by Jack Wilkie
God is different than us. Yes, that might be the most obvious statement ever made on this site. However, it’s something we often forget because as humans we frame things according to our own understanding. But God doesn’t think like us. He doesn’t act like us. So, when we try to understand Him we have to remember that He gets to define Himself through what He has revealed about Himself.
When we don’t do that, we mischaracterize Him and mold Him into our own images of what we want Him to be. And what do we call making a god in our own image? Idolatry. Nothing could be more dishonoring to our Lord. Here are 5 common ways God is misunderstood in the world today.
God isn’t a genie
This is how our American culture has generally treated God in recent times. He is kept at a distance, ignored, and disobeyed, but as soon as something bad happens or as soon as a personal need comes up in life, people want to pray again. Then, once the struggle has passed, God gets shoved back in His “lamp” until He’s needed again. Israel tried that in the Old Testament, ignoring God and pursuing all kinds of sins until some foreign enemy threatened. Then they’d fall back on having the Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 4) or “the temple, the temple” (Jeremiah 7), assuming that God would come through for them in their time of need. We all know how that turned out. God is not a gift-dispensing genie. He’s a good Father who gives us what we need when we seek Him (Matthew 6:33, 7:7-11).
God isn’t your “cool parent”
Whether from TV or from real life, we’re all familiar with those parents who let their children get away with all kinds of bad decisions (from as little as eating whatever they want to as big as drinking, doing drugs, and the like). As kids, those are often viewed as the cool parents who didn’t enforce discipline because they just wanted to be buddies with their kids. When we grow older we realize that those parents only harm their children when they neglect their duty to discipline and set boundaries. Sadly, too many people think of God as this kind of bad parent. “God doesn’t judge me, He loves me too much,” they say.
God isn’t that cool parent who lets us do whatever we want and then pretends it’s ok just because He’s desperate to have a relationship with us. Part of God’s love includes refusing to allow us to have both Him and sin at the same time. He is Light and in Him is no darkness. His goal is to make us like Him (1 John 1:5, 3:2). Because of that goal, He draws boundaries based on what’s good for us, and He’ll discipline us when necessary (Proverbs 3:12).
God isn’t your abusive parent
On the other side of the coin, God has often been unfairly portrayed as one who extends no grace and is just looking for an opportunity to strike back at anyone who falls short. If you’re someone who has become jaded and distant from the church because this is how you were introduced to God, I’m sorry for the misguided teaching you received and I hope you’ll look past that to who God really is.
Yes, the Bible gives us plenty of glimpses at just how wrathful God can be against unrepentant sin… but it also shows us just how patient He is toward His people and how faithful He is to keep His promises. Throughout the Old Testament He had plenty of reason to cut off Israel and start over… but He kept sending prophets and kept calling His people back. God is that Prodigal Father, patient and full of grace.
God isn’t your rubber stamp
A rubber stamp is someone in authority who gives official approval to whatever another person wants. Naturally, God doesn’t operate that way. But, it’s sadly far too common among Christians to go about doing whatever they want and then rip verses out of context to give themselves the illusion that God is in full support of their decisions or lifestyle.
Verses like Jeremiah 29:11 (“I know the plans I have for you…”), Psalm 37:4 (“He shall give thee the desires of thine heart”), Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things…”) are easy targets for us to adapt to whatever situation we’re going through. But that’s such a backward way of using the Scriptures.
We’re suppose to align our lives by what God has already said, not do whatever we want and then find ways to twist the Bible into legitimizing and justifying our own actions.
God isn’t your co-pilot
This may be the most common misunderstanding of God among active Christians, and it’s probably the closest to the truth. We often think of ourselves as living out our lives – our schooling, our jobs, our homes, etc. – with God there to help us along the way. We try to be good church members and avoid sin through the week, and we ask God for help in the struggles we face. That’s close, but it’s not what God had in mind. As Christians, our lives are no longer our own. God is the pilot. When we’re in the pilot’s chair, we aren’t very good at going beyond our comfort zones. When God is, He regularly pushes us beyond what we want to do and even what we think we can do. He didn’t just ask us to try to live more morally. He radically shifts our lives to accomplish His will – if we’ll hand Him the reins.
We serve an awesome God. The holy, all-powerful Creator of the universe has chosen to reveal Himself to us and pay the ultimate price to have a relationship with Him. The least we can do is let Him define Himself and reveal Himself to us as He sees fit. Let’s always strive to see God as He wants us to see Him and not as we prefer.