It’s interesting how Christians all have their own interpretations of the Bible and of who God is. At the church we most recently were a part of, God was nice and happy and loved everyone and had all these great goodies for them. But down the street from our house is a weird little church with some pretty angry “messages from God” on their sign out front. They fully believe God is an angry guy out to get those who don’t believe in him or who don’t go to church often enough.
So who is right and what is true?
The thing is, each Christian's view of God evolves over the course of his or her life. It is affected mainly by their upbringing, then gets added to by life experience, church experience, and for the studious - the study of the Bible.
Once I was in a church service where we had a guest speaker. This speaker gave this warning: Be careful of creating a “false image of God” and then worshipping that image, rather than the “true God”. He said that when we do this, we are worshipping a false idol, just like the Israelites who created and worshipped golden images. God’s judgment on them was severe. (In fact, he forced them to kill their own sons and brothers in order to “purify” the race!)
This guest speaker clearly believed that in our selfish, sinful nature we created a god who was much more tolerant of us and our sin than the "real God". I can remember being terrified by what he said. I searched myself to see if this was what I had done. But at the same time I was confused and deep in the recesses of my mind was the rational voice of doubt, “How could I know which is the real version of God?” “If so many people have so many differing opinions, who can know for sure?” “There are even different versions of God in the Bible!”
Eventually I forgot about the things this man had said and continued on with life, continuing to allow my view of God to morph and change based on my own interpretation of scripture, mixed with what others taught me, mixed with life experience.
My view of God changed radically when I discovered “grace”. I learned that the mean, “Old Testament version” of God wasn’t the one I was supposed to be relating to. This is because when Jesus died, he atoned for all the sin that made God so hostile to his people. God had to be angry because he was so holy that he couldn’t tolerate sin. But I don’t have to worry about that because God sent his son to be tortured and killed so that he could love me and not kill ME.
This actually brought great comfort to me. I developed a whole new view of God…one who was a mix between a friend and a father-figure. He was kind, loving and tolerant. He loved me as though I was his “favorite”. He was good and wanted only good things for me. I talked with him everyday and believed he spoke to me and revealed himself to me in many ways. I ignored the scary stuff in the Old Testament and instead focused on the New Testament stories where Jesus said that the Father was just like him. I focused on the scriptures about “the Kingdom” and believed this kingdom was here now and that I could be living in all its benefits. I was, after all, a “daughter of the King”! I believed that if Jesus healed everyone who was sick, that meant healing was for today. I believed God’s intention was to heal my sickness and provide for all my needs.
I believed so fully in these things and in God’s goodness that I fully expected to see evidence in my own life and the lives of those around me. For awhile I was encouraged by attributing the good occurrences of life to God’s faithfulness. But after years of dealing with a chronic illness, I became discouraged. I couldn’t understand why God wasn’t intervening. I was able to be comforted for awhile by the idea that I was learning something from my illness and it was drawing me closer to God.
But that didn’t really line up with the God I believed in. He was a “good father”. I would never allow my child to be sick to teach them something or make them love me more…that would be sadistic! So I had to somehow reconcile my view of God with what was actually happening in my life.
This caused a great deal of spiritual, emotional and physical turmoil. It was as though my mind was being ripped apart. My rational and logical thought processes were screaming at me that something was wrong – that my belief system wasn’t working.
And yet I felt I knew this God, I really knew him. He was my constant companion. I’d had these experiences where I believed I felt his very presence. But when I got to this place in my life where I needed him to be who I believed him to be…to do this one tangible thing…nothing happened. I believed and trusted for years…I lived in a cycle of becoming frustrated and confused, surrendering and trusting again, then starting all over. But no amount of faith and trust was able to move my mountain.
I came to a crossroads. I had been through every possible God-combination there was…I had settled on the “good god”. He was the only one I could believe in. But he was turning out to be not-so-good. I realized that I was a better parent than he was…I took better care of my children than he was taking of me and his other children in the world. The thought that he was there and yet ignoring my cries for help (and the cries of others) was unbearable…so unbearable that it brought me to the edge of a nervous breakdown.
But then the clouds parted…
I allowed myself to doubt, to think and to question. I stopped ignoring the voice of reason. I realized it wasn’t a matter of who God was. It was a matter of whether God was. The question was not, “Either God is good or he isn't.” The question was, “Either God is real or he isn’t.”
I realized he wasn't real. The sadness, frustration and confusion began to melt away as the god I’d created dissipated. He didn't abandon me in my time of need. He was never there. There was a struggle at first, just making sense of life from a different world view and realizing my companion was invented by my own mind. But I felt a tremendous sense of relief. My life suddenly became manageable. I suddenly realized how capable and strong I was. I was no longer this weak, fragile person just waiting on god to intervene. I felt empowered.
I am now proactively living my life. I am taking care of myself and doing what I need to do to get well. I am already experiencing physical improvement and no longer suffer from depression. I have a new appreciation for life and relationships, and feel optimistic about the future.
So it turns out that the preacher was right. We do create our own versions of god. God is a creation of our own minds. I, for one, am happy to be free from the illusion.