By Patrick Showers, Elementary Associate Pastor
Woodland Hills Church
Several years ago, when my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, she came home all excited to share a picture she had drawn of me. My first reaction was pride and then confusion. She had drawn me, in her detailed stick figure way, standing. Now, this was about a year after I had become paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. So, I was unsure what to make of her drawing. I realized that even though she interacted with me daily in a wheelchair, she still saw me as the dad who chased her around, held her in his arms, and carried her to bed when she was younger. Her image of me as her strong, caring protector hadn’t changed even if my ability to stand had.
Fast forward to my youngest child. He, too, came home with a picture of me, but this time he drew me as sitting. He still saw me as the caring, strong protector, but he didn’t have any framework for me as a dad who could stand. I’d been in a wheelchair his whole life. The drawing was more accurate, but both pictures saw me in the same way.
I wondered how accurate my mental picture of God would be if I could show it to him. Would my concept of his character and traits align with reality?
Several years ago, researchers, decided to survey Americans to see how they viewed God. Respondents’ answers typically identified one of four conceptions of God:
- Image #1 = Powerful or Angry Father – Father as angry judge; Jesus as loving innocent son. A courtroom image that primarily presents God as offended King/Judge and presents us as evil subjects/criminals.
- Image #2 = Distant, Disinterested Dad or Mysterious Spiritual Force. He/It is out there, but I’m not really on the radar
- Image #3 = Kindly, Old Santa Claus. Happy God where all kids get presents! And there is no “naughty” list!
- Image #4 = Critical, legalistic Father. He’s watching every move you make and constantly judging whether you’ve got it right or wrong.
In the Bible, we find we can know God by looking at Jesus, whose life and ministry demonstrated a God who is love. Not an ordinary type of love, but selfless, unconditional, sacrificial, relentless, passionate, forgiving, merciful, and unstoppable love.
When you hear the word “God,” what comes to your mind’s eye? Does your picture of God match what’s described in the Bible, or is it more like one of the four images researchers identified in America?
Even though both of my children had different pictures of me, both still saw me as loving, strong, and protective. I would hope as they get older their image of me would remain unchanged in that regard. Their image of me was cultivated by their relationship with me, the time we spent together, and their experiences.
For us, our life experiences, the people around us, and even the culture heavily influence our image of God. The more we stay connected to Him relationally, the more accurate our image of Him will be.
Over the years, I’ve asked 5th & 6th graders to share their mental image of God, and the responses always vary. Some have an accurate image of him and others share one of the distorted views. I’m not sure what experiences in their young lives have caused these differences in their understanding of who God is, but I do believe that we as parents are major influencers of that image.
Periodically in your child’s life, ask him/her the question, “What is God like?” and see how he/she responds. Be prepared to share your perspectives, as well. You can use this as a litmus test to determine whether he/she is on track or if you need to guide him/her back into alignment.
So, I challenge you to read through the Gospels and see if you need to clarify or update your image of God to align with the accurate picture described in the Bible. Our relationship and our trust in him is impacted by any negative or distorted perceptions of him. When we have a strong relationship with God, we not only model that to our children, but we inadvertently serve as a positive influence for their image of God, as well.