This is one of the most important questions we will ever ask, but it seems almost silly, like something we could never answer.
But if we got out our crayons and sketchpads, and if we allowed ourselves to be completely honest (like a child would be, but without our pastors or parents looking over our shoulders), we could draw a picture that would accurately reflect what we think God looks like.
Try it. It will feel weird at first, but it could be a profound exercise. And your kids will think you’ve lost it, which will be fun. (Incidentally, you probably need to lose it a little more often.)
God might look like a feeble and impotent old man, because perhaps you have banged on God’s door for a long time, and haven’t gotten a response.
God might look like the parent we could never please, no matter how hard we tried, because we are so tired of having to perform in order to get loved and accepted.
God might look like a monster, because when you see the pain and suffering in this world, you have no idea how God could let it all go so horribly wrong.
God might look like an ocean, vast and peaceful and rhythmic, because you feel in tune with God and surrounded by God’s love.
There are so many difficult questions about how God acts, what God does or doesn’t do, and why certain things happen, and it all shapes your picture of God. And your picture of God shapes how you see the world, and your place in it.
At the end of the day, when my questions are exhausted, here’s where I return:
I believe that God looks like Jesus.
I don’t read large portions of the Bible at a time. Usually, I sit in one passage (just a few verses), for a week or so. This is the passage I have reflected on this week, from Luke 7:11-17, using The Message translation.
Not long after that, Jesus went to the village Nain. His disciples were with him, along with quite a large crowd. As they approached the village gate, they met a funeral procession—a woman’s only son was being carried out for burial. And the mother was a widow. When Jesus saw her, his heart broke. He said to her, “Don’t cry.” Then he went over and touched the coffin. The pallbearers stopped. He said, “Young man, I tell you: Get up.” The dead son sat up and began talking. Jesus presented him to his mother.
They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery, that God was at work among them. They were quietly worshipful—and then noisily grateful, calling out among themselves, “God is back, looking to the needs of his people!” The news of Jesus spread all through the country.
As you read through that story, what words seemed to shimmer for you? Where did you tear up, or gasp, or even think, “if only that were true?”
These are the phrases that shimmered for me:
“His heart broke.”
“He touched the coffin.”
“They all realized they were in a place of holy mystery.”
“God is back, looking to the needs of his people.”
So, according to how I see Jesus interacting with the world in this short story, if God looks like Jesus, here are a few observations I can make about God:
- God shows up.
- God’s heart breaks when people are in pain.
- God touches the things that nobody else will touch (nobody would have touched a coffin in those days).
- God brings life where there is death.
- God is at work among us.
- God looks to the needs of God’s people.
Of course, our questions remain. If the above bullet points are true, then why didn’t it work out that way in your life? Reading a story about Jesus doesn’t resolve the problem of pain.
But these are the questions that drive us back to the God who is good. The God who can handle our questions. The God who can handle our doubt. But if we do not have a picture of a God who is good, we will never go to God with these questions. And we will remain stuck in our questions.
Have you considered that your picture of God is perhaps not accurate? This is a courageous thing to do; most of us are not willing to consider it. I’m finding some freedom in admitting that my picture of God is always somewhat inaccurate. God is always better than I think.
So I read about Jesus because without knowing it, my picture of God shifts, according to my own pain, and I need to be reminded that God looks like Jesus. And that God is always better than I think.
So what is your picture of God?