Image Consultants

For the last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about our views of God. I’ve been struck by the images that people have of what the Christian version of God is really like.

I won’t presume to be like the little kid in kindergarten who was scribbling colours all over his construction paper. His teacher stopped and asked him what he was doing. “I’m drawing God.” He said. The teacher told him, “No one knows what God looks like.” The little boy thought for a second and then said, “They will when I’m done!” I won’t try to give you the right version of the image here. But I am interested in how you decide what to draw on your own piece of construction paper.

Over at Scot McKnight’s blog the same topic is up for discussion. Here’s some of what he says:

Our earliest childhood images of God determine or at least deeply shape both who we become and how we live. But this doesn’t mean God is our Parents to the nth degree.

Where do we get our views of God? How influential is our church community on our view of God? What groups most favor an Authority God and which groups most favor a Distant God? Why?

But God is either strikingly like our parents or a compensation for our parents, leaving parents very much at the core of what we think of God. 51% of those who believe in the Authoritative God had parents who often spanked; those with a Distant God image had parents who spanked only at 26%.
It is rare for a person to adopt a view of God that differs markedly from the story received from parents and community. As we age that view — that view — matures and develops. Here are some observations on how our past shapes our view of God:

First, those who read the Bible most literally are the most likely to have The Authority God. But the correlation might be more the other direction: those with an Authority God favor literal readings. These authors think the view of God is more important than the approach to Scripture.

Second, Authority God and Benevolent God believers are more likely to feel “called by God” — and miracles were experienced by this group too. The numbers decrease dramatically for the Distant God and Critical God groups.

Third, religious communities matter:
RCC: Authority (22%), Benevolent (30%), Critical (21%), Distant (30%)
Evangelical: Authority (51%), Benevolent (26%), Critical (14%), Distant (11%)
Black Prot: Authority (68%), Benevolent (12%), Critical (20%), Distant (0)
Mainline: Authority (22%), Benevolent (28%), Critical (20%), Distant (30%)

So how would you answer those questions? And what do you think of the idea that our experience of our own parents has informed our view of God?


About brianmpei

Stumbling towards what comes next.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church, faith, God, McKnight, parenting, perception, Relationship, religion, theology. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Image Consultants

  1. Michelle says:

    I’m still trying to come to terms with all this. My God keeps changing! I’ve cast Him in all kinds of roles and I’m certain my parents have influenced how I feel about Him whether or not I can pinpoint the specifics.

    • brianmpei says:

      If the Bible tells any story it tells the story of people constantly being surprised by the God who is rather than the God they thought was. The Bible rarely conveys a story that is not full of the unexpected that caused the people living it to rethink their understanding of God. Me too.

      • Michelle says:

        Yesterday I was listening to a podcast of Bruxy Cavey preaching (do you ever listen to him?) and he was talking about how ambiguous and contradictory the bible can be about how to attain salvation (and about a lot of things). He said something to the effect of: this will keep us humble and remind us who is in charge lest we think we have the formula and can judge our brothers and sisters. I kind of got it.

  2. Judy says:

    When I was in university, I learned about Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. I found them useful in forming an understanding of why people do what they do and why they have the attitudes they have toward themselves, the world, and God. Erikson says that there are various issues that arise at different stages of our development, from birth to old age.
    A brief summary:

    There is no question in my mind that early childhood experiences shape our ability to relate to God as He is – or as we perceive Him to be. These are the issues of trust vs mistrust; put another way, is the world a safe place? is God safe? can I trust Him? This has less to do with the teaching we have received regarding God and more to do with how our parents live (or lived) in front of us, how they treat(ed) us in the everyday.

    Or they could be issues of autonomy vs shame and doubt: am I a worthy person? am I accepted? do I matter? are my efforts going to be rewarded? Our parents again are a source of this but so is what our experience has been with other authority figures whom we view as being God’s representatives. As our world expands, so do our frames of reference regarding who God is.

    Even as adults, we learn from experience – or lack of it. Intimacy issues, the feeling of being productive, or fulfilled, all stem from various stages in our lives according to Erikson.

    I believe that where a person gets “stuck” in relating with self, the world, and God (wherever that is) is at the stage of life during which something traumatic happened – some have gotten stuck at the infancy stage, others as teens, still others as adults. Feelings of trust, autonomy, identity, intimacy – are formed by our interactions with others around us (whether parents or not) and also (in later stages) by ourselves, how we feel we’ve measured up to what we expected. To reduce it to “it’s all my father’s (or mother’s) fault” may rob us of an opportunity to invite God into that area to heal those things in ourselves which are hurting others. This is the primary area of healing that needs to happen.

    There is no wound too deep, there is no past too overwhelming for God to heal, to forgive, to restore. His power can accomplish anything – any transformation – in an honest, open and willing human heart. I’ve experienced it in my life over and over again, and I’ve seen it in the lives of others who describe their former selves in terms of flotsam and jetsam.

    • brianmpei says:

      Interesting stuff Judy. I think what you’re saying about “getting stuck” is especially important. Ultimately transformation is what we all need and all can have but not all of us want.

    • Michelle says:

      Thanks for sharing these thoughts Judy. I have a strong interest in psychology and was well aware of Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development (as well as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) and often thought about them in relation to my spiritual development several years ago.

      • brianmpei says:

        I haven’t listened to Bruxy in a while Michelle but I’ll have to add him to my ipod. It sounds like he’s talking about the book we’re reading for Wednesday nights. I’ve got a copy for you if you have time for it.

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