Images of God
Creating God in Our Own Image
Sunday, November 28, 2021
First Sunday of Advent
The Advent season begins with Scriptures that focus on the “second coming” of Christ. At times, this has been presented as a frightening event, exacerbated by the negative images of God which many Christians hold. Father Richard writes:
Your image of God creates you—or defeats you. There is an absolute connection between how we see God and how we see ourselves and the universe. The word “God” is a stand-in word for everything—Reality, truth, and the very shape of our universe. This is why good theology and spirituality can make such a major difference in how we live our daily lives in this world. God is Reality with a Face—which is the only way most humans know how to relate to anything. There has to be a face!
After years of giving and receiving spiritual direction, it has become clear to me and to many of my colleagues that most people’s operative image of God is initially a subtle combination of their mom and dad, or other early authority figures. Without an interior journey of prayer or inner experience, much of religion is largely childhood conditioning, which God surely understands and uses. Yet atheists and many former Christians rightly react against this because such religion is so childish and often fear-based, and so they argue against a caricature of faith. I would not believe in that god myself!
Our goal, of course, is to grow toward an adult religion that includes reason, faith, and inner experience we can trust. A mature God creates mature people. A big God creates big people. A punitive God creates punitive people.
If our mothers were punitive, our God is usually punitive too. We will then spend much of our lives submitting to that punitive God or angrily reacting against it. If our father figures were cold and withdrawn, we will assume that God is cold and withdrawn too—all Scriptures, Jesus, and mystics to the contrary. If all authority in our lives came through men, we probably assume and even prefer a male image of God, even if our hearts desire otherwise. As we were taught in Scholastic philosophy, “whatever is received is received in the manner of the receiver.”  This is one of those things hidden in plain sight, but it still remains well-hidden to most Christians.
All of this is mirrored in political worldviews as well. Good theology makes for good politics and positive social relationships. Bad theology makes for stingy politics, a largely reward/punishment frame, xenophobia, and highly controlled relationships.
For me, as a Christian, the still underdeveloped image of God as Trinity is the way out and the way through all limited concepts of God. Jesus comes to invite us into an Infinite and Eternal Flow of Perfect Love between Three—which flows only in one, entirely positive direction. There is no “backsplash” in the Trinity but only Infinite Outpouring—which is the entire universe. Yet even here we needed to give each of the three a placeholder name, a “face,” and a personality.
 For example, see Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I, q. 75, art. 5.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, and . . .: Daily Meditations (Franciscan Media: 2013, 2019), 63–64.
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The more I read the meditations the more I think I should have been a Franciscan! Everything resonates with my heart and experience. I am soon entering my 80th year, and each day I feel such a deep sense of gratitude for the blessings I’ve been given. Even in the storms of life, God works miracles. So many thanks for the inspiring, sometimes challenging daily meditations. —Bridget H.
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