My image of God has probably changed over the years. They say, our image of God is shaped by the conception we have of our father. We project his face onto the face of what we perceive about God. Often our misconception is also rooted in our understanding and interpretation of Scripture. Depending on our methodology of reading the Bible, we can realistically come up with several various perceptions about what God is like.
Some would see God as a kind of spiritual Santa Claus. In this view of God, not only does he provide us with gifts but he is also the watchful eye–He sees us when we’re sleeping and awake–he knows if we’ve been bad or good–so, be good for goodness sake.
God is also often understood as an angry, vengeful god that must be appeased. This is understandable, since much of the Old Testament was written during times when it was believed that the gods needed to be appeased. The only logical face to put on God was the face of wrath that could never quite be happy until he enacted some sort of violence. Many of the stories of the Old Testament, if taken literally, could enable this mind set.
Especially with the help of the New Testament, we understand some of the softer qualities like grace and mercy and peace and we are able to transpose these attributes onto some of the other things we don’t necessary care for in the other sections of Scripture. But, it leaves of with a little bit of confusion. How could God be for loving our neighbor and still condone acts of genocide and slavery? Even penal substitution still hints that God has to perform some act of violence to appease his anger and leaves us wondering why the whole system is so retributory. Couldn’t God just forgive without having to hurt something or someone?
If may even be our experiences that shape our view of God. Difficult situations could lead to incorrect assumptions or devising simple explanations that we know don’t make sense and don’t fool anyone. We throw up our hands and opt for a very literal view of Scripture even when we know in our heart that most literature cannot be interpreted that way.
Recently, I came across a very simple answer to the question “What is God like?”
GOD IS LIKE JESUS
The Bible says “The Son(Jesus) is the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is exactly like God and God is exactly like Jesus. If you are reading this, you probably understand the Bible enough to know that there are numerous verses in the New Testament that attest to this fact. Jesus is very literally the face of the Trinity. If we want to understand the God of the Old Testament we have to interpret it through the lens of Jesus.
When we look at Jesus, we see the face of God that says “Love your enemies,” and “turn the other cheek” and “Father forgive them.” This proper image of God’s nature helps us to more responsibly evaluate the much older text of the Old Testament. When we do this, we lose the need to force the Bible to do things it was never intended to do. Jesus’ very clear picture of God is enough.
At this point in my life, it is enough to say the writers of the Old Testament recorded what they remember in the way that made sense to them. We do not have to force the Old Testament to be an accurate history book. We also don’t have to lose any hope because we have less certainty about details about certain stories – some of them are just stories that teach lessons or amplify truth. They don’t have to be accurate to be true.
For me, this strengthens my faith. I can have more assurance of things that are certain like the testimony about Jesus. And, I have more trust in the unfolding revelation that is the story of God’s people in the Bible. All of it makes sense through the lens of Jesus.
I hope this helps your journey,