Updated: Jun 7, 2020
We all need hope...now more than ever. Between COVID-19, brokenness and disease, and social crisis, life can look bleak. Your images of God - the way you picture the Divine - can increase your distress and doubt or be very helpful and hopeful. Here are few healthy, helpful, and hopeful images of God.
My earliest image of God is an enormous, life-size, crucifix that hung at the front of our church’s sanctuary. On a wooden cross, Jesus, cast in bronze, hung with his head down, arms spread out, and hands and feet nailed to the cross.
When I was a kid, we had a small crucifix, about 18” tall, in our home. I don’t remember what my 7-year old self thought about it. I’m sure my parents or someone explained that Jesus died so we could be forgiven of our sins and go to heaven.
As I’ve grown older, the crucifix has become for me a profoundly meaningful and hopeful image of God. The crucified Christ reminds us that God has and continues to suffer with us, that God is present with us, and because of Jesus' suffering, we are healed.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5, NIV
Images of God to leave behind
Some images aren’t helpful at all, like “The man upstairs”. What does that mean anyway? God is a man at a desk, reviewing your performance eval. You’re fired!
The Watchmaker is another hope buster. God created the world like a master timepiece, wound it, and let it go. Aware and aloof, God delights in watching history tick away. Somehow, our hurting doesn’t seem to ring his bell.
Master, Lord, and King can be helpful. God is sovereign over all, and we could use some serious marshal law right now. Contemplating the One who is still in control and will ultimately triumph over all gives us hope.
However, these images - Master, Lord, and King - can also be hurtful. For some, they conjure up a picture of a God we serve more than love and who we can never please. They believe God is or will punish them for their laci of faith and good works.
Images of God such as these may be diseased and need to be healed. Others simply need to be deleted and replaced with new ones.
In Counseling People with Cancer, Jann Aldredge-Clanton tells the story of Don, a Leukemia patient suffering physically and spiritually because of his image of God. (1)
Don had grown up to imagine God to be very demanding, of the highest morality, punishing those who failed to live up to God’s high moral code. Don feared and believed cancer was punishment for his past mistakes.
With help, Don was able to move to imagine God as the Good Shepherd. He could see Jesus’ merciful face, the once lost but now found sheep wrapped over his shoulders, and experience Christ’s compassion.
After recapturing this image, he had recalled from his past, Don experienced for the first time in a long time, God’s acceptance, forgiveness, and love.
Christianity speaks often of God as Father. Jesus spoke of God, as his father and ours. “When you pray,” he taught, “say, Our Father in heaven...” (Matthew 6:9, NIV)
For many, picturing God as the ultimate Father heightens hope. If your father loved and provided for you, protected you against the world, taught and encouraged you, and reflected God, you can visualize God as all this and infinitely more.
For some, picturing God as the ultimate Mother is more helpful. Your mother may have been the one who showed you unconditional love, embodied grace, always accepted you, cared for you, and nurtured you. It may help to envision God loving you just like that.
This may challenge our traditional teaching. Nonetheless, God possesses within God’s self all the wonderful traits we associate with fathers and mothers.
My Methodist tradition does not practice the veneration of the Saints. Yet, I can appreciate praying to or with Mother Mary. If Mary helps you connect with God, I say get your rosary
beads, and go for it.
I also grew up a Beatles’ fan. I can hear John Lennon now,
When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be. Let it be.
We may think of God as a taskmaster or maybe even Enemy Number 1, but Jesus considered himself and his disciples to be friends. He was even a friend to Judas, who betrayed him. (Matthew 26:50).
Hopefully you’ve been fortunate to have good friends, even best friends, who understand you, show up for you, always has your back, loves you better than your own family, and always wants to hang out.
You can imagine God as your Friend, your BFF, because he is! Jesus laid down his life for you to prove it.
Spirit is from a word that means breath, as in the breath of God, and the breath of life. Spirit is also described as wind. You can’t see it, but it’s real and experienced.
God’s Spirit may be experienced within us as light, love, healing, wisdom, strength. It may feel like a presence. It is a creative life-force in us producing among other things, hope.
Christians believe that God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would be a teacher, comforter, Advocate, reminder of him, and more.
More than we can imagine
God can be imagined in all these ways and more. God is something we will never fully comprehend or be able to articulate. For me and many others, the best way to see God is Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” John 14:9, NIV. The better we know Jesus the more our understanding of God will grow. All our images, pictures of God, must be true to the message and ministry of Jesus.
Discussion question: What is your image of God? Would another image give you more hope?
1. Aldredge-Clanton, Jann. Counseling People with Cancer. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998., page 25-26.