While currently enrolled in an on-line study on Franciscan spirituality, (how topical at this time) presented by Fr. Richard Rohr, our group was presented with the following questions dealing with our image of God.
- What words spring to mind when you think of your image of God?
- Sitting with these descriptors for a while, let them sink in and go deeper. Where did these descriptors come from? Do they also describe your life? Do you want them to?
- Where in your life is the mysterious image of God beckoning you to expand?
Here is my reflection on these questions:
The Protestant school I attended in Holland as a youngster. between ages six to ten. started each morning with a half hour of Bible lessons. Sixty years later I am still in love with the stories about Abraham, Joseph, King David, etc., etc., and of course Jesus. I recall the excitement among us as students to the colored poster pictures the teacher would present to help us better understand the dress of the characters and cultural background against which these stories were told. I will always recall the way in which the enduring gentle nature of Jesus was portrayed. At the same time I was particularly attracted to the way Jesus dealt with sinners, especially about the adulterous woman who was about to be stoned by her towns’ people. I doubt if I knew what an adulterer was but intuitively understood that Jesus’ form of justice was based on love not punishment.
In later years as an adult striving for worldly success I lost track of God as a direct influence in my daily life. My struggles with fear, anxiety and depression had become all absorbing and consuming. During the intervening years it was my wife who helped me find a way to dialogue directly with God. For me the most direct and profound way was through journaling. Not that journaling is easy for me. It remains a struggle between my ego and the true self. But in it I rediscovered the God of my early youth. A Creator who desires nothing more for us than a life to be lived to the full. A Being who meets us where we are; not where others would have us be.
Not so many years ago as coordinator of our parish Adult Religious Formation classes (RCIA) I asked our eager inquirers and their sponsors if they understood God as someone who does not punish, reward, or hand out favors. The immediate response was totally surprising – not from the inquirers but their sponsors. Had I not read the passages in the Bible about God smiting sinners and finally separating the chaff from the wheat? Even more surprising was that the troubling response came from an individual who I knew had attended several years in seminary.
Today God’s synchronous presence is often revealed in our children and grandchildren and the many struggles we have encountered together. The most powerful experience of God presence came during many months of my struggle with stage 3 cancer. Today I am 100% cancer free only because I was able to overcome my ego and listen and absorb his healing messages not just for me but for our entire family. No, our struggles continue but God in his mysterious ways gives us hope for tomorrow.
Fr. Rohr has stated that our image of God is directly related to our own personal understanding of God. In other words if we view God based on a deity who seeks punishment than we will perceive the world or creation in the same manner. In severe cases we may perhaps demand the death penalty for extremist in Boston or a kidnapper and rapist in Cleveland. Life’s experiences for many can have been totally without any supporting love or compassion. Is it any wonder then that these individuals learn to be cruel and totally inhuman? Of course I am speaking here of extremes. Hopefully most of us have received encouragement and love from a parent, teacher, grandparent, minister, etc. Others may have been brought up under strict rules subject to punishment for failure to obey same. Similarly perhaps you were warned about God’s punishment should you fail to meet your parents rigid commands. Is any wonder than that some or most of us carry with us a fear filled image of God? And that image can then become our way of viewing the world.
In their best book ‘Good Goats – Healing Our Image of God (1994), Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn present a unique and healing transformation for those who seek freedom from the fear of judgment and eternal punishment regardless of your age. Here are some of the contents covered in this rewarding book:
· Why Wasn’t I Healed?
· We become Like the God We Adore
· How My Image of God Changed
· God Loves Us at Least As Much As the Person Who Loves Us the Most
· What About Vengeful Punishment in Scripture?
· Jesus’ Response to Vengeful Punishment
· Reading Vengeful Punishment Passages Literally Can Drive Us Crazy
· Does God Send Anyone to Hell
And many more.