Our View of God
Imagine for a moment you’re a human the size of an ant and that your ability to see has been reduced in proportion to your size. Your field of view is now only a few inches. Imagine you and a few ant-sized friends are allowed to see and describe a car.
One friend, who is looking at the front tire, tells the group the car is made of a black, rubber-like substance. Another inspects a door panel and describes the car as a piece of hard, flat sheet metal. Another walks along the bumper and reports that it seems to be made of a smooth, reflective metallic substance. Another sits on the driver’s seat and says the car is made of a soft, brown material. One friend crawls inside the exhaust pipe and says, “No, you’re all wrong. The car is definitely more like a metallic cylinder.”
As the owner of the car, you might laugh at the attempt of ant-sized people to describe something their minds can’t fully grasp, but this is the same problem we have when trying to describe our view of God.
I’ve spoken with a lot of drug addicts over the years who have told me the ultimate experience in life is getting high on heroin. To someone who’s had this experience, the statement might seem true, because their experience may validate it. But for someone who hasn’t used heroin, the statement will seem false, because there’s no experience to validate it. The human mind is strongly biased in favor of that which we’ve personally experienced and biased against that which we have not. Our experiences shape our perceptions of the universe and its realities, including our view of God.
Most Christians say they get their views of God from the Bible, but for most of us, our views are really a combination of our personal experiences and the passages we find in the Bible that validate them. Although we don’t completely disregard the experiences of others or reject Bible passages that don’t support our experiences—the less they mimic our experiences, the less validity they have for us, personally.
I once lived as an atheist. I believed there was no God because I had never experienced Him personally (at least not in a way I was aware of). My bias was influenced by my experiences—or lack thereof. I became a believer because I had a personal experience with God.
After becoming a believer, I went through a season where my wife and I were both unemployed. During that time, God provided for our financial needs in unexpected ways and I came to know Him as my provider because that was how I experienced Him. God, Himself did not change, but my view of Him did, because of what I experienced. At that time, I discovered Bible passages that portrayed Him as Jehovah Jireh—The Lord who provides. These descriptions of God had been there in the Bible all along, but the bias I had developed in favor of them seemed somehow to make them more noticeable.
Years later, I became interested in healing. During that time, my view of God changed again and I began seeing Him as Jehova Rapha—the Lord who heals. My view of Him was now drawn more from the accounts of Jesus in the gospels as He went about healing the sick. The healing passages had always been there, but my new bias made them stand out and I focused on them, more than I did on other passages.
I have friends who have developed incredibly intimacy with God—the kind portrayed in the romantic books of the Bible. Brian Simmons is one such friend. Because his view of God (today) is one of deep, intimate love, he decided to create a new translation of the bible called, The Passion Translation. The focus (or bias) of Brian’s mind is different from mine, although both of us have biblically correct views.
I have other friends whose lives are filled with mystical, supernatural experiences with God. They travel into the heavens and meet all kinds of beings there. They see the manifestation of gemstones, gold dust, manna, and oil, regularly. They talk with angels and experience shifts in the space-time continuum. Their view of God is different from the view others have. And they see passages in the scriptures that portray God this way because their experiences give them a different bias.
I know people who have come out of a life of terrible sin and rebellion. They found God to be a patient, merciful and forgiving Father who never condemned but always encouraged them. These believers have found the passages in the Bible that assure them that mercy has triumphed over judgement, that grace covers all our sins, and that we’re perfectly righteous in His eyes. They have a personal bias that paints a unique portrait of God.
I have other friends who are concerned about what they perceive to be a change for the worse in the moral behavior of our nation. They see wickedness and evil on the increase. These believers tend to see God as a righteous judge, who must execute judgment upon sin. They draw their view of Him from passages in the scriptures where He’s portrayed in this manner because that happens to be their personal bias.
God has graciously portrayed Himself in the scriptures a thousand different ways. One reason He’s done this is to give validation to each person for the way in which they choose to view Him. To some, He is the One who stands closer than a brother. Some see Him as the zealot who flipped over the money changer’s tables. Others see Him as the shepherd who goes after lost sheep. Some have found Him to be their passionate lover and others—their healer. Some see Him as the judge. All these views are biblical. The difference lies in which passages we choose to emphasize or ignore.
Our perception of God is a reflection of what we believe to be true about Him and those beliefs are strongly influenced by our biases. Our view of God is, in a sense, a projection of all that we believe to be right and good and true in the universe. And that view is unique to us and in a constant state of change, even if we aren’t aware of it.
Most people will not claim that their view of God is the only right view of Him—at least not openly. We usually agree that God is multi-faceted and that all the descriptions of Him found in the scriptures are needed to give a complete view of Him. And yet, when we speak of God in specific terms, our words reflect our thoughts, and our thoughts are influenced by our unique biases. These biases create a specific picture of God that we embrace and it’s this image that we present to the world.
My suggestion (if you’re looking for one) is to recognize your own biases and realize that they color your view of God. You might allow others to hold to their own view, without feeling compelled to convince them your view is right and theirs is wrong. The one who is most able to change our view of God is God. Also, consider that your view of Him is likely to change over time. What you believe about Him today may not be what you believe about Him 10 years from now. Realize that since we’re all being conformed into the image of God, the image we embrace is the one we’re becoming. Ask yourself if the image you now have of Him is the one you want to become more like. If it isn’t, you might ask Him to reveal Himself to you in a way you haven’t yet experienced.