Next to toilet paper and hand sanitizer, Zoom is the hottest thing going. We Zoom with our kids. We Zoom with our grandkids. We Zoom with our work colleagues. But let me ask you something: What if we Zoomed with God? What would we see?
The Bible doesn’t give us much help. The book of Matthew describes God at Jesus’ baptism as a descending dove, but Exodus says that God takes the form of a pillar of fire. The Psalmists say that God’s voice breaks the cedars and shakes the wilderness, yet 1 Kings tells us that God is a still, small voice. And God doesn’t exactly offer much clarification. The best we get is in Exodus when Moses asks who God is, and God says, “I am that I am.”
Gee, thanks for that.
None of us are born with a genetic code or microchip that has “the” image of God. From birth on, we gather information from sources such as our families, our religious upbringing and our culture to construct our own personal view of God. In short, God made us in God’s image. We’ve just returned the favor by making God in our own image.
Growing up, I was pretty clear that God looked like Clint Eastwood in “High Plains Drifter.” Every Sunday, this scary judgmental God stared back at me from the stained-glass windows surrounding our pew, while scriptures like Deuteronomy 28:22 were read: “The Lord shall smite thee with consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning, and with the sword, and with blasting, and with mildew; and they shall pursue thee until thou perish.”
Yup. “High Plains Drifter.”
Think about your own upbringing. What holy images did you learn to see? Is God male or female? Black or white? How old is God? If God talks back, what does God sound like? What language does God speak? What is God wearing?
We must ask these questions because our image of God drives so much of what we do.
First, it can impact how we engage God. For example, much of our religious liturgy is couched in male language - specifically, father language. This is not necessarily a problem unless it is the only language we use. When God is Father, we tend to project all the parental baggage around that term onto God. And when God is Mother, we do the same.
Think of how you communicated with your mother versus your father when you were growing up. There were probably things you felt more comfortable telling one than the other. One parent may have encouraged more of a “yes,” “no” or “maybe” interaction, and the other an intimate conversation for hours. Thus, our prayers may be very different based on which image of God we use.
Our image of God also affects how we perceive others. For example, if you imagine a God who is white, over time, your subconscious can begin to associate whiteness with holiness. And if white is holy, everything else can be seen as less than holy. The same is true for other factors, such as gender, age or ethnicity.
These subconscious biases can drive everything from employment decisions to straight-up bigotry. Steve Roberts of Stanford University, who studied the impact of our images of God on everyday life, explained it this way: “Basically, if you believe that a white man rules the heavens, you are more likely to believe that white men should rule on Earth.”
Finally, how we see God affects our ability to see miracles. When we restrict our understanding of God to our narrow human ideas, we disrespect the magnitude of God’s greatness. We miss the miracles in everyday life by believing only in what we see as “possible.” In the end, as the old saying goes, we spend our lives standing on a whale fishing for minnows.
God is so much bigger than the box into which we’ve attempted to squeeze the holy. Allow your image of God some room to grow. Enrich your prayer life. Cultivate your empathy. Start to see the world with a little awe and wonder.
Join me now. Bow your head, and let us Zoom.
A trial lawyer turned stand-up comedian and Baptist minister, the Rev. Susan Sparks is the senior pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City and the author of three books, including her newest, “Miracle on 31st Street: Christmas Cheer Every Day of the Year - Grinch to Gratitude in 26 Days!” Contact her through her email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or her website, www.SusanSparks.com.