I heard it again recently, this time in a seekers track at a student conference: “I like to think of God as . . . loving.” This declaration about God might conclude with any number of other favorite descriptions such as “kind,” “accepting,”or simply “on my side.” These may all be true, but any one of them is surely not the full description of God.
Or people often say, “My God would never do that.” This may have reference to any number of seemingly unfavorable notions of God’s judgment or activities in the world, as though God were someone that we owned! These are some of the more obvious ways that we seek to make God in our image. The Bible calls this idolatry.
Of course, what is really important is not how we might like to think about God. What is important is who God really is. The question is: Will we let God define himself, and let him tell us who he is?
We would only be left to our own imaginations about God if it were not for the fact that he has, indeed, shown us who he really is. This is a God who speaks and reveals himself. For example, take a look at Hebrews 1:1-3:
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”
In spite of the great efforts of God to disclose his true nature, many still prefer to ignore his self-disclosure and look to a more agreeable god of their own making.
This is a very important question, not just an academic exercise, because what we were made for is to know God
(as J. I. Packer points out in Knowing God). There is no higher human experience than to worship and serve the true God. There is nothing so enlightening and enlarging to our mind, liberating to our spirit, and nourishing to our soul than to really know, love and enjoy the one true God of the universe.
The great prophet Isaiah posed this question to those of his day who tried to make God in their own image: “To whom then will you compare God? To what image will you compare him?” (Isaiah 40:18). With some of the greatest poetry ever written, Isaiah goes on to describe the incomparable God of the universe. He is the majestic Creator of the world. He is the sovereign King who rules over the nations. He sustains all things and guides the flow of history. He is without equal; he is peerless.
The problem is that we tend to become like the thing we worship. If you worship and follow a puny, feeble god of your own imagination, you are likely to be a small-minded person. If your god is all love but no truth, you will likely be lacking strength of character and conviction. If your god is all truth and justice but no love, then you may be harsh and judgmental.
In contrast to us, Jesus came into the world, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus showed us in the fullest measure who God is and what he is like.
So, let us compassionately challenge people to set aside the gods of their own imagination and personal preferences. Let us honestly invite them to enter the freedom of letting God define himself, and especially invite them into the joy of knowing this great God who made them and paid a high price through Christ to bring them forgiveness and new life.