Pruning False Images of Who God Is

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CS Lewis wrote: “There are three images in my mind which I must continually forsake and replace by better ones: the false image of God, the false image of my neighbors, and the false image of myself.”

For the next few days, I would like to ponder those false images, starting with false images of God.

In The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. … That our idea of God corresponds as nearly as possible to the true being of God is of immense importance to us.” 

As Tozer rightly observes, there will always be a slight disconnect between “our idea of God” and “the true being of God.” That’s because God is infinite in ways that our minds cannot grasp (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Despite this fact, it is still important that our perception of God “corresponds as nearly as possible” with God’s actual nature because our perception of God has a direct effect on our way of being in the world. For instance, consider these false images and their implications:

  • The “one false move” God who is watching our every move and is surely disappointed the moment we make one false move
  • The divine “taskmaster” who is there only to give a list of to-dos—“thou shalls” and “thou shall nots.”
  • God as permissive people pleaser — In this false image of God, God is bent on lovingly accepting us just as we are, so much so that God does not expect us to repent or grow in maturity.
  • The boyfriend — Many contemporary worship songs have been critiqued as “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs, and with good cause. In the lyrics, just replace ‘God’ with ‘boyfriend’ and the song still sounds perfectly intelligible.
  • The god of moralistic therapeutic deism — God is there to teach me to be a good,  moral person and when necessary, be my divine therapist (handling my requests when a problem arises). Otherwise, God is not active in my life or making claims that require that I surrender all.

CS Lewis makes a powerful admission about his “idea of God” and how he continually needs God to correct him: “My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence?

We see that exact thing in the life of Jesus. Everywhere he goes, his presence shatters people’s perceptions. “God would never talk with a woman at a well.” “God would never eat with sinners.” “God would never give himself over to be killed.” “God would never …” oh yes, God would!

Besides appearing in the flesh through the incarnation, God’s greatest self-definition is recorded in Exodus, ch. 3. Moses says, “Supposing the Israelites ask me the name of the god who sent me to talk to Pharaoh. … what should I say?” God says, “I AM WHO I AM” (or alternatively, I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE).

God will not be confined to our limited, static perceptions of Him. Our images of God must give way to God Himself. Our icons must be shattered by the great iconoclast. Or, in the terms of this devotional: The Vine-grower must remove the perceptions of Him that hold us back from the life He intends.

TODAY’s REFLECTION: Both right now and throughout the day, see if you can surface your mental image of God. Remember, much of this is subconscious. When you recognize a mental image of god, compare it with what you find in Scripture, especially the Gospels (The true image of God is revealed in the person of Christ.). Ask the Vine-grower to remove that which does not belong. Or better yet, ask the Great Iconoclast to shatter your false icons.

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