Ever heard people say great things about God and thought, “that is NOT the God I know?”
Over a lifetime, we each slowly put together some sort of picture of God with a bunch of emotions and experiences that go with it. I sometimes realize my mental picture of God is as a man who is nice but really distant from me—waving and smiling but ultimately unhelpful. Or I catch myself praying with an assumption that God always has a vague sense of disappointment in me.
There’s a big gap between what’s in our head and the real God.
There’s a way to start bridging the gap, but it starts with being open-minded enough to consider two things:
- Some of what you think of God might be wrong
- There’s truth about Him to be found in the Bible
Clearing up my own bad mental images of God is actually one of the reasons I read the Bible as often as I do: the more I know the real Him, the more sense my life (and God) begins to make.
The God you meet there will probably challenge you, but I think most of us would love it if God took the time to re-introduce himself to us. To somehow say, “let’s start again.”
We need the real God because we need all of who He is to make it through this life. I need the forgiveness of God when I say crappy things to my husband or eat my kids’ Chipotle leftovers and blame it on their brother.
I need God to be true and sovereign and in control at a time when I feel lied to on every news channel and can’t seem to figure out what version of our country to believe. I need God to actually show up in my life and be exactly who He is depicted to be in the Bible, a mysterious complexity of both unending grace and uncompromising truth.
Some of us really only want to know God as one or the other—preferring the softness of grace or the firmness of truth. The book of John says that when God came to earth as the God-Man named Jesus, we got a fully accurate picture of who He really is, and it was both.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. -/ John 1:14
As I think about my own misconceptions and hear others talk about God, I think there are three reasons we usually have a lopsided view of Him that leans too soft or too hard:
We don’t understand that God is NOT like us. We fall into the trap sometimes of thinking that God is just like us—our buddy. He’s not your big bestie in the sky. God is holy, meaning he is in a category all by himself. Yes, we are made in His image. Yes, He wants to be our “friend.” But God is not the same as a human being. There are things God is and does that we can never be. He can hold seemingly opposite character qualities in perfect balance and unison, unlike me, who really stinks at it. I struggle to be kind when defending a friend or my kid. God does not. I struggle to be gentle when I’m working on a big priority. God does not. I struggle to have hard conversations with full transparency if someone’s feelings could be hurt. God does not. Because of our struggles to be all things at once, we have a hard time imagining a God that isn’t like us. He can do it. We can’t. He just isn’t like us in a lot of ways. He can be grace and truth at once—friend and master, sovereign and freedom-giving. God is God. We are not Him.
We put stuff on God because of bad associations. At one time in my life, I was deep into a bad relationship. I couldn’t get out on my own. I had lied too much and constructed a house of cards that was bound to fall. Eventually, I got brave enough to ask God to help me (good move), but when he did, it hurt. And my life fell apart for a while. There’s part of my brain that understands why God had to pull me out in a dramatic fashion when I couldn’t rescue myself. Of course, it hurt. I had cheated and wronged people! But there’s another part of me that took on a misconception about God that I now have to continually fight off: I hesitate to ask for God’s help sometimes because I’m afraid He will always deal harshly with me. I tend to think that maybe He’s looking to teach me a hard lesson or pull the rug out from under my life. Even though I fully see and understand (and am grateful!) for His painful rescue out of that relationship, I sometimes now respond to him from a bad association with the past. I’ve taken on a picture of Him that is lopsided. He is a complex, mysterious mixture of truth AND grace. I try to think of him the way He thinks of himself, as he said in Exodus 34:6-7:
“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished…”
- We don’t always understand at first what God is doing. This has also been me so many times. I want to explain God right away, saying things like, “Well, God must be doing ___.” We come to conclusions too quickly and many times proclaim something about God waaaaaaaaay too soon. This makes us assign Him wrong motives. We accuse Him of being things He isn’t. I did this recently when I was reading the gospel of Luke. It was a story of when Jesus busted a woman out of the crowd as he healed her, putting her in a spot where she was uncomfortable and afraid (Luke 8:43-48). I said out loud to God when I saw it; “Why did you do that, God?! You weren’t very kind. Why’d you have to bust her out like that?! Why not just let her go quietly and be healed??” After finishing the story and re-reading it a couple of times, I realized her momentary discomfort was necessary for her full healing. Jesus actually wanted the best for her! He wasn’t being mean at all, but my first instinct was to say, “Not cool, God; sometimes you’re not very nice.” I spoke too soon. I accused God because I just didn’t see what He was doing at first.
Because of these things (and no doubt other stuff too), we’ve gotta have a better source of truth about God than ourselves and our life experiences. That’s why we read the Bible.
It’s full of the truth about who God really is. In it, one of the ways we can see Him more clearly is with the incredible array of interesting names used for God. Getting familiar with God’s names can really help with the parts of Him we have yet to meet ourselves. If we let it, the Bible will challenge and correct the bad thinking we have about who God is. Transformation begins as we put our brains around the picture of him presented there and consider that it might just be the right one. This is doing what is called “renewing our minds” (Rom 12:2). From this truth, we can test and apply and interpret our own life—not the other way around!
It is really tough sometimes to override my own view and reinterpret my own experiences with what’s written there. But I know that I am not a trustworthy interpreter of God. My perspective on Him is just too narrow.
So my challenge to you during the next month is to meet God by a new name. Actually, read some of the scriptures listed in my geeky appendix. Get to know Him. Start with a simple prayer:
God, will you please show me a name here that represents a piece of you I need to meet? I want to know you better. Amen.