I imagine everyone has a box inside their minds in which their ideas of God fit nicely. I know that my God box existed, for the most part, completely unconsciously in an unexamined part of my soul. After all, trying to understand who God is a strenuous activity for most of us. I think that for myself, my earliest imaginings turned the idea that man is made in the image of God completely around. I believed, without recognizing that I thought this, that God was just like a man, only much, much larger. My box was designed to keep God safe and knowable.
This is a childish view, of course, but I am convinced that many see Him as just that; a giant God-man, not unlike Superman, only invisible, and of course, more powerful. The imago dei is one of the clearest pictures we have of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Yet this portrait of Jesus, in the flesh and yet God, the Word made flesh has its shortcomings as well, painted as it is with the rough brush strokes of our minds. We know all too well the limitations of humankind, and our minds assume that God has some of these as well, just not quite as small as our limitations.
Our minds simply cannot conceive of a God that is omnipresent and omniscient so we push the boundaries of God only as far as we can think them. Many think of God as the CEO of a large company, aware of how his top leaders are doing, but perhaps less connected to his minor employees. It came as a genuine surprise to me in my twenties to discover that God was able to hold me and my problems very close to his heart despite the clamor and cry of the whole suffering world. I still cannot conceive how He can do this with everyone, but that is part of the mystery.
Another God box in which we place our ideas of God, for, of course, He will not actually fit in them, is the disappointed god. This god is pretty much always disappointed with our feeble efforts at living for him. Frankly, this god is always in a bad mood and any offering we make of ourselves will prove inadequate every time. This ticked off deity can be difficult to face so we wait several days before confessing our sins. We know that this god is always aware of them, but we figure a waiting period will help lessen this god’s anger and disappointment. This self-inflicted punishment takes the place of grace. We take our licks as we earn them from this temperamental god. This box harms our ability to experience God’s love.
I heard Bill Johnson say in a sermon once that God is always in a good mood. I did not realize that I had substituted a false god in place of the real one until I heard him say that. He took it further and said that God is not mad at us. This is, in fact, the gospel. God isn’t mad at us anymore because our sins no longer stand between us and Him because of the finished work on the cross. I would like to think that I was the only one who held up the mad God for the real one in error. But I have seen many in prayer ministry come to a healing place simply by being told that God isn’t mad at them nor is He disappointed with them, not in the least.
My least favorite stand-in for the real God is the disappointing god. People tell me quite often that God has disappointed them quite often. In fact, from their point of view, the gospel is weak. The logical flaw in this reasoning is that God is a giant vending machine. If we follow the rules, then this god’s job is to give us what we want. Then, as we follow the rules, then this god is obligated to make sure nothing bad happens to us.
Inevitably bad things happen to just about everyone. Instead of questioning their reasoning or their ideas of God, these people question their god’s capabilities and find him to be lacking. The piece in the puzzle that is missing in their calculations is that of free will.
This whole world is in the hands of men who make their choices freely and often without caring about the effect on others. That the real God is always present to comfort and to guide through distressing situations is inadequate to them. The tragedy is that in deciding God is inadequate, we cut Him off at the pass. I have witnessed many miracles, miracles that happened in the midst of or near the end of tragic circumstances. Keeping Him in that box will prevent our experiencing Him or seeing Him in our darkest hours.
So many god boxes exist that I couldn’t possibly delve into all of them. The ones that come most readily to my mind are the idea of God as abstract values such as truth, beauty, and love, as well as the idea of God as a distant watchmaker who would the inner workings of this earth eons ago. Now He sits off at a distance to watch the unraveling.
What interests me about our tendency to remake God into a comprehensible concept or a finite being is our discomfort with mystery. The contents of a box are always knowable, unlike God. A logical fallacy exists under the name of ‘argument from ignorance’. It goes something like this: We don’t know if ghosts exist, therefore they must not exist. The opposing argument then responds: We don’t know if ghosts exist, therefore they must exist. Our brains do not like to end with the statement we don’t know.
With God, it is possible to know Him, but only in part. And it is possible to understand, but only in part. We cannot comprehend eternity, so we make God temporal. We do not understand omniscience so we put a cap on God’s understanding. In a conditional world of contracts and agreements, we can’t comprehend unconditional love, so we substitute lesser gods whose limits are conceivable.
My least favorite god in a box is the weak god. I remember a friend of mine had just finished veterinary school. Of course, evolution was routinely taught. When he told his mother that he was pretty sure evolution existed, her response was to slap him across the face. Apparently, God needed to be defended against the possibility of doubt. And yet, I have often tried to preserve God from my doubts or anger, as if He needed preserving from my emotion because He was too weak to face them.
When I find myself shrinking God to a man-sized and therefore fathomable dimension, I try to remember the mysteries that I don’t understand but find fascinating. Remember, we serve a God who created dinosaurs. Eons of great monsters that roamed the earth, dreamed up by a God whose visions are bigger than mine. I serve a God who created a vast array of pleasures and then handed the keys of free will to mankind. He is a risky God. And He is a God who offered His own life in exchange for mine. His choice of redemption through His own death contains within it a mystery that is even now working its way through this hurting world.
Books I am reading now:
My daughters were a fan of this one. It has some useful and new info.
This is such an excellent book for understanding how amazing and fragile our minds are: