It figures. The “Let Me Out Of Here” box toy I bought as a prop for yesterday’s sermon about God was broken. You see, when you push the button, the box is supposed to shake and then you hear knocking and a voice scream out, “‘Scuse me, ‘scuse me… can you let me out of here!” Sadly, as soon as you put the batteries in mine it begins to go off and doesn’t stop. Perhaps that’s apropos, after all, I think I’ve been trying to get God out of the box forever. Well, maybe not forever, but that’s how it feels.
(For the full audio version, click here.)
Not only was my God Box broken, but it scared the dickens out of one little boy at children’s time who went tearing off down the aisle. Maybe that’s appropriate, too. Maybe we’re all a little afraid to examine the box that we’ve put God in. Let’s back up for a bit.
Scripture and the church have given us a very interesting box within which is contained a conglomeration of characteristics of God – many of them seemingly contradictory. This is by no means complete, but here is a sampling of what that God looks like in the traditional box:
- God is not partial, yet God is gracious to those who obey, but full of wrath for those disobey (Deut. 10:17, Ezra 8:22)
- God is loving, yet God will test you and send an evil spirit to torment you (1 John 4:8, Deut. 13:3 1 Sam. 15)
- God is light with no darkness, yet God is a devouring fire and a jealous God (1 John 1:5, Deut. 4:24)
- God is for us and with us, but God will judge us and send us to hell if we screw up (Gen 21:22)
- God is male (this has caused a multitude of issues over the centuries)
Over the centuries, the church has discouraged spiritual seekers from questioning this box. To challenge and question, to believe something different, these were seen as blasphemous and heretical. But if our goal is to grow spiritually, then we need to be able to explore our images for God and determine if they make sense in our hearts.
So, here is my thought for today… it is actually somewhat unimportant whether the Divine exists or not. What IS important is our God-image (the God box we’ve constructed for ourselves) because our God-image is a dynamic force in our well-being – spiritually, psychologically, emotionally and physically. The God-image that we create, or buy into, affects how we feel about ourselves and how we feel about the world.
Think about it… if our God is loving, yet judgmental, prone to anger and insists that one be obedient to him as the only God, how are we likely to behave? We may say we love people, but our love may be colored with judging others, determining if their actions are good enough for heaven, saying things like we “love the sinner and hate the sin,” having an exclusive church that “knows” who is good and who is bad, who is in and who is out.
Inside ourselves, we may never feel good enough when we believe that God is always judging our actions. We are likely to lack self-esteem and self-worth because, while we believe God loves us and is faithful, that only really counts if we love God enough, if we’re good enough, if we’ve behaved enough.
If we believe in the kind of God who tests our faith, then every challenge in life becomes a test from God to determine if we are good enough, faithful enough, worthy of heaven or rewards or blessings. Sadly, we know that we can never be perfect (no one is), so deep within we may live with a shame and unworthiness.
But if our God-image believes in an unconditionally loving God, then that looks completely different. This God-image would lead us to understand that God loves all people regardless of religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, favorite football team, eye color, or country of origin. Hopefully, then, our behavior would follow suit and we would accept others without judging. And from a personal perspective we would know that, no matter what, God loves us. We are good enough. We don’t have to beat ourselves up over our mistakes. We can concentrate on healing, and seeking wholeness without getting stuck in our mistakes.
Walter Kania in Healthy Religion states, “The spiritual journey consists in the search for the truth about oneself, life, and the universe. Finding truth does not occur by locking oneself behind the walls of tradition, irrationality, or obedience to a closed system.”
Most of you have already given yourselves the permission… but if not, I’m giving you the permission to explore your God-image. What box do you have God in? Is it healthy for you? What might need to change in your God-image so that you can live more fully, more lovingly and in a way that heals and makes you whole?