Every time there is some kind of survey done to see how many people in this country believe in God compared to how many are atheist it is overwhelmingly the case that most are believers. Now that certainly doesn’t mean that there are that large a number who are truly devoted to God and ready to follow Christ wherever he leads. Throughout history the temptation has been to say “I believe in God” yet try to form God into an image that fits our liking rather than really trying to understand God and His will as they are.
One of the prime reasons God forbade the Israelites to make for themselves any kind of image that they would bow down to, was that any image one might come up with, even if it offered a true picture of God in some areas, would totally ignore or miss entirely some aspect of His divine nature. If our understanding of God is flawed to the degree we picture Him in ways that go against His nature, it will lead me to behave in the same ways as I see God. It is true of all that we become like what we worship. If we turn our possessions into our God to be worshiped the result will be we become more and more devoted to money and we measure every aspect of life by it’s cost or value. The reason it is so important that our picture of God is right is that it will determine how we live. One of the best illustrations of this is religious people who view God as harsh, difficult and quick to judge then become harsh, difficult and quick to judge. This scene was played out during the life of Jesus on earth as the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees dealt with people. They saw God as a nit-picker making sure every detail was done right such as paying tithe of the herbs in the kitchen. That defined them as well.
When Paul went down to Athens, the center of the Greek culture and the center of learning in the day, he pointed out their misunderstandings about God. They were worshiping an unknown God whom they worshiped without knowing. He told them the God of the universe didn’t “dwell in temples made by hands and was not worshiped by any man’s hands as though he needed anything since he gave to all life and breath and all things.” He told them we ought not to think of God as being like gold or silver or any such thing. He isn’t like something developed through art or any of man’s devises. He then made the point that God in days past overlooked the ignorance of man but now he commands all men everywhere to repent since he has appointed a day when he will judge the world through the one he has ordained and he has given us assurance by raising him from the dead.
God is a God of amazing and wonderful grace, but if all I can see in God is grace then I picture him as soft, cuddly and easy to please. That picture certainly doesn’t hold true for many of the scenes in the Bible when God reacted with anger and vengeance on the disobedient. As a matter of fact Paul wrote to tell us that we were not to avenge ourselves but vengeance belongs to the Lord.
The key point here is that our visual image of God must be calibrated by Scripture so that we don’t have a god created in our image. Think of some of the ways God presents Himself to us so that we can know Him as he is. He is love to the degree that out of that love he gave his one and only son to live among us and die so that our sins can be forgiven (John 3:16). He is just and righteous (Romans 1:17-18). He is graceful (Ephesians 2:8-9). He forgives us (Ephesians 4:32). He invites us to come to him for life (Matthew 11:28-30). He keeps his promises to us (2 Peter 3:9). It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31). He is creator of all (Genesis 1:1-2; John 1:1-3). On and on we could go listing the different features of God and we still would’t have all His attributes.
It is intriguing to note that Jesus often used different pictures to help people think of God. Most often he referred to God as “Father” and challenged us to go to him as “Our Father in heaven.” He pictured him as a shepherd that loved the sheep and would risk everything to keep them safe. He pictured him as a woman who loved her children and protected them. In Revelations chapter 4-5 the scene is in heaven and the angelic creatures are around the throne of the Father. The question is raised of who is worthy to take the book from the hand of God and open its seals. No one was found in heaven or on earth that was worthy and John began to weep since no one could open it. Then the elder said to John not to weep that the “Lion of the tribe of Judah had prevailed and would open the book.” John turned to look and he saw a lamb that looked like it had been slain. Notice he pictured Jesus as the lion of Judah and as the lamb slain. These were intended to show us that God is not easy to define. Even people made in God’s image can be seen as very different people in different situations and around different people. How much more is that the case with God.
Don’t be guilty of creating a god to suit yourself. Be one who gets to know God as he is and determines to follow His lead in life.