Sometimes I hear people say something like, “you know I like to think of God as this, ” or “I prefer to think of God like this.” Usually, they fill in the description with some sort of sentimental feeling that makes them feel good. For example, “I prefer to think of God as a tender father, or a caring brother, or a gentle shepherd, or I prefer to think of Jesus as my boyfriend”. While it might feel cozy to think of God however I wish, the real question is who is God really? If you want to know what God is like look at Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh. And while it might feel cozy and sentimental to prefer certain images of God, those are reductionistic at best if they do not embody the Jesus we meet in scripture.
Here’s a question: why would we treat God differently than we treat all of the rest of reality? For example, consider a simple reality that you face all the time. Let’s say you are driving to the mountains and the road is winding and turning and you come upon a section that curves to the left and right in front of you is a huge cliff. Do you say to yourself “I just like to think of this road as straight,” or “I prefer to see this road as having no curves?” “I just like to think of this road as straight so I don’t have to keep on turning.” Do you do that? No, that would be crazy! Rather what I do is I submit what I might like or prefer to the real, actual shape of the road. If I don’t, I drive off the cliff. In most of life, that is what you do with reality. You might not like that the road is windy, but you conform your likes to reality and you accept reality. Even if reality is disturbing you, or not what you prefer. You see that the road is windy, and you adjust the wheel of your car to conform to reality.
So why would we treat God any different? You don’t make demands of the road, the road makes demands of you. You conform to the reality of it. That is how you live, and survive and thrive.
If we are to follow the actual Jesus of scripture, and not some modified version that we construct, then it seems to me this Jesus will regularly be disturbing us. We will feel the need to submit to a different way than the way of the world. We will have to conform to a different path than the one presented by our culture. The way of Jesus will disturb our commitments to comfort and money. We will regularly be bumping up against our personal prejudices and social understandings of things in light of the kingdom of heaven. If you are just following a religion then you can follow the god that you make up in that religion. Usually, that god will resemble the things your culture already cares about. This view of god can stay on your terms of comfort because you actually formed god in your own image. But if you are following Jesus you are following a person who actually lived and we can learn about and who resides in you.
So if Jesus is never disturbing you, if he is never bothering you, if he never seems to be calling you out of your comfort zone – then it is probably worth wondering – am I following the real Jesus or just the Jesus of my own making? How do you know if your God is real or made up? Is God constantly challenging your biases and expectations? Following Jesus is like this invitation to constantly be changing your mind on things. This is what it means to be conformed to the image of Christ from ‘one degree of glory to another’ day by day.
“And we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) Thanks be to God, what a gift!