Sunday, May 8, 2011
SHAPING OUR GOD
Persistent Vine, Columbus, OH
The great French scientist and philosopher Pascal wrote that “God created people in his image on the sixth day, and every day since, people have returned the favor.” Rob Bell makes the point in his new controversial book “Love Wins” that “we shape our God, and then our God shapes us”. A recent survey noted that the vast majority of Americans believe in God, but how many of us have actually taken the time to try to understand Him? Jarrett Stevens notes in his book “The Deity Formerly Known as God” that we share a basic problem with other generations which is “our insistence on crafting images of God that limit our understanding of ourselves and limit our experience with God. We’d rather have a small, custom-built God who meets our emotional needs or suits our intellectual ideals, than a big God who can’t be controlled or contained.” It’s been said that you can tell the size of your God by looking at the size of your worry list. The larger your list, the smaller your God.
Brennan Manning believes that, “Everything we need to know about God we can find in the life of Jesus.” It was Jesus himself who asked in Matthew 16:15, “Who do you say I am?” That actually takes more than a little work on our part but as Rebecca Harding Davis has written, “We are all of us from birth to death guests at a table which we did not spread. The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet…Shall we think of the day as a chance to find out something of Him who has fed us so long?”
We’re reminded in Psalm 46:10 to “be still” to know God, but our modern world conspires to suppress both stillness and God. Somewhat in the American way, we’re raised to go to church on Sunday and the balance of the week we’re conditioned to consistently win, perfect ourselves, accomplish and accumulate. Silence is an endangered species in our time.
Some of the destructive images of God that Stevens discusses are a sweet old man, a cop around the corner, a cosmic slot machine, a talent show judge and a selective sampling of the world’s religions. Finally, he notes that “good or bad, like it or not, the bottom line is that there is no more powerful force in the universe that shapes our perception of God, other than our parents”. If you have a negative image of your parents, George MacDonald advises us to “interpret the word by all that you have missed in life.” Hopefully, God will emerge in truth and reveal to us his perfect, loving, fatherly and motherly heart.
God is our Abba or eternal Father, and according to Jesus, we are his beloved children. I pray to my eternal Father. I believe that we were created in His image and that he considers you and me His children. We share many emotions and parallels in our existence. Jesus wept and laughed with his friends and fellow journeymen. And he was frustrated and angered by uncaring, evil people. I believe our soul occupies our entire material body just as His timeful spirit occupies His entire universe.
When Jesus taught us to pray The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, he started with the words, “Our Father, who art in Heaven…”, and he addressed God as Father a total of 170 times in the Bible. Jesus created a new way of praying that is as natural as a child talking to his father. By creating us in his own image, God truly wanted someone to love and someone capable of returning that love.
To become more like God is humanity’s highest goal, by reflecting his characteristics and trusting him. The path leads to becoming less self-centered and more God-centered. I believe a few of God’s characteristics include:
• He is timeful because He knows no dimensional boundaries like space or time.
• His saving grace can forgive all charges.
• He is purposeful and ever creative.
• He has revealed Himself through the scriptures and Jesus.
• He has a loving and caring Fatherly and Motherly heart.
• He nurtures & cares for us.
• He can forgive us when we fall short.
• He can be trusted and approached with confidence.
• His freely given and priceless grace is always available.
• He gives us “free will” and is always with us.
• He is our loving, eternal Father and we are his beloved children.
• There is nothing we can do to have Him love us any more or any less.
• He wants us to make good decisions.
• He wants us to understand there are consequences to bad decisions.
• He may not interfere in our trials, but will provide peace and strength.
• He is not so much to be proven or seen as He is to be felt within.
In the final moments of relative peace before his crucifixion, Jesus assures his anxious disciples that “I am the true vine, and my father is the gardener.” We are the branches that receive sustenance from the vine and overall care from the gardener. I recently photographed a colorful vine growing on a parking lot wall in a thin crack between the wall and a sidewalk. It’s not only one of God’s beautiful creations, but a striking example of hope, persistence, and determination to grow and prosper in tough conditions under God’s care. Rick Warren has written that, “Great people are ordinary people with extraordinary amounts of persistence. They just hang in there and never give up. God is sufficient for any challenge. We just need the attitude of quiet confidence to stand firm and trust Him to sustain us.”
All that we see can teach us to trust God for all that we cannot see. And all that we can know about God can teach us to shape the one true God so that we are truly shaped in His image.