Friday, September 16, 2011

Images of God

Summer (sadly) is over, Hurricane Irene (thankfully) has come and gone, and my coursework in spiritual formation (happily!) has begun at Quellen Spiritual Center. My class consists of fourteen women and men who are convening weekly to explore our relationship with God. In fact, "Who is God?" has been the subject of our first few weeks together.

Last Wednesday evening, for example, we discussed images of God. That is, when we think of God, what is it that comes to mind?

Few of us would think of looking in the mirror when we imagine God ... and yet, scripture tells us that that's exactly where we can find God. In the very first chapter of the very first book in the bible, for example, we're told that God created humankind in God's image; male and female, God created them (Genesis 1:27).

What does this mean for us, practically speaking? Does this mean that each one of us is our own personal God?

No, of course not. We are created beings, separate from God––and yet, in one of the greatest mysteries of life, we are, at the same time, one with God.  Understanding this mystery, and what it means for each of us personally and collectively, as the people of God, is a lifelong task. We are called by God to be in relationship with God.

And so, because we are made in the image of God, a good place to begin our journey is to start with ourselves. The "self" is the place where we first encounter God, so the more we know of ourselves, the better we understand God. We also come to know God through the images of God we encounter every day––our families, our friends, our co-workers, the people with whom we share the train, the people with whom we stand in line at the lunch counter. Each and every person we meet is an opportunity for us to encounter another image of God, just as we represent the image of God to the people we meet.

Which of course begs the question, "What kind of image are we reflecting?"

It's an important question, because our images of God often are cobbled together from our interactions with others. A child who grows up abused and shamed, for example, will often grow up thinking of God as angry and judgmental, whereas a child who grows up cherished and secure will envision God as loving. We want to make sure that the image we reflect is a healthy image of God––one that models God's love, mercy, and forgiveness to others.

What's your image of God?  God as the punishing judge, or God of mercy and love? "Bookkeeper" God, who keeps a running list of all that we do (good and bad), or shepherd God, who guides us tenderly through life? "Taskmaster" God, who requires us to "earn" God's love, or "Prodigal God," who loves us no matter what we do (or don't do)? God of Death, or God of Life?

God is all of these images, of course ... just as God is none of them. "I AM WHO I AM," God tells Moses from the burning bush, when Moses tries to pin God down as to who God is (Exodus 3:14). God refuses to conform to our expectations about God. God will be who God will be.

Our task––our lifelong journey––is to come to know God––starting with ourselves. God is found in and through the stories of our lives, so it's important for us to know our stories, to share our stories, to understand our stories. For it's in understanding our stories, it's in understanding ourselves, that we most clearly come to know God.

What's your story? Where have you encountered God? Where has God been most present to you? How have your experiences shaped your understanding of God?

I invite you to ponder these questions. May you come to new understandings of God––and yourself––through your answers.


  1. love this, it helped me understand tremendously while trying to write a paper for my theology high school course, thanks!

  2. So happy you found it helpful. Blessings to you, and good luck on your paper!