Creating God in Our Own Image

I brought up the topic of spiritual dyslexia before (Paradox), and thought I’d expand on that a bit. One of the multitudinous things we humans have got all turned around is the whole God’s Image thing. The book of Genesis says that God created man in His own image. It occurs to me, however, that we have actually created God in our image.

Think about it. How do you picture God? Imagine yourself arguing with someone over whether God exists. You can put yourself on whichever side of the argument you feel most comfortable with. The important question is this: when you talk about God, what image appears in your mind?

My God-picture looks like a larger version of my Moses-picture. Human, of course. Male. White robes, staff, sandals, long white hair and beard. Come to think of it, he looks quite a lot like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings… but a whole lot bigger, because, after all, He has to be big enough to hold the “whole world in His hands.” And since He’s omnipotent and omnipresent, He also has to be big enough to navigate the universe relatively quickly.

Wait, that’s not what omnipresent means!

But of course it is, to me. I have no experience of omnipresent. The best I can imagine is being able to flick back and forth quickly enough to approach the illusion of omnipresence. Being everywhere all at once just doesn’t compute for me. Like “nothing,” I can discuss the concept, but I have no ability whatsoever to comprehend it, in spite of having done my best to convince my children when they were younger that I was fully capable of doing it. (I think they might actually have even believed it, for a second or two.)

Since I can’t comprehend the concept of omnipresent, I can’t paint a picture in my mind of a God who is it. Therefore my God-image isn’t really omnipresent. He just approaches omnipresence by being really big and really fast with sharp eyes and good attention to detail.

Then there’s the time issue. Omnipresence, after all, can’t be limited to the present moment. In my brain I know that God exists in all moments, past, present, and future, simultaneously. But knowing it and conceiving of it are very different things. The closest I can come is to imagine this robed, sandaled giant Moses/Gandalf guy in a huge control room somewhere, watching as our lives unfold in surround sound on a huge array of three-dee screens. Once more, since I can’t conceive of the ability to visualize all points in history simultaneously, what I really see in my mind is amazingly fast rewind and fast-forward features on the multitude of movie projectors.

But wait, while God’s watching movies, who’s out there taking note of the sparrows that fall? Who’s listening to my prayers and keeping me out of danger?

Do you see the problem? My reality requires a set of data that includes finiteness. Everything must have shape, form, and location. I can’t conceive of anything else. I have a shape, and a form and a location, therefore God must also, because that’s just How Things Are.

The guys who wrote down the stuff that eventually became the Bible did their very best to explain the concept of God. But they had to do it within the parameters of the language that was available to them, and there’s just not a lot about God that can be expressed in words. So I read what they wrote, in their clumsy attempt to get the message across with language that was inadequate for the task, and translate it into images in my mind which are further warped by my experience and understanding of How Things Are.

What I end up with is a God created in my own image: bigger than life but still human, still finite, and still (dare I say it?) potentially fallible. The result is a God-image that wouldn’t even pass muster in Hollywood.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe in God or not; when you imagine what God would be like if He did exist, you probably don’t end up with anything any less ridiculous than what I’ve just described. Our limited ability to conceive of what God is results in a concept that, to be perfectly honest, isn’t the least bit believable. As a result, faith becomes that much more difficult. How can this flawed God-image we’ve created possibly hear every prayer of every person on earth simultaneously? How can He possibly take notice of the microspeck that is me, among such an overwhelming number of other microspecks? (And that’s assuming that Earth is the only planet He has to deal with!)

We also endow God with human emotions. No matter how many times we’ve heard the phrase “God is love,” we cannot fathom the possibility of a being who exists as the pure essence of perfect love. Instead we imbue him with our own imperfect human kind of love. And because we feel unloveable we cannot truly imagine a God who could actually really love us.

Our own inability to comprehend the concept of God is what makes Him so difficult to believe in. Because we’ve created Him in our own fallible and faulty image, we can’t fully trust Him. Because we don’t understand His true essence, we can’t comprehend his power. Because we are unable to love ourselves, we can’t believe that He could love us.

No wonder we’re so screwed up.

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