If I give in to my first and oldest thoughts on the subject, here’s what I believe about God:
1. He’s vaguely shaped like me- he walked around in the Garden of Eden, after all. (Genesis 3:8) And Moses got a glimpse of his backside. (Exodus 33:23)
2. He is a he.
3. He is jealous, easily angered, arbitrary, vengeful, violent, and holds grudges. But..
4. God is love.
That’s enough to begin. These thoughts were all formed early on, during my childhood, from numerous Sunday School handouts, a voracious appetite for every tract, magazine, and some bizarre little books I would find at my grandparent’s home. (I wish I remembered what they were; I only remember the covers on them would often have pictures of beautiful angels and lascivious devils. Yes, I was weird.) I also, even as a kid, would watch TV preachers. This was the mid- 50s, so it was Oral Roberts on a folding chair in a tent at noon on Sundays, and, at 6 p.m. everyday, just after “The Little Rascals,” “Suppertime,” a locally produced show starring the lesser known brother of Rex Humbard, Clement, and his family. (wife Priscilla, and daughters Rebecca and Delilah. See? I told you I was weird!)
Together, all of that data ran together in my 7 to 12 year old mind, and God the walking, talking, prissy and pissed god, emerged. But he loved me, somehow. I can’t make that elementary version of him go away, not completely, no matter how hard I try. It is one of those childhood-formed chunks of misinformation that has concretized in my mind to the point that I will still, incredibly, default to it at times. (Here’s another example of that kind of information which I apparently hold dear, because it won’t leave me: somewhere along that time, I got the idea in my head that goats and sheep were the same species. All the goats were male, and all the sheep were female. On first glance at either kind of animal, that is still my first thought.)
I mention all of this because, I have found, many adults also carry with them some anthropomorphic ideas about God that were forged in the halcyon days of childhood, when new information about the world was flooding our minds, and the cognitive means of evaluating/rejecting/accepting that information were not yet fully formed. It doesn’t matter, at that age, that the information doesn’t fit together that we are absorbing; it finds a place to take up (apparently) a permanent lodging place in our minds, anyway.
When that information, right or wrong, is an ingrained part of the culture we grow up in, it becomes important and life-affecting. When it concerns goats and sheep, it is only a minor and very occasional irritation. It is easy to see, therefore, that the God of my childhood still enjoys a well-tended residence in the minds of many, many people. It is an idea that is nurtured and fertilized, and so satisfying (again, apparently) to so many people that it affects how they vote, how they say it’s important for other people to believe, and how they raise their children.
Thinking critically about God- rather, about that image of God I’ve had in my head for waaaay too long- is a never ending process. I don’t want God to be as small as my imagination, and I sure don’t want God to be as small as the authors and artists of those tracts and books tried to make God out to be. I want to both understand the metaphors for God used by the biblical writers in the context of their time, and to think about new metaphors for God in the context of our time. I want to reconcile the stories of God’s bloody and horrific vengeance on persons other than Jews (Deut 20:16-18, et.al., et.al.) with the statement, “God is love.” (1John 4: 8), if they can be reconciled. I want to get by the saccharine nonsense that God dusted the heavens with stars for human pleasure, and the maudlin idea that God allows babies to die because of God’s selfish need for flowers in heavenly gardens.
I want to know God better, even as I know I will not even come close to knowing God fully. I want the goofy image of God I have stuck in my brain to be put to pasture with the he-goats and she-sheep.