A God Created in Our Image

Who is God? What is God? What are God’s interests and desires? What does God desire for his people?

I guess it depends on who you ask. There are thousands of different types of churches, and all of them have slightly different ideas on what God is like and what God wants for his people. Some Christians think that God wants all his people to experience great success and be wealthy. Some Christians think that God wants his people to live a life of poverty and oppression.

Some Christians emphasize God’s Law and sense of justice. Others emphasize God’s great compassion and desire for his people.

Some Christians emphasize God’s desire for all to be saved. Others emphasize God’s wrath for those who neglect him.

Chances are, if you were to ask any 100 people from the same congregation what God was like, you’d get 100 different answers.  God looks differently to all of us. To an extent that’s natural. God reveals himself to us in different ways, and so my understanding of God ought to be slightly different from your understanding of God, because we have different experiences of him.

But how do some Christians walk away thinking God wants them to be rich, while others walk away thinking he wants them to be poor? Why do some people walk away thinking God wants them to be overly merciful while others walk away thinking God wants us to be staunchly protective of his holiness? How can different people get such wildly contrasting views of God?

And why is it that our beliefs about God often seem to line up with our current position in life? Why do very few rich people think God wants Christians to be poor? Why do naturally intellectual people think God delights in intellectual faith, while naturally emotionally people characterize God by his passion and his love?

What can Christians do to ensure that they aren’t creating God in their image? How do we chase after the actual God and not the God that’s most comfortable to us?

Should God be comfortable to us?

A look at the Bible, particularly the Gospels, suggests that the answer is no. Jesus seems to go out of his way to show the religious people of his day that God is different than they think he is. He seems to go out of his way to be disruptive and to make people uncomfortable–particularly the people who seem to have God figured out.

He heals people on the Sabbath. He changes the practical application of the Torah. He nullifies dietary laws. He hangs out with prostitutes and sinners. He fraternizes with Samaritans. And he does all of this in the presence of people that will resist him. It’s like he’s trying to create confrontation.

And maybe he is.

Maybe one of the biggest lessons we can learn from the life of Christ is that we cannot have God figured out. The moment we start to think we have God figured out would be the moment that we lose track of God altogether. Maybe the biggest thing Christ teaches us is that we can’t really know God unless we’re being disrupted by him. Maybe being created in the image of God means that everything about us has to change.

This isn’t an easy process. It’s difficult to be disrupted by God. That’s why the rich young ruler walked away sad when Jesus told him to sell all his stuff. Because being like God meant not being like himself. It meant changing everything about himself. It required repentance. Not just of sin (although it would include that), but repentance of self – giving up what identified him and gave him power and influence, and trading it for the Kingdom of God.

There’s a lot of talk in churches about giving up sin. But it seems like following God means give up more than just the bad things in our lives. He calls us to give up the good things too. He calls us to give up everything — our whole existence given over to the image of God. Where we become more like God, and God becomes less like us.

And that’s not always well received.

After all, the reason the early Church was persecuted so badly in the book of Acts is because God was disruptive in their lives. The Jews were comfortable with the Christians, until it meant that they weren’t the ones with the power anymore. When their authority was questioned, they started beating, arresting, and otherwise persecuting the Christians. In Acts 16, the Greeks were accommodating to the message of the Gospel, until Paul cast out a fortune-telling spirit that cost the owners some money. Then they went nuts. Everyone is comfortable with God until he disrupts their lives. And too often our solution is then to minimize the disruptiveness. We soften God’s message and make God fit in with the rest of the world and just hope that maybe this is what God wanted all along.

But God’s method of interacting in the world has always been to disrupt it. He disrupted the life of Abraham by calling him away from his family and his home to go to an unknown land. He disrupted the Egyptian way of life in the 10 plagues and the Exodus. He disrupted the lives of the Israelites with the giving of his Law, and with exile when they didn’t follow that Law. He disrupted the rules of the Pharisees with the teachings of Jesus. He disrupted the life of the Rich Young Ruler by asking him to sell everything he owned. He disrupted the Jewish Christians by abolishing dietary restrictions and the need for circumcision in Acts.

If this is how God has always engaged in the world, then we probably ought to expect that this is how God continues to engage with the world. So if God is not a disruptive force in your life, it may not be God that you’re following. You may just be following yourself in a god suit.

So even though it’s awkward, we ought to pray that God will make us uncomfortable. Even though it might get messy, we ought to seek God’s disruption in our lives. We ought to seek to be transformed into the image of God, rather than living like we’re already there.

It is virtually guaranteed to lose you friends. We will almost definitely have to adjust to a brand new kind of life. It may involve the loss of comfort, influence, power, or security. It may change everything about how we interact with the world and how the world interacts with us. But at least we’ll be following a God who made us in his image, and not the other way around.

May we seek after the true God, and may we never think we’ve found him. May we be constantly transformed into the image of God, and may we learn to trade the God who looks like us for a God who transforms us to look like him.

2 thoughts on “A God Created in Our Image

  1. >You may just be following yourself in a god suit.

    Doesn’t this seem like a good answer for why there are so many equally-believed yet mutually exclusive religious claims?

    I mean…Yahweh’s values mirror the values of the civilization who worshiped him, complete with condoning (and even commanding) slavery and all sorts of other atrocities. Later, when culture was more advanced, the people who worshiped the eternal, unchanging Yahweh decided that he’s actually quite different than he used to be. Even later, when a seventh-century Arab took up the cause of telling people what Yahweh wants, Yahweh’s values became suspiciously similar to those of a seventh-century Arab. Back in the Middle Ages when life wasn’t especially highly valued, God was all about having heretics burned to death, but now that our societies have a higher opinion of individual rights, he doesn’t want that. Heck, even in the 19th century, Joseph Smith’s version of God was very enthusiastic (and oddly specific) on the subject of getting women to sleep with Joseph Smith.

    The things you think God wants you to do today bear very little resemblance to the things you would’ve thought God wanted you to do if you’d been born a few hundred years ago. The only common thread there is you. Do modern religious authorities actually have some sort of new knowledge or means of ascertaining God’s will? No, they do the same thing they’ve always done, which is give it their best shot based on their beliefs and values. It seems to me that religion’s man-made nature is self-evident once we examine the history of these claims and the way they’ve been applied to the human experience over the years. What if there are no gods, just “god suits” as you put it? To me, that position neatly explains all the questions and mysteries of religion – it’s just humans being human.

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    1. Thanks for the comment.

      I would agree with you that, to an extent, the Hebrew understanding of God mirrored their own culture. I think that’s unavoidable. Any understanding any human has of God is going to have human fingerprints all over it.

      But, speaking from a Christian perspective, I think it would be a mistake to say that our understanding of God is only reflective of the culture we exist in. Even in the Bible, God is not content to leave the people where they are. The Israelites lived in a culture where sacrifice was this nebulous concept. You sacrificed as much as you could afford to to your chosen deities in the hopes that it would be enough and that your gods wouldn’t be angry with you when you were done. Yahweh moved culture forward by giving them a specific recipe of sacrificial system. It still reflected the Ancient Near Eastern practice of making sacrifices, but it moved the culture forward.

      In the New Testament, God moved the culture forward again. He sent one last “sacrifice” in the form of his son in order to appease the legalism of the Jews that accompanied the sacrificial system he established 1200 years prior, and adjusted their understanding of him. The reason Christianity was resisted by both the Jews and the Greeks was precisely because their understanding of God did not line up with these new ideas about God. It wasn’t that culture changed and God changed to keep up. People’s understanding of God changed, and the powerful people rejected that understanding.

      Christianity is supposed to be a counter-cultural movement. Over the last 60 years in America, it hasn’t been. So over the last 60 years, I think it would be fair to say that we have invented our own God that is loosely based off the one we read in the Bible. But if we’re truly going to follow God, it means being counter-cultural. Our understanding of God has to be a God who disrupts, not a God who plays catchup to the rest of society.

      Again, I appreciate your comment. It was well-thought out and worth discussing. Even though I ultimately can’t buy into the idea that God is strictly a cultural construct, it certainly suggests that a lot of what we claim as absolute truth about God can certainly just be cultural truth.

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