A.W. Tozer once wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” I can hardly disagree. For people of faith, those who believe in God as the pervading force and presence of the universe, and who base their moral and spiritual lives on this belief, Tozer must be correct. And if Tozer is correct, our perception of God shapes our character and actions like little else.
So it’s no wonder that some faithful people are the way they are: Loving, helpful, sacrificial, kind, and giving. They think of God this way. But on the other hand, some religious people are angry, suspicious, unforgiving, and even murderous. These folks, in turn, think of God in these terms as well, and it shows.
Personally, this is why Christ is so important to my faith. He offered a revolutionary vision of God, a new way to think about who God is, and how God relates to creation. Jesus showed us a God best described as an affectionate parent. This God really does love, accept, treasure, and cherish us – as a “Father has compassion on his children.” This was the driving force behind all Jesus said and did.
It becomes clear, when diving into the words of Christ, that he came not to change God’s thinking about us – that is absolutely preposterous – he came to change our thinking about God. In light of Jesus, we must let go of all understandings of God that are less than loving or less than gracious. This will reorient our entire lives and correct so many of the misguided and misrepresented divine images that have been put before us.
By way of example, I have a friend whose theology – that is, her understanding of God – is a bit, frankly, sadistic. God, for her, is Father, but he wins no “Parent of the Year” awards, for he is always lurking as an unpredictable bogeyman who must be continually appeased. He is enraged, vicious, and eager to rub out a groveling sinner (or an entire city) if it befits him.
Thus, she lives in abject terror of God and inflicts this terror on others; her theological angst splatters on all who get close to her. Recently, however, I connected the dots between her thinking about God and the relationship she had with her own father, when in an unguarded moment she told a forbidding story from her childhood.
She was twelve years old or so and her father had come home drunk, as usual. In his stupor he pulled a revolver from his chair-side table and called his daughter, my friend, over to his lap. He cuddled her in his arms for a few moments and then placed the cold steel of the revolver against the back of her head.
“Did you know I could blow your brains out right now?” he asked her in a menacing whisper. Then he put the gun aside and held her close again, only to return to the gun and repeat the question again and again over the space of the evening. One moment he was tender and loving, and the next he had a gun barrel pushed against her skull with the hammer pulled back.
This is a horrible story. More so, it is a horrible experience for anyone to live through, and it has caused her all types of emotional disturbances over her lifetime, not the least of which is her thinking about God. For her, and I understand why she feels this way, God is just like her drunken father.
The moral and spiritual authority for her life is an erratic, cold-hearted bastard whose words of love are nothing more than an invitation to terror. Her God calls out for his children, takes them into his arms, and then threatens them with violence. Such a God is unworthy of worship, incapable of being trusted, and impossible to love. Thankfully, such a God doesn’t exist, for Jesus has shown us that God is good, and he’s good all the time.