The pre-Christian world knew that there was divine power in the cosmos, anyone who has read the Greek and Roman classics knows that those powers were not by any means considered universally benevolent. It is one thing to know that there is a God, and even to know that the divine is in some way concerned with humanity. It is another thing altogether to know that God’s attitude toward humanity goes beyond that of an aloof and powerful deity.
It does not take Faith to believe that there is a God, or that that God is powerful to effect his will. These things can and have been known by natural reason alone. What does take faith is the belief that God is benevolent towards us and genuinely cares about our welfare even as individuals. How do we get the faith to believe that truth, even when it doesn’t seem to match our experiences?
We have to ask for the grace of enlightenment about God’s true nature. We have to let him reveal himself to us. Things that are proper to faith cannot be figured out by thinking about it. On your own, you will never get an accurate picture of who God is, because your mind can’t grasp it without his help.
God continually tells us who he is, because when we try to make an image of him for ourselves, we necessarily mess it up because of the weakness of our minds and because of our sinfulness. What is the very first commandment God gives to Israel?
Ex 20:4 “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.”
We might not have carved idols to worship in place of God like ancient pagans, but we shouldn’t assume that because of this we don’t have habits of thought and attitudes that run contrary to this commandment. Notice that God forbids not only the worship of other gods, but also the attempt to re-fashion who God himself is in an image of our choosing.
Oftentimes we don’t intend to create these false likenesses of God, but they exist in our subconscious attitudes about the world because of experiences we’ve had and people we’ve encountered.
Who is God to you? When you think about Him, what is the nearest image you think of?
Is he the biggest thing around, the most powerful being who will crush you if you disobey?
Is he fluffy, teddy-bear type figure who doesn’t really care about whether you’re good or bad as long you’re a “nice person” whatever that means to you?
Nothing against accountants, but is he an accountant with a ledger of your good and bad deeds, adding up your score only to read you the results later when you die?
Is he a yes-man? A buddy who goes with you on all your misadventures and simply affirms everything about you all the time?
How about a vending machine: you put prayers and sacrifices in, you get benefits out, everybody wins, right?
Is he a petty middle manager whose job it is to harass you into making him look good?
No offense to policemen, but Is God a police-type enforcer whose only concern is that the rules get obeyed?
A prosecuting lawyer who is just waiting for you to trip up so he can nail you on a technicality?
Even when we think of God as a father, we can be imposing images of our own earthly fathers on Him. Maybe your dad is a real taskmaster (maybe because he has to be), but it’s an incomplete image of God the Father to think of him as someone who’s just there to make sure you do what you’re supposed to do. Maybe your dad has very high expectations of you in sports or academics and you feel the pressure all the time. Or maybe your dad is very distant and just isn’t really involved in your life. He gave you life, but for one reason or another he just isn’t around right now. It’s very difficult not to take these images of our fathers and impose them on God.
But can you see that when we do that we’re violating the commandment not to create our own likeness of God, even if we’re doing it unintentionally? We hear all the time that we should love God above all things, but isn’t hard to do that when you think about him in one of the above ways? These false images are obstacles to his grace, and we will never experience the healing and freedom that He passionately wants for us until we allow him to rid us of these blockages.
Okay, so how to we get rid of these idols and images we’ve created? I mentioned before that since the truth about can’t be known by us by ourselves, it’s something we have to let God do for us. We do have to do the work of opening our minds and hearts up to enlightenment and healing though. We have to let God reveal who he really is to us.
In Sacred Scripture, God reveals himself first in a veiled way at Sinai when gives the Law to Moses. This is when God reveals his deep concern for the welfare of mankind because he gives them a law to guide them to living the good life.
The fullness of his revelation comes in the person of Jesus Christ, who, when asked by Philip to reveal the Father says: “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father” Jn 14:9 St. Paul describes Jesus as “The image of the invisible God.” Col 1:15
Jesus is the true image of God to replace the false images that we have created. And what does Jesus reveal about God? Well we could talk for days about the answer to that question, but let’s look briefly. Jesus reveals that God is, in fact, a community of perfect, unconditional, self-giving love. Not only that, the communion of Love between the Divine persons spills over into creation and manifests itself in the goodness of creation and in its re-creation in Christ’s saving work of the cross.
God has indeed cast judgment on us, and his judgment is mercy. God loves us unconditionally and wants to be close to us. In fact, he got so close to us that we killed him. St. Paul says “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Think about that. What does that say about who God is?
He, who does not need or depend on us in any way, came to die for us so that we could be happy while we were continually offending him. We were not God’s friends when he came to save us! How many people do you know who would do that? Would you die for the happiness of someone inferior to you who spent all his time insulting you? The point is that God is not like us, and that is a really really good thing.
So, practically how do we let the truth that Jesus reveals penetrate our minds and hearts? Prayer is the only way we can begin the process of healing our false impressions of God and smashing the false images of him that we’ve made.
Here is a passage from Sacred Scripture that has always spoken to me about the true nature of God as revealed in the person of Jesus. I recommend using this passage to allow God to show us who he really is and help us to see where our image of Him falls short of who he’s revealed Himself to be.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us.” -1 John 4:18-19