Who’s the God in Your Head?

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The mission of ReKnew is to encourage Christians and non-Christians to rethink through things they previously thought they knew. The nine proclamations of the ReKnew Manifesto reflect nine aspects of traditional Christianity, and especially Evangelical Christianity, that we believe need to be reconceived. These by no means exhaust the things ReKnew will be concerned with, but they do represent a kind of “bulls eye” of our vision.

I’ve been taking my time going through this Manifesto to unpack each of these nine proclamations. So far I’ve posted blogs on the ReKnew calling to rethink our Source of LIFE and to rethink our understanding of faith. I’d now like to start a series of posts on the third proclamation of the ReKnew Manifesto, which is the challenge for us to rethink our picture of God.

While most people believe in God, there’s very little agreement on what God is like.  Many imagine God to be an angry and austere judge who punishes sinners by sending diseases, disabilities or catastrophes upon them. Some see God as a sort of cosmic tyrant who meticulously controls all that happens, include all evil and all suffering, and who predestines people to heaven or hell. Others picture God as a sort of absentee landlord who is too preoccupied with running the universe to be interested in the details of their lives, while still others see him as a sort of quaint old grandpa in the sky who just wants his grandkids to have fun.

Many Christian theologians and philosophers in church history have conceived of God as “too exalted” to be genuinely affected by us little humans. They claim that God never experiences change (he’s “immutable”) or emotion (he’s “impassible”), for he exists in a timeless present moment. For example, Aquinas, borrowing heavily from Aristotle, thought that God’s knowledge of the world isn’t derived from the world, because this would make God’s knowledge dependent on the world, which would imply that something affects God. This, Aquinas argued, would undermine his “immutability.” He rather held that God timelessly knows the world by knowing himself as the determiner of every aspect of the world. In his Summa Theologica, he concluded that, “the relationship between God and the world is real to the world, but not to God.”

You can see that there are a number of different ways of conceiving of God. And in my opinion, the way you conceive of God, and even more importantly, the way you imagine God, is the single most important factor in your life. For our relationship with God is mediated through our mental images of him. How we imagine God thus determines the sort of relationship you have with him and the sort of difference this relationship will make in your life. The way you imagine God also has the single strongest influence on how you interpret events in your life, what you think about yourself as well as what you think about others.

In subsequent blogs I’ll argue that our mental image of God should be completely anchored in Christ. But for right now, I’d like to encourage you to just start to become aware of your mental picture. This is not the same as asking you about your beliefs about God, for our beliefs and our mental pictures often disagree. I’m rather asking, when you think about God, what comes to mind?

Image by Michael Tracey. Used in accordance with Creative Commons. Sourced via Flickr.