Updated: Aug 23, 2020
We Become the Image of the God We Worship
This was going to be a much longer blog, but I decided to take my wife’s advice and not write a blog so long that it discourages people from reading it. I will attempt to write a series of blogs on this topic until I have exhausted what I want to say. Here is part one.
I believe it was Graham Cooke, who said, "Your thoughts about God are the most important thoughts you will ever have." I think that is true of anything; really, our thoughts and perceptions determine how we interact with the subject we are thinking about. Here is something we need to admit, our revelation and understanding about God is evolving. It evolves in our lives, and it has evolved through the ages in our spiritual tradition and will continue to do so. Even the scriptures reflect a steady change in the ancient Israeli people’s views and understandings of God and how they interacted with Divine Presence, culminating in the person of Jesus. For example, if you read the prophets of scripture, you will notice that they were written accounts of men of God confronting Israel with new ideas and ways of relating to God that challenged their current paradigm. Moreover, there is a clear trajectory of their transformation of ideas and revelation within scripture. (Perhaps a blog in the future identifying clear markers of progress)
Hopefully, we are always updating our internal image of God to a more advanced and sophisticated way of understanding the divine. This is not to say that humans are make-believing the existence of God, but it is to say that as humans, we are interacting with our own ideas about God, which is what is improving; therefore, making us better humans.
Although God is an objective reality and the truest part of you is an uncreated spirit of the same essence as the Divine, God and our true Self must be unveiled to us. In other words, whatever is of Spirit must be known through progressive revelation. The spirit dimension must update and transform our minds as a way of actualizing the spiritual reality in this dimension. Notice the direction I am emphasizing, Spirit must transform the mind. This is why dead religion, institutional religion, cannot satisfy because it is a stationary and outdated revelation. It is not that the doctrines and theologies are wrong as such but it is static, immovable, and resistant to transformation and the progress of the Spirit. Institutional religion always lags behind dynamic sonship, which is living by the moving of the Spirit. Which is very threatening to institutions.
How Your Image of God Will Determine the Image You Become
To illustrate how important God's image is to our transformation, there is a story in Matthew where Jesus had one of his usual sharp exchanges with the Pharisees. The scene transitions to Jesus and the disciples getting into a boat, Jesus, seemingly out of nowhere, says, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees." The disciples didn’t have a clue as to what Jesus was talking about, because they thought he was talking about bread. Finally, Jesus plainly states, “Beware of the teaching of the Pharisees.” When I think about this story, it seems like the exchange with the Pharisees was lingering in Jesus’ mind like he was processing it. Notice, Jesus uses the analogy of leaven to describe how ideas and teachings work in a person's mind. My understanding of leaven is that it causes bread to rise from a blob of dough into a nice fluffy, full loaf of bread. Therefore, the idea that Jesus was conveying is when you allow ideas and teachings to be embedded in your thinking, it will impact all areas of your life, leaving nothing untouched. Really what Jesus was warning was beware of the Pharisees’ image of God. How you view God impacts every area of your life. You will become like the image of who or what you worship.
Furthermore, as the conversation continues, Jesus pointedly asks the disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is?" and further, "Who do you say I am" (Matt. 16)? Peter gets it right. He identifies Jesus as the Son of God. But here is the main point I hope you understand, Peter was not identified as the rock who would be used as a founder of Christ’s church until he rightly identified Jesus as the Christ the Son of the Living God. There is a symbiotic relationship with us identifying God with a deeper revelation and then God identifying us with an understanding of our true self “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another…and the Lord, who is the Spirit makes us more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV). God usually initiates this upgrade for us.
I realize how strange this must sound that people can have different versions of God in their perspective or imagination, but it is a reality. For example, I know that I have encountered lots of people whose version of God I am an atheist to. When I hear how they describe God I will think to myself, "That is not the God I have come to know," and often the version of God that is projected is one that sounds more like the devil. For example, members of the Westboro Baptist Church quote the same bible we read, pray to God in Jesus' name, claim to have a born again experience, claim to be Christians, while at the same time picket military funerals carrying signs claiming the military person is in hell. Often they are seen with picket signs that say God hates fags, etc. You get the idea. I used an extreme example but it makes the point. Their version of god I would never serve because he sounds more evil than good. Just because they use the same language or even call their God Jesus or Father does not mean we are having the same experience or the same revelation of God. Fundamentalism is found in every religion, and it drives decent people to believe monstrous things and act in unloving ways in the name of their god. I happen to think if someone is bound in fundamentalist religion, they are suffering from a type of cognitive distortion at best and mental illness at worst. It's easy for us to see it in other religions; however, it can be difficult to examine our own house. For example, we all know that Islamic fundamentalism is ugly and barbaric. But what about Christian fundamentalism? Sure, they are not usually detonating a bomb, but they use their unkind words and attitudes to regularly throw judgment bombs.
Obviously, this human progression is a part of God's plan.
The beauty of the Father is He will meet us where we are to pull us forward to a more advanced way of knowing Him. I can recall lots of things that I formally believed that made God look less loving. But the point is if we are open to encounter, God will help us transform and move us forward from antiquated, outdated understandings of God. Many of us need healing in our broken image of God because it profoundly impacts how we relate to God, others, and ourselves. Since the fall of Adam, we have been recovering the revelation of the Father. We are progressively moving from Adam's monster god to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus.
This Is Your Brain On God, Any Questions?
From a neurological stand point the image you hold of God does matter. Neuroscientists have been able to use fMRI scans of the brain to detect the region of the brain at work when one holds a perspective about God. For example, people who view God as being a critical parent, vengeful, wrathful, legalistic, and angry, activate the more primitive brain known as the amygdala, which is the portion of the brain responsible for the fight, flight, or freeze responses. It causes one to feel anxious and on edge, not to mention angry and legalistic. In contrast, those who hold a view of God as loving, kind, generous, and forgiving function out of the most advanced part of the brain responsible for impulse control, emotional regulation, goal-oriented, problem-solving, higher processing, known as the prefrontal cortex.
Therefore, some images of God are literally bad for your brain. Worse still is the worshiper with this inferior image of God lives under the stress of never really being safe with God. They are constantly under the watchful eye of a capricious, impossible to please father. One would think that it would be a no-brainer (pun intended) to do away with the old version of God. My suspicion is that most of us who have been in religion for any amount of time have held elements of the abusive amygdala god, and have had to update our understanding and image of God to a healthier experience. Certainly, my understanding and experience with God have changed over the years from the one religion handed me to the one that is alive, loving, and transformative.