Thoughts

What is God really like?

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By Jeff K. Clarke
Senior Editor and Staff Writer | July 24, 2016

When you think about God, what picture comes to mind? For so many of us, we picture God as someone who is inclined to be against us, not for us. We picture God as someone who is always looking for an opportunity to judge us; a God who expects absolute perfection from us at all times.

It is little wonder, then, that many have come to view the Christian life as being largely defined by judgement, condemnation, and the expectation of perfection.

The danger comes when our conception of God does not resemble the way God actually is.

Alan Hirsch put it this way,

If your conception of God is radically false, the more devout you are the worse it’ll be for you. Because you are opening yourself to be moulded by something else, it would be much better you be an atheist. When you get the conception of God wrong and you become passionate about wrong things, evil happens.

All bad religion comes from a bad conception of God. If someone believes that religion is violent, then clearly religion becomes quite a violent affair. If God is seen in the area of judge, is over against us and not for us, it becomes apparent that religion takes the very nature of its conception of God.

We will imitate the image of God we’ve come to embrace. Click To Tweet

If we believe God’s disposition towards us is primarily that of anger, we too will end up being angry. We will imitate the image of God we’ve come to embrace. That picture will flow into how we understand and relate to both God and others.

As a result, the first thing we need to work on is changing our picture of God.

Changing our picture of God

What is God like?

My thesis is simple –When you see Jesus, you see God. When you see Jesus, you see what God is like. God looks like Jesus.

How did I arrive at this definition? Well, the whole biblical story points us in this very direction. I can, however, highlight a few portions of the story that seem to capture the essence of this trajectory.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1).

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).

“No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:18).

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9).

“I am in the Father and the Father is me.” (John 14:11).

“He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

“For God was pleased to have all his fullness to dwell in him” (Colossians 1:19).

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews. 1:3).

The conclusion?

When you see Jesus, you see God.
When you see Jesus, you see what God is like.
God looks like Jesus.

When you see Jesus, you see God. When you see Jesus, you see what God is like. God looks like Jesus. Click To Tweet

And, Jesus reveals a God who is not against us, but for us.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16).

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17).

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Believing that God looks like Jesus changes not only how we understand the nature and character of God, but also how we relate to God and others.

Changing how we see ourselves and others in the light of Jesus

When we begin to see Jesus as the complete picture of what God is like, a God who has extended grace, mercy, and love towards us, we will respond not only by extending grace, mercy, and love to ourselves, but towards others as well.

What we see first in God creates in us the capacity to also see it in ourselves and others. And, we will begin to reflect the way God actually is when we center our understanding of God in Jesus.

What we see first in God creates in us the capacity to also see it in ourselves and others. Click To Tweet

Jesus always extends grace to everyone, allowing mercy to triumph over judgment (James 2:13). Christ’s followers are then called to imitate this behaviour.

Jesus is the image of the invisible God and the exact representation of God’s being. As we allow Jesus to re-shape our conception of God from an angry, violent, intolerant deity, to a God who looks like Jesus, full of grace, mercy, and love, it will begin to change how we feel about ourselves and others.

  • In Jesus we see that God is for us, not against us.
  • In Jesus we see that God loves us and gave himself for us when we deserved it least.
  • In Jesus we see a God who seeks mercy, not sacrifice.
  • In Jesus we see a God who desires mercy to triumph over judgment.

And, we see that followers of Jesus are called and enabled to imitate (or as Len Sweet says, to personate Jesus) this kind of God.

We are called and enabled to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to bless those who curse and use us, and to show grace, mercy, and compassion towards all of God’s creation.

When we allow Jesus to shape our conception of God – everything changes. #GodislikeJesus Click To Tweet

This is what God looks like when we allow Jesus to shape our conception of God. This is what Jesus’ followers should look like when we allow this conception of God to impact our relationship with God and with the other. The first will always flow into and impact the second.

Then we can fulfill the greatest of all commands – To love God and to love our neighbor. There are no commandments greater than these.

God is like Jesus.
God has always been like Jesus.
There’s never been a time when God was not like Jesus.
We haven’t always known this, but now we do.

-Brian Zahnd

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