What Does God Look Like to You?
Even those of us who are not sure God exists have our own idea of what God looks like.
Many of us assume God looks like the image on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. God looks like an old man with a long white beard, like Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments.
We see God as like an elderly relative who lives far away and is set in their ways. God apparently has a lot of rules and can only be approached in a certain ways. There are lots of topics of conversation which are not really appropriate for God.
We do not want to do or say anything which might upset God.
Our image of God is not a particularly happy one. God generally does not look very pleased and does not tend to make us too happy. The way we see God often makes us feel confused or afraid or angry.
If I were God, I would want to do some serious rebranding.
People may talk about God as loving us or giving us peace, but that is not our experience. In our everyday lives God feels old and uncaring, far away, beyond the clouds. Why does God not take care of people? What are the reasons so many people are sick or homeless or treated unfairly?
If God is not some crabby old guy in the sky, why do so many horrible things happen in God’s name?
It makes me wonder whether we are seeing God accurately. There are so many apparent contradictions and questions I start to question our image of God.
Images of God
How do we see God? What does God look like to us?
Each of us sees God through our own eyes. Some people talk about having a personal relationship to God, and I believe that is true. I think, though, we each have a relationship, even if we are ignoring or questioning God.
I know quite a few people for whom the “old guy in the sky” image of God does not work. They experience God very differently. Some people are drawn to the feminine aspects of God. Other people find God in nature. They go into a forest, or to the mountains, or to the beach to be close to God.
There are as many different images of God as there are people.
I believe God is always with us and always persistently drawing us closer. It is a challenge for me to see God as a particular kind of person. My experience of God is more about light and life and love, the glow within our hearts.
My own favorite image of God is in fire.
Candles and fireplaces, campfires and stars in the night sky remind me of God’s presence.
Fire is energy. It gives us light and warmth, and makes food taste good. Fire, though, is not safe. We need to respect fire and relate to it wisely.
Examples of how people see God fill classical religion and spirituality. Our relationship to God is incredibly complex and potentially intimate. We may need to spend a little time thinking and reflecting to sort out how we experience God.What image of God draws you into deeper understanding?
Looking Into God’s Eyes
Recognizing what God looks like to us requires we spend some time looking into God’s eyes. It takes more than a quick glance to appreciate what God looks like to us.
We pay attention to the people and places we love. Each time we stop and look, the places and faces which draw us deeper show us something new. Sometimes we need to look into the eyes of another person to appreciate what they tell us.
The image we have of God may distract us from looking God in the eye. We may need to see beyond the image, behind the mask, to what is real. Seeing reality with our own eyes takes time. Our relationship to God is not something we can squeeze into whatever time is left over. We need to go deeper.
Like with anyone else, we need to get past the image in our heads to see what God really looks like.
Many things can get in our way. We may be slowed down by our preconceived notions and what we have been taught by others. Other people, speaking for God, may have turned us off or abused us. We may have heard things about God other people truly believed but which were not true.
We may be holding onto questions instead of asking them directly. It may be our fears or anger or misunderstandings.
Our relationship will never be stronger than our willingness to ask our questions. Nothing we can ask will upset God. There is nothing in which God is not interested.
We need to look God in the eye and see clearly to appreciate what God looks like to us.
Recognizing What God Looks Like
As we look God in the eye, no matter what our image of God is, we find God in more places.
We pay careful attention and we recognize God in places and faces we had missed. God is not a fussy elderly relative, picky about how loud we talk or what we say. We find the presence of God everywhere.
God is with people who are suffering, sharing their pain and calling us to respond to it. We recognize God in the people we see at work and walking down the street.
God is drawing us into life and love and light. Overwhelming our images and expectations, God is the spark who sets our hearts on fire. God sparks recognition in us and we recognize God in the people around us and around the world.
Sometimes we even recognize God when we look in the mirror.
How do you see God today?
What does God look like to you this week?
[Image by romana klee]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.