Our images of God are vital to our desire to know God more closely. We want to have an image for God so we can relate to God better. Our images of God are formed from many different areas and experiences in our lives. The most elementary experience that formed our first image of God was from our family, many times our parents. Our family in some way or another introduced the idea of God, faith or religion to us at a young age, whether good or bad. My image, like that of many young children, was of God as a king. God had the authority; rewarding the good and punishing the bad.
As we age other experiences such as our culture help to form new images of God. Living in a prosperity based culture lends the image of God to a King who rewards the good with material possessions. A culture of law lends itself to an image of a judging God with no compassion; only one who holds up the law regardless of our humanity. As our circumstances in life change from child to adult our image typically shifts once more. We become more independent and sometimes less dependent on God moving to a distant relationship with a far off God, one we pray to if we need it. Events in society also play a role in our image. During war God is fighting like the warrior for our side. After Vatican II the relationship with God as vertical was changed from a personal God, very individualized to a communal God, living and loving God within a community of believers.
God’s image shifts within our personal lives with aging and circumstances, with shifts in the world and with changes in our Church. In the Bible we find a variety of God’s images. Many of the images in the New Testament reveal God as “Abba” Daddy, Father – Jesus constantly prays to His Father. I would think then that the Old Testament would reveal God as one filled with fire and brimstone. However, it depends on which scripture you read as to what is revealed. The Old Testament scriptures reveal God from a fierce bear, to a protector as an Eagle, hiding and keeping us safe beneath His giant wings. Many scripture readings portray God as King in robes and the pomp and circumstance of His majesty. Some show God as a judge others as a rescuer, the creator, a shepherd, a potter and still another as a volcano. As Catholics we have listened to the scriptures over the course of our lives and these images also help to form our image of God.
In our creed we say: We believe in one God, the father, the almighty. In Dawn’s interpretation she says that the father indicates a personal God we can understand and connect with in our own lives. The almighty she believes represents a more transcendent God who we cannot understand. Our Catholic upbringing has developed several images of God depending upon the time of the Church. Before Vatican II God was the punisher, the feared and the one who would set you straight or send you to hell. Since Vatican II and in my years in the church the image of God has swung to the other extreme. Not only do priests rarely talk about sin they NEVER talk about Hell, damnation, punishment or fear. Instead my experience within the Catholic Church has given me the image of a compassionate, merciful, gentle, kind, wise, friendly, all knowing, guiding, Daddy. God is my creator and has given to me Free Will He trusts me to be a steward of His creation but will not force me to do anything. I have spoken with older people who feared God so much before Vatican II that they could not speak to God. They could pray their rosary, confess sins and kneel to God but not speak to God. I am so blessed to live in a time when I have been taught about the unconditional love of God. I have been able to pass my image of God down to my children. God to them is always in their hearts. They know they are never a breath away from God. They talk to God as friend and try to listen for His voice. Their image of God is kind and loving, not fierce and frightening.
It is very interesting learning how the images of God are formed in our lives. Our images came from many different aspects of our lives and will continue to change and grow as we learn and grow in our own lives and in our faith lives.