Our Ideas About God
An idea is like a virus, resilient, highly contagious. The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define or destroy you”Dom Cobb, in the movie Inception
WE ALL HAVE OUR OWN IDEAS ABOUT GOD. Two thousand years ago, a devout religious group looked at God in human form and declared that he had a devil. Their idea of God was that of a mighty conqueror who would defeat their national enemies and establish his physical kingdom on earth. They were disgusted that Jesus associated with heathens, the poor, the sick, and other outcasts of society and were outraged at his claim to divinity. The sham trial before Pontius Pilate was possible only because they had already judged him as guilty in their minds. Their verdict came quickly: This man who claimed to be God was a fraud, a blasphemer, and deserving of death.
During the Dark Ages, zealous “Christians” burned so-called heretics at the stake for translating the Bible from Latin into the languages of the common people. In the minds of those who strangled to death and burned the body of William Tyndale, they were doing God’s will. They had the same flaw as those who crucified Jesus. Their idea of God was twisted and distorted—a punitive god who uses coercion and force to accomplish his goal—a god who doesn’t have much regard for human free will. Convinced that they were God’s ambassadors, they tortured and killed their enemies, just as their god would.
In our day, many have carried on the idea of a coercive and punishing god. We have been told that God sends natural disasters such as hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake as judgments for actions such as pro-gay legislation and the practice of voodoo. Explanations for the tsunami that hit South Asia range from God’s sentence for the persecution of Christians in that region to his response for the high abortion rate. Some have suggested that the holocaust was God’s punishment to the Jewish people for not accepting Christ. Many today share the sentiments of a contemporary preacher, who criticized the notion of a suffering, serving God with the words, “I can’t worship a guy that I could beat up.”But isn’t that exactly what we did to Jesus?
The first book of the Bible tells the story of how a false idea about God, like a satanic virus, infiltrated human minds, causing mistrust and fear of God. It was implied that God lied to us and that he does not have our best interest in mind (Genesis 3:4, 5). The results caused a dramatic break in the relationship between God and his people, who were now hiding in the bushes in fear of him (Genesis 3:10). Since that time, most of humanity has been afraid, trying to appease an angry and punitive deity.
Jesus came to change our idea about God. Jesus showed us exactly what God is like, when he associated with sinners and societal outcasts rather than judging and condemning them. He revealed God’s heart, when he hung on the Cross and refused to use force against his enemies and instead forgave them and died. Yet despite Jesus’ claims that “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) and that “the Father and I are one” (John 10:3), his life and death are not often viewed as a revelation of who God is. Instead, Christ’s mission is frequently reduced to that of a whipping boy for our sins—the object of divine anger. This angry picture of God creates angry “Christians.” This false idea about God has been responsible for most of the atrocities committed by Christians throughout the last seventeen centuries. Our wrong conceptions of God have led us to treat our enemies just as our god would—burning, strangling, shooting, or bombing them, rather than staying faithful to Christ’s way.
It’s time to change our idea about God. Over 2,000 years ago, God became a human being to penetrate the darkness surrounding our picture of him, to free us from fear, and to reassure us that the omnipotent God of the universe is exactly like Jesus in character: non-coercive, humble, and other-centered in his love. Jesus came to let us know that God’s infinite power is equally matched by his humility; to reveal that God’s Kingdom is not defined by conquering our enemies in battlefields or courts of law but rather through our service and love for them; and to enlighten us that God’s Kingdom spreads by persuasion and truth, not force and coercion.
If Christianity of today is to play any role in putting an end to the chain of hate and violence in the world, we must examine the ideas about God that we harbor deep within the recesses of our minds. We must reevaluate our God to see if he is in harmony with the character of Jesus. When we finally leave the violent god of our ancestors and turn to the God of peace and other-centered love for all human beings, we become peacemakers ourselves, empowered to create communities where we can live together without fear of God or of each other.