My 16-year-old daughter Carolyn recently told me about a conversation that had arisen in her youth group Sunday School class a couple of years ago about different perceptions of God. Carolyn had raised the issue that every person in the class might actually view God differently and have a different idea of God, yet they all worship the same God. The teachers in the class were not really interested in pursuing this discussion.
You can go here to see a slide show entitled "Images of God." It will show you rainbows and storm clounds, children's faces, simply drawn depictions of the face of Jesus, mountains and waves and planets, church pews and cathedrals and priests saying mass, starlight and firelight and sunlight, Bibles, abstract art, medieval art, modern art, old men, crosses, bread and wine, a potter's wheel, and many faces of God's people. We are, after all, made in God's image.
Who is God to you? How do you see God?
Creator - The vision of many is dominated by the first verse of the Bible - "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." They worship the creative force to whom they owe their very existence.
The Almighty - I do not believe I have ever heard my father pray in a church setting in which he did not address "Almighty God." It is the view of the creature acknowledging the omnipotent one. It is the view that hears the voice of God in the book of Job asking the question "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation, while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Tell me if you understand." This view of God is often perfectly happy to say "I don't understand, and that does not matter. God said it, I believe it, and that settles it."
Father - I do not mean this, necessarily, in a masculine way. Those whose view of God centers on Him as "Father" do not mean it in a gender role nearly as much as they mean it in the best sense of fathers - encouraging, nurturing, providing, welcoming. The view of God as Father emphasizes God's strong arms when we hurt, God's giving heart when we need, God's understanding when we fail. He is the waiting Father from the parable of the prodigal son, straining His eyes down the road for the first sign that we are returnting to Him.
The Sustaining Life Force - This will sound far too mystical to some and too New Age to others. It smacks of "Star Wars" and Eastern religion to still others. But to many a Christian, the view of God is primarily an understanding of a spiritual energy that is too hard to contain in any body or word or picture. No old man with a white beard will suffice to encompass God. Jesus taught that God is spirit, and to those who worship God this way, the understanding of God is best explained as a sensing of God's power in God's people and creation.
Love - Jesus said it plainly: God is love. There are those who find God, at least in glimpses, by experiencing love in all its facets.
Beauty - Many find God by seeing creation, the work God does through us, or a moment of sublime music.
And I think all of this is OK. I understand why youth Sunday School teachers might want to shy away from the idea that God presents differently to different ones of us, but I also understand - I think - that God is so much bigger and more complex than we can grasp. Eye has not seen nor has ear heard. How unfathomable are the ways of God. If none of us can get our minds around God, then we may all see God differently. To all of these different views of God, I say yes, and yes, and yes, and yes. There are some days when I see God in each of these ways.
Jesus, of course, gives us the avenue to see God the same, for Jesus is the exact representation of God. Because of Jesus, as I wrote here, we are not just like the blind men trying to descibe an elephant when we try to talk about God.
Still, I do not fault anyone whose view of God takes a different turn from another's view. I am not suggesting that picturing Morgan Freeman or Charlton Heston or Buddha is a reasonable view of God, but I understand why one would see the almighty God reaching from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and another would see a rose or a nebula or a child's face.
Carolyn was onto something. God is too big and too complex for us to fathom, and that may mean that you see Him a little differently that I do. I am thankful that we have Jesus as the place where we can come together and find all of God in a package.