Putting a New Face On God
The title of this article may have caught your attention. Putting a new face on God? Does God need a new face, you might ask? Isn’t God the same, yesterday, today, and forever? Does God even have a face?
Throughout the ages, many have attempted to see God. Perhaps the most famous is a biblical character named Moses. The book of Exodus records a face-to-face encounter between Moses and God where an actual conversation transpired. The account is found in Exodus chapter 33 where Moses is said to have visited a tent to intercede on behalf of God’s people and there Moses actually saw God. Later in the same chapter, Moses again sought God’s glory and on that occasion was only permitted to see God’s back. What was so special about Moses that he was able to see God? Can God actually be seen?
There are other historical accounts in the Bible and Christian history that describe encounters with God, but few make the audacious claim to have actually seen God. But what if we are all seeing God in a sense? Not necessarily in the context of a face-to-face encounter, but in our minds. Is it possible we all perceive God in some fashion or another? And what if those images we have of God shape our lives?
This book attempts to answer those questions. For centuries the church has studied the nature and character of God and articulated theological statements describing who God is. These statements can be difficult for an ordinary person to understand. The doctrines of God form belief systems by which various religious denominations organize themselves. These statements are necessary and helpful. This book, however, is not going to unpack formal doctrinal statements about God. This book’s author thinks a different conversation is needed. Instead of debating doctrine and belief systems, actual perceptions people have of God will be examined. Unhelpful ones will be discarded and new ones will be constructed.
I first came to this study as a teenager. I was a relatively new follower of Jesus and I found myself wrestling with the following question: What is God like? Unlike some of my friends and cohorts, I did not grow up in a church environment where God was explained to me. For the most part, I attempted figure it out on my own. I formulated a view of God based on the limited amount of teaching I received and some of my own personal experiences. At times, it was a terrifying journey! What if God is angry? What if God is unsympathetic? Were some of the questions that raced through my mind.
This much is true: How we see God shapes our life. The formal doctrines and beliefs articulated by the church are important, but not more important than how we actually see God in our mind’s eye. The images we each carry impact our emotional health, our interpersonal relationships, and ultimately the trajectory of our journey with God. Have you considered how you see God?
As with many persons who possess a negative view of God, how they view themselves is affected. Take Allison for example. She routinely feels bad about herself and projects those feelings onto God. She confesses, “I don’t think God likes me because I’m not good enough.” Allison’s problems are rooted in the statement; “I’m not good enough” leading to desperate attempts to please God or maybe give up altogether. Assuming Allison continues on this trajectory, at what point will she ever be good enough? The obvious answer is never. It is like the fable of the donkey and the carrot. The carrot is always out of reach. The reward is visible and desirable and, seemingly, within reach. All it takes is more effort, but after all that effort the reward is still the same distance away. What drives this behavior? Feelings of unworthiness and low self-esteem. It’s a trap! The notion that a person’s unworthiness is cured by working harder and doing better is totally false.
Allison elaborates on her struggles with God, “I feel God is keeping score and I’m not making the cut, if life is a test, I’m failing. Something must be wrong with me and I don’t feel close to God.” Allison relates to God based on performance. Her God is always beyond her reach and never satisfied. The internal struggle and conflict embedded in her view of God causes tremendous pain. How can Allison be in a relationship with a God that doesn’t think she’s good enough?
Sadly, many feel trapped in this dangerous mindset and sometimes it is hard to discern whether a person’s low self-esteem is the result of seeing God negatively or if a negative view of God results in low self-esteem. We may not get that tension resolved entirely, but working toward a solution is possible.
A young man named Manuel provides another example. Manuel battles against pornography consumption. His great gap struggle has a slightly different presentation. “I feel that God thinks I’m naughty,” he says. Manuel grew up in the church and was taught the goodness of God and the beauty of salvation in Christ, but on a subjective level, he feels unworthy of that beauty and goodness because of the addiction gripping his soul. His personal self-image suffers along with his feelings about God. His emotions keep score resulting in considerable shame, guilt, and depression.
Where does he go from here? Manuel needs reminded that God is not going to whop him for falling into a sinful habit. Feeling unworthy of God’s love is a natural byproduct of porn consumption or any addiction for that matter. The face of God’s love is deeply marred by porn’s lies. God, however, is bigger than a porn habit and redeeming love can break through the filth. Recovery from the impoverishment that porn brings into one’s life is needed on a large scale in society and it begins with an understanding of love’s transformative power and the sin penetrating qualities of God’s grace. Manuel is a good candidate for a renewed vision of God’s love found in the bible. Replacing a God who condemns with a God who loves and rescues is needed.
Excerpts from “Putting a New Face on God: How we see God shapes our life” by Rev. Dr. Bob Hunter from a yet to be determined publisher. The book will contain ten chapters with spiritual formation exercises and small group discussion questions. For inquiries contact: firstname.lastname@example.org