“The God with whom I had become familiar while growing up fundamentalist, then evangelical, in a Baptist college and seminary was a God very much like us. The God I thought I knew made sense. He played by the rule – ours. I had to do some serious unlearning.”
– Timothy Stoner from his book “The God Who Smokes”
We humans have a tendency to create for ourselves an image of God that is likable. A God who always forgives – suggests, but never demands. A God who is always patient with us and supports us like a good therapist. However, though this may be the God we want it is not the God we got.
The God we have is likable and kind and patient. He is soft and comforting like a lamb. However, he is also a lion and is anything but safe. We do not get to make God into our image. Rather, God has purposed that we be made into his. While God may give us comfort, we should not become comfortable with our image of Him. He is ever unpredictable. The moment we think we understand Him he will turn the tables and show us a different side of Himself. He will not allow Himself to be contained within a box of our design.
A few years ago, when God was guiding me through my own unlearning process (which will always continue), I was very confused. I didn’t know what or how to think about God. The image I inherited of Him growing up no longer made sense. I was distraught and in turmoil because I felt that if I didn’t have an image of God that I could wrap my brain around, then I didn’t know how to live. For a long while I was depressed by this thought.
When I was a kid, I loved sci-fi movies. Some of the aliens in them resembled me, while others were completely “other” and unrelatable. I began to consider what God would look like if I considered him an alien. Thus began my re-imagining of God. I began to see that while God displayed kindness, compassion, patience and all the other traits I was comfortable with, I also began to realize that God was also very unrelatable and unpredictable.
Strangely, thinking of God as an alien was comforting to me. I began to accept that God was so much bigger than I could understand. I realized that the emotions and traits I valued were definitely a part of God because he created them as a part of the universe. However, I also understood that the Creator would, of necessity, be a being “beyond” and greater than his creation. A created being has no ability to understand his creator unless his creator imbues him with that ability. And the God we have has chosen to remain a mystery.
All of this left me with a strong comfort knowing that God as creator could have done anything he wishes with his creation, but chose to setup a system whereby we can live joyfully with him forever. Yet, my understanding also created in me a greater respect and even fear of God because I now know that God, being sovereign can still choose to do whatever he wants and be justified in that decision.
God has chosen to bring me and the rest of the world to himself by refining us in his image. This refining process can be slow and gentle, but it can also be shocking and brutal. In either case, it is God’s will and we have no control over it.
Knowing this, I welcome God’s refining in my life, but with hesitation. For I fear what he has in store for me. Therefore, my challenge and the challenge for everyone else is one of submission. In order to be refined into God’s image, in order for his will to be done (with positive consequences for ourselves) we must continually surrender pieces of ourselves to God when He makes it known to us that they are obstructing his purpose for us. We must incrementally surrender our will and trust that the One who promises our salvation and life will be faithful and handle our lives with the love and gentleness (and sometimes harshness) that we need.
Being called to give up so much, isn’t it reassuring that God spent several thousand years enacting the stories of the Bible to convince us of His faithfulness? For He is faithful and true and will deliver on His promises.
Blessed be the name of the Lord
He gives and takes away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.