What Does God Look Like?

What Does God Look Like?

Happy New Year! I have been pondering for a long time. Some of you were asked to think about, but not answer the question. There are no right answers, but they are intriguing. The essential question is “When you say ‘God’ what does your mind see?” What follows are a few of my personal thoughts. When I was doing consulting, I used the term “mental model.” I’d ask school administrators what came to mind when I said, “school library.” In those days, what I heard was pretty dismal. But if I asked them what a car was, they would conjure up their car outside, their high school jalopy, or even a 1935 Duesenberg. In other words, when we learned to read, we also learned word associations. Pictures for objects.

So how does that work when we talk about God? Okay, God is not an object, BUT in referring to God, many Bible references show an anthropomorphic God. He has arms to surround us; eyes to watch over us; a brain to think and make decisions. I can go on and on! What does our mind see? Does God look like the God in the Sistine Chapel reaching out to Adam? Is he a wizened old man with long white hair, a beard, and a white robe checking folks in at the pearly gate? Wrong! It’s probably St. Peter checking people in!

Moving on, if God created man in his own image, then, God just looks like a regular guy. Does that mean we all look like God? What about women? Even more interesting is that some scholars insist that Eve was created to be Adam’s helpmate. That leads to the question, was God therefore a misogynist? That’s not the God I know. There are still Biblical scholars who place women in secondary positions, a view that has lasted for centuries.

That leads to more questions. God is usually described in male terms in biblical sources, with female analogy only as when Jesus describes himself as a mother hen. Does that mean that gender is more a matter of cultural norms rather than theological ones? As the only begotten son of God, does Jesus look like God? Does that mean whatever Jesus looks like, God will look like, since they are one in the same?

Do we really need a mental model for God? God can be anything. To a child God might look like Santa Claus; to a teen, the latest musical idol; or it might be Morgan Freeman. To others, God is an amorphous “thing,” which can encompass images of nature, like mountains, the Grand Canyon, vast fields of lavender, a cloud skittling across the sky, a powerful thunderstorm, or snowflakes on Christmas Eve. God could be a mother and son working together to overcome a problem. God is the Johnson School connection, and the gift of clothing for needy families.

My thoughts are just that, thoughts and questions. You have an entire year to ponder with me about them. Next month I will begin sharing information about various religious groups, including different Christian thinking.

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