A God of Our Own Imagining?
It all started one evening at a trustee meeting for Alexander’s school charity. Although it’s a great support being around other parents with disabled children, it’s a constant reminder of how tough life is, and I shared that I was struggling with the dads who were at the meeting. I got a lot of hugs and they suggested we all go out for supper. None of them are Christians but they know that I am.
Two weeks later, my mood was still low as I put Alexander to bed and prepared to go out for supper. To my shame, I remember saying to Rosemary, “I know this is terrible, but I really feel like asking you to pray that I don’t get any opportunities to share the gospel. I just feel so tired and worn down – I can’t cope with four unbelieving, intelligent, worldly men tonight. ”Fortunately, Rosemary knew to just listen rather than follow my exhortation.
As we got stuck into our Thai food and a beer, it didn’t take long for the subject of God to come up, as we shared the struggles we are facing with our children. One dad, who struggles with depression as I do, began by asking me with heartfelt intensity in his eyes, to square having Alexander with being a Christian. We continued the conversation and another dad declared his view that Jesus is a joker; and yet another dad, whom I’d expected to be the most hostile, was strangely quiet and listening intently to the conversation.
The final dad, Graham (not his real name), then told me that he was an atheist and that it was a view he held dear. However, he did begin to describe what he thought God would be like if he did exist. For the first time that evening, I was stirred. Because I know these guys really well, have shared a lot with them and love their children as my own, I felt compelled to speak plainly. It went something like this:
“How come you’ve described God from your own imagination? How would you feel if someone described you from their imagination?” There wasn’t much of a response, so I went on. “OK, let me do to you what you’ve just done to God. You’re Graham; your favourite colour is purple. You get very impatient with people, you don’t suffer fools gladly and you like horse racing. That’s right isn’t it?”
I had made that all up, pretty sure that none of that applied to Graham! Graham wasn’t offended at my directness and said that he could see my point – how can he know what God is like if he doesn’t acknowledge his existence. So I had the opportunity to say that the Bible is where we find out about God, including his existence, and we’re not at liberty to make up for ourselves what we think God is like. I also managed to get Graham to agree to receive a copy of the book One Life by Rico Tice and Barry Cooper (at this point can I encourage the church family to always keep a couple of copies ready on your shelves to give away).
There was much for me to ponder as I walked home after supper. I felt ashamed that I wanted to pray against God giving me an opportunity to speak for him, forgetting the words of 2 Peter 3:9, ‘…he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ Of course I want unbelievers to come to faith, but I really had to think about whether I want this badly enough, particularly at times when I feel worn down by my own problems. It also occurred to me that I had forgotten the words of 2 Corinthians 12:9: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’ Having started the evening feeling low and tired, I ended it having shared the Gospel, in God’s strength, albeit reluctantly. I felt very small.
I then began to think why I got so animated when Graham described God from his own imagination. I guess it was because I hate being taken for granted and I object when people think they know me when they actually don’t. I have an identity, a personality and character; and I want the portrayal of it to be accurate. How much more is God entitled to be known accurately, and I think the Spirit led me to feel slighted on God’s behalf. The Scriptures describe clearly who God is, what he is like, what he has done, and what he requires of us. Therefore we must, as Christians, remember to find out about God from the Scriptures and not from our own thinking. For example, Genesis 17:1 sees God revealing his identity to Abram: ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.’ And 1 John 4:8 teaches us an aspect of the character of God: ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’ Further still, Exodus 6:7 sees God reminding his people of what he had done for their forefathers: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.’ Scripture gives us God’s own revelation about his identity, and that of his Son.
So perhaps this leaves us with two challenges:
Firstly, are we regularly reading the Scriptures to protect against constructing a God of our own imagination?
And will we, in spite of our weaknesses, lovingly remind our unbelieving friends and family not to construct their own God, but instead to introduce them to the true and living God of the Bible?