As I listen to different people speak about God, I hear so many different views of Him. It causes me to wonder if we humankind are somewhat like the blind men in the famous poem by John Godfrey Saxe.
If you recall the poem, you know the blind men go to see an elephant to observe what he is like. Each of them approaches the elephant from a different position. As each is trying to touch him and describe him, each comes up with a very different view of what an elephant is.
I think we are so often blind to the truth of who God is. Our view of Him is skewed by the influence of so many people and things we experience in life (many of them during our formative years in childhood). I have read more than a few books and articles that describe those different perspectives into categories.
One research study by Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion in 2006 settled on four categories for our perception of God. These are: “Authoritarian God, Critical God, Distant God, and Benevolent God”.
The labels give you a clear indication of the perspectives. Let’s look at the definitions of the four adjectives for the sake of clarity:
Authoritarian – “favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority”
Critical – “expressing adverse or disapproving comments or judgments.”
Distant – “far away in space or time”
Benevolent – “well meaning and kindly”
Studies of child development point to how often our relationship with our parents and especially our fathers influence how we view God. Throw in our first exposure to clergy and a pretty strong impression starts to develop in a formative mind.
The consequence is that our values and how we choose to act and react begin to form from those early views and perceptions. How much we want to draw close to God or anything associated with spirituality flows out of these consequences and perceptions.
For some there is a disconnect when they see Jesus in the New Testament as compared to God in the Old Testament. Jesus seems so consistently benevolent and many fail to see any evidences of grace in the God they see, hear, or read about in the Old Testament. Page by page throughout the Old Testament we see God blessing people, showing His kindness, care, and forgiveness despite rebellion, stubbornness and deceit.
No matter what our earthly fathers may have been and no matter what clergy may have been like in our life, God wants us to know the whole of who He is and not be like the blind men who each saw only a part and believed the whole was the same as a part.
If our images of Him are skewed from wounds and hurts, He offers healing.
We have difficulty in our humanity to balance seemingly opposite characteristics without dissonance when we look at God. He is gentle as a shepherd, but He is also strong like a lion. He is tender and full of love, but also just and promises judgment.
His Word reminds us of the truth that no one is like Him.
Here are just two examples:
“There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord, Nor are there any works like Yours.” Psalm 86:8 (ESV)
“There is none like You, O LORD; You are great, and great is Your name in might.” Jeremiah 10:6 (ESV)
If you are one who has struggled with seeing God as authoritarian, critical, or distant, consider this: God loved you so much that He didn’t want you to miss out on a relationship with Him even if you misunderstood who He was, stayed away from Him, or ignored Him. He came in human form as Jesus to help you see Him as He is.
He loved you that much.
He still does.