Despite all the hoopla over the last few years about atheism, a 2016 poll stated that only about 3% of Americans call themselves “atheists” with an additional 5% labelling themselves “agnostics”, which means, “I’m not sure what I believe”. The vast majority of Americans still believe in God. We could debate why this is, and it would be a valuable dialogue, but that’s not the focus of today’s discussion. I want, instead, to ask a couple of different questions.
Who is your God?
If I asked those of you who believe in God to describe him, what would you say? When Americans refer to “God” they are not all thinking of the same sort of being. For some, God is an impersonal universal force. He’s the power that gives energy to this spinning universe. Others make him into some sort of being, like a watchmaker, with unlimited intelligence and resources, who designed the universe, set it in motion, and then walked away. Still others see him as a more involved personal being, who is actively aware of what his creation is doing and interacts with it. And still others just sense a divine presence, but beyond that have little idea of who he is or what he’s like. The list could go on. If you’re a God-believer, which view have you chosen? Does it really matter? I think it does. This leads to our second question:
Why does it matter how you picture God?
1. It matters how you picture God, because God is who he is, regardless of what we think him to be
If you pictured your parents as pink ponies would that turn them into pink ponies? You can envision them in any way you choose, but your choice does not alter reality. They are fellow-human beings. The same is true of God. If he really exists, then he is who he is, independent of our opinions about the matter. Our opinion about God is true only insofar as it matches reality. He’s not whoever you make him to be. This leads to the next observation:
2. It matters how you picture God because your picture of God may be mistaken
Now, let me give an immediate caveat: none of us has an entirely accurate understanding of God. Not even close. For one thing, we’ve been given only limited information about him. Even if you believe the Bible (which I do), there’s a lot left unsaid. For another thing, us comprehending God completely is like trying to explain a nuclear power plant to an amoeba. His being blows past all of our experiental and mental boundaries. We only get tiny glimpses of an infinitely larger reality
Making this concession, though, is not to imply that all views of God are equally true. They can’t be. Since God exists objectively, independent of us, some of our understandings of him will be more accurate than others. All of them certainly can’t be true, anyway, since many of them contradict one another. So it’s possible that our picture of God is seriously mistaken.
At this point, some of you may be saying “So what? Why can’t we all just have our own view of God? Why does there have to be a ‘right’ view of God? As long as our view of God serves its purpose – gives us hope or comfort or direction, isn’t that good enough?” It isn’t. Here’s why that’s not good enough:
3. It matters how you picture God because who God is affects our lives
Doesn’t that make sense? If the laws of nature, like gravity have an impact on what happens in our world, why wouldn’t the Source of these laws have an impact as well? Even if you believe that God is only a Force, a good understanding how that Force works can only be to your advantage, while ignoring it will be to your disadvantage. What he is and does affects us. He’s too powerful to be worth ignoring.
At this point I want to make a shift. I’m a Christian, who has, I believe, strong reasons to believe in the God taught in the Bible. My purpose here, as stated earlier, is not to try to prove that point right now. But if the Bible is right about God, here are some further reasons why it matters how you picture God.
4. It matters how you picture God because the God of the Bible created us to live in a certain way
The Bible tells us that we are made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26). No other creature has that designation. This means that we’re made to resemble God in certain aspects of our lives. We’re called, like him, to live holy and pure lives, for instance. The Bible spells out in significant detail what that means. If the God you picture is not the God of the Bible, then these designations are probably not a part of your life. Why does that matter?
5. It matters how we picture God because God’s ways for us to live were designed with our good in mind
God is a God of love (1 John 4:8) and immense wisdom (Rom. 11:33-36). He designed us to live the best possible life. And the best part of that life is that he wants to be our closest, deepest friend (John 15:15) and to live with him forever (1 Thes. 4:17). Not only does he make our lives here on earth better (though, it must be admitted, not always easier), but the blessings of living in his way here, are just a pale reflection of the joy, peace, freedom, and love we will feel in Heaven. If you don’t know or follow the God of the Bible, it’s impossible for you to enjoy the life he created you to experience. But there’s even a more serious result of believing in and following the wrong God.
6. It matters how we picture God because he also requires a reckoning of us for how we live our lives
If you choose Wal-Mart over Target, who cares, or of you prefer rock music to classical? These are fairly irrelevant choices; matters of preference. But, if the Bible and its picture of God is true, then how we relate to God has a profound consequence both in this life and in the life to come. Here we come to a critical point made by Scripture: God is more than just a resource or an option or even a potential friend. He’s also the Ruler and Judge of our universe. His desires for us are also commands; commands with consequences. As our Creator, He has the right to do this. And one day He will judge every person who ever lived and mete out reward and punishment (Rev. 20:11-15).
Maybe you say, “Well, that’s not the God I picture.” That’s irrelevant. What matters is the God who actually exists, because you and I will face him one day, whether we choose to or not. The good news is that, although we’ve all failed, Jesus Christ has come to earth to make things right between us and God. If we confess our sins, and ask His forgiveness, we can be forgiven and brought into His family (1 John 1:9). If you have never done that, will you do it today?