Wednesday, August 21, 2013

5 False Ways Of Understanding God + Implications

When I was a child, I had a very child-like view of God, which came with both positives and negatives.

I remember thinking of God as a wise old man, with a long white beard. He sat on clouds and looked quite sour most of the time. He was a judge who saw everything I did and waited for me to do wrong. When I did sin, He would get me back - one way or another.

On the other hand, God also forgave anything I asked Him to. He had all the answers and was all-powerful. This gave me some peace and comfort as well.

Once I took on an adult faith, I had to deal with other faulty images of God. These faulty images have implications in how I act, how I see others, how I view the world, etc. All of us must deal, at some point or another, with our disordered views of God. Here are a few of the most common and the problems they may present.


1 - The Cosmic Vending Machine In The Sky. Many people believe God is merely there to serve their needs. As long as the put in their good deeds, prayers, etc. they can "pay" God to do their bidding. This isn't the way a relationship works. If we see prayer and our relationship with God as a mere service in exchange for a payment, we have a vending machine (or a butler) in the sky - not a living God who may not answer our prayers just as we want.

2 - The Divine Yet Disconnected Watchmaker. This view of God is Deistic (God is creator of the universe, but not involved in it personally anymore), but it is more common than you might think. Less than 50% of Catholics believe in a "personal God"! If God does not care about each of us individually, then the implications are enormous - What does faith matter? How ought I act?

3 - The All-Powerful Cop. This understanding of God tends to see Him as a cop, hiding behind a cloud, waiting to pull us over and give us a ticket for our bad behavior. It is the same understanding I had as a child - that God merely cared about what we did wrong. If God loves us, we are more than our sins!

4 - The Non-Judgmental Drinking Buddy. If we see God as someone who really doesn't care how we act, then our actions don't matter at all. He is then reduced to a drinking buddy, who doesn't really want what is best for us or care to challenge us to live a great life - rather He just wants us to "feel" good about everything (even stupid and unhealthy things) we do and ultimately he is an enabler, not God.

5 - The Teddy Bear God. Sometimes we limit God to a nice easy list of concepts we can understand and therefore deal with. It may be that God is powerful - but not ALL-powerful. God might be merciful - but not mercy itself! This comforts many people, because then God is "safer" for them to deal with. These limitations on God are actually limitations on our understanding of God, not on the nature of God Himself.


These are only 5 of the many ways we can misunderstand God's nature. The way we fix these problems (and others) is by continued conversion in faith, that is, we constantly seek to allow God to reveal Himself to us, through:
  • prayer
  • The Sacraments
  • Sacred Scripture
  • other people
  • nature
  • etc.
To be attentive to how God speaks to us and reveals Himself to us, we have to make ourselves available to Him and once we receive such grace, we must allow our minds and hearts to be transformed. Thus, we have to choose to act on His grace. In this, our hearts can be attuned to understand Him more deeply. Which is why the discovery of God's nature is a never-ending task, even in heaven.

Yet, these revelations of God to our hearts can transform us deeply, just as when God revealed Himself to St. Augustine:
“Belatedly I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new, belatedly I loved thee. For see, thou wast within and I was without, and I sought thee out there. Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things thou hast made. Thou wast with me, but I was not with thee. These things kept me far from thee; even though they were not at all unless they were in thee. Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open my deafness. Thou didst gleam and shine, and didst chase away my blindness. Thou didst breathe fragrant odors and I drew in my breath; and now I pant for thee. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. Thou didst touch me, and I burned for thy peace.” -St. Augustine

1 comment:

George @ Convert Journal said...

These misconceptions reminded me of Fr. Dwight Longenecker's piece: Jesus and Uncle Don.