(Mis)Representing God

Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” according to Heb 1:3. Or as Paul said in Col 1:15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation”. If we want to know what God is like, we simply have to look at Jesus.

In John 14:8-9 we read this discussion: “Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”?’”

But the even more amazing thing is we are told that in some way, when people look at believers, they should be able to see Jesus. In 1 Cor 11:1 and Eph 5:1-2 for example we are exhorted to be “imitators of God”. Jesus could even say that people have the right to decide if Jesus indeed represents the Father based on the love we have for one another (John 13:34-35) and the unity we exemplify (17:20-21).

This is an enormous responsibility and calling. It is one of the most sobering things we can contemplate. How are we representing our Lord? What do non-Christians see when they look at us? Are people drawn to God or repelled from Him as they come into contact with us?

Thus it is vitally important that we represent our Lord aright. It is crucial that we really know him, that we might properly represent him. We cannot represent someone that we know nothing about. And we will miserably misrepresent someone if we get our understanding of that person wrong.

Thus one of the most important tasks of the Christians is to know God as well as we can, and then to model that knowledge to a needy world. One person who knew all too well the importance of this was A.W. Tozer. Most of his writings end up coming back to this theme.

But one of his books was especially directed to this hugely important matter. I refer to his 1961 volume, The Knowledge of the Holy. I can do no better than to simply quote extensively from this significant work. I can offer a number of terrific passages simply from the first dozen pages or so of this classic work. Here they are:

“The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. This she has not done deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic. The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us.” (p. vii)

“The decline of the knowledge of the holy has brought on our troubles. A rediscovery of the majesty of God will go a long way toward curing them. It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate. If we would bring back spiritual power to our lives, we must begin to think of God more nearly as He is.” (p. viii)

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.” (p. 1)

“For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. She can never escape the self-disclosure of her witness concerning God.” (p. 1-2)

“That our idea of God corresponds as nearly as possible to the true being of God is of immense importance to us.” (p. 2)

“A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well. It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse. I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God.” (p. 3)

“Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.” (p. 5)

“Before the Christian Church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, ‘What is God like?’ and goes on from there. Though she may continue to cling to a sound nominal creed, her practical working creed has become false. The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different from what He actually is; and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind.” (p. 5)

“The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him – and of her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past. This will prove of greater value to them than anything that art or science can devise.” (p. 5)

“Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms.  We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him.  We want a God we can in some measure control. ” (p. 10)

What more can I say. It would be foolhardy of me to attempt to improve upon these words. Let them stir your soul and spur you on to really know him so that we might properly worship him and accurately represent him.

[1159 words]

5 Replies to “(Mis)Representing God”

  1. Bill What can one say, wow! I will have to read this over and over to digest it.
    The late Art Katz used to point out when every issue is condensed down from divorce to homosexuality to abortion to deception in the church, whatever, at the root there involves a false view of God. He also used to say often that there is God as we imagine Him to be and God who He really is and we better get to know the difference real quick.
    Isn’t it our tendency to even unconsciously make Him into our own image, god as we want him to be? As well to gravitate towards those who present that same image because it pleases us. These days things may not be stone idols but nevertheless much can still be idolatry. Even worship, a commendable thing, can end up being worshiped because of how it makes us feel, but then it is transformed into idolatry and we don’t even know it.
    Tozer seems even more relevant today than he was when he was alive, a gift sent from above who preached himself out of many pulpits in his day!
    Robert Withall

  2. I woke up this morning and asked myself – are you really a disciple of Jesus? Are you really doing anything to advance the Kingdom of God? These are questions that I struggle with on a daily basis, there is so much around us that sometimes I think we lose our concentration in matters of the faith and drift off on these worldly tangents and I believe that the only way to get back on track is to have a really good look at your heart and do what the Bible exhorts you to do 1. Examine yourselves to see that you are in the faith 2. Watch your life and doctrine closely – it is my belief that you need do these things in conjunction with daily Bible reading and daily prayer – this way you are aiming to have God as a daily rock upon which you live your life each day and this will certainly help you to represent God as he should be represented. Of course there will be many instances and situations where you will look back and say to yourself – could I have handled that better as one of God’s people? Or did I need to say what I said or could I have held my tongue? One of the most important things in a Christian’s life each day is to recognise his daily failings before God, repent and then get up and keep going in the Spirit of God.
    Steve Davis

  3. Bill, Tozer has shown clearly that the traditional believers in the Uniting Church of OZ are right when they charge their hierarchy with apostasy. They cannot show us the God of sacred scripture.
    Stan Fishley

  4. Thank you Steve Davis. It does my heart good to read your words. I have a few Christian friends who tell me to “lighten up” when I talk like you and they reprimand me for bringing everything back to what the Bible says. They often say that their feelings give them proof of what God is like. My response to that is that if their feelings contradict God’s word then the feelings must not be relied upon. This article of Bill’s and your comments are spot on. I think it is a good thing to wake up each day and examine ourselves in the light of Scripture to see if we are in the faith. It wouldn’t do for Christians to become complacent.

    Kerry Letheby

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