reflect on the following:
1. Images: 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.
2. Characteristics: 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.
3. Origins: 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.
My initial understanding of God was shaped by my early religious experience. Yours will come from somewhere too. Now, what is God really like? How different are our images and beliefs to God’s real nature? That’s where we’ll venture in next week’s post. But not before your feedback below!
Talk to Me
Where have your dominant ideas about God come from? How have they changed over the years? Leave a comment below now or call me using the ‘Send Voicemail’ button on the right. Please also rate and share this podcast on iTunes to help others discover it!