478355603_5a303d9836

Conflicting Pictures of God

In my ongoing reflections on the ReKnew Manifesto, I’ve spent the last two posts (here and here) arguing that nothing is more important in our life than our mental images of God. If so, then the all-important question is: what authority do we trust to tell us what God is like? To most evangelicals, the answer is obvious: “the Bible.” If the Bible is the one and only inspired Word of God, what other answer could one possibly give?

I fully agree that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but I think we have to be careful saying we should base our mental picture of God on this. For this would suggest that all of its various portraits of God have equal authority to tell us what God is like. In this case, for example, the portrait of God telling his people to “destroy [the Canaanites] totally” and to “show them no mercy” (Deut 7:2) as well as the multitude of pictures of God engaging in horrific violence would have the same authority to reveal God to us as the portrait of God revealed in Christ. Every violent portrayal of God in the Old Testament would be on a par of the portrait of God giving his life for his enemies and praying for their forgiveness with his last breath that we find in the crucified Christ. In other words, Christ would comprise only part of our mental image of God, but not the whole image.

In this light, it’s not surprising that so many Christians have conflicted images of God.  Luther and Calvin, for example, celebrated the beautiful love and mercy of the God revealed in Christ, but they also both spoke of a dark side to God that is hidden behind the cross. Though he’s revealed in Christ to be full of love, both of these theologians envisioned another side of God which predestines all the evil that comes to pass and even decrees that the majority of humans spend eternity in hell. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin himself called the decree of damnation “a horrible decree.”

It’s been my experience that, by virtue of giving all portraits of God equal authority to define our image of God, most Christians have, to one degree or another, a composite image of God in which Christ represents the “loving side” of God while the Father represents a side that is capable of engaging in behaviors that seem the opposite of loving – like predestining Auschwitz and the damnation of untold numbers of people. And with such amalgamated mental pictures of God, it’s not surprising that so many find it hard to passionately love God or get all their LIFE from God.

I agree that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but as we’ll begin to see in my next post, the Bible itself teaches us that we are not to give every portrait of God equal weight. We’ll see that God has, throughout history, condescended to whatever level he needed to in order to relate to people where they were. And this meant that God often had to take on appearances that conceal more of his true character than they reveal it. Only in Christ do we find the truth of what God is really like.

Image by Derrick Tyson. Used in accordance with Creative Commons. Sourced via Flickr

Category:
Tags: , , ,

Related Reading

Violence: What Did Jesus Do?

Thomas Quine via Compfight Here’s a spot-on reflection on what Jesus taught us about responding to violence. Whatever you think about the justification of violence in particular situations, as Christians we simply cannot escape the fact that Jesus demonstrated another way. From the reflection: And though he had access to unlimited power to have himself released…

The Perfect Love of God

The Father, Son and Spirit exist as the infinite intensity and unsurpassable perfection of eternal love. We know this about the triune God not by speculation but because Jesus demonstrated that love (Rom 5:8) in his willingness to go to the furthest extreme possible to save us. When the all-holy God stooped to become our…

Does Jesus’ Abandonment on the Cross Destroy the Trinity?

In my previous blog I argued that Jesus’ experience of God-forsakenness on the cross was genuine and that, as a matter of fact, there was a genuine abandonment of Jesus by the Father on the cross. In fact, I am convinced that a good deal of our theology hangs in the balance on our affirming…

Must We Deny Biblical Infallibility to “Disarm” Scripture? A Review of Derek Flood’s Disarming Scripture: Part 1

Image by e³°°° via Flickr Since I’ve been working on my own book dealing with the violent portraits of God in the Old Testament for the last eight and a half years, I was keenly interested in Derek Flood’s new book, Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need To Learn to Read…

Reflections on Divine Violence in the Old Testament

As some of you know, for the last five years I’ve been working on a book addressing the problem of divine violence in the OT. (For alleged violence in the NT, see Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld, Killing Enmity: Violence in the New Testament (Baker Academic, 2011).  It will be a highly academic tome, approximately 600…

Why Trust the Bible?

A skeptic might point out that the proof regarding the authority of the Bible that we discussed in the previous post depends upon the Bible to prove its own inspiration. This might work for people who already believe the Bible is true, but what about people who don’t? Are there any arguments outside the Bible…