The Very Image of God's Nature
The more we explore the totality of how Jesus is revealed to us, the more we will be able to pray appropriately to our loving Father. (5 min. read)
All of us have an inadequate and incomplete understanding of who God is and what he is really like. Even as Christians, with the benefit of God’s Word and two millennia of Christian thought and theology, we still understand only in part, and need to be vigilant against building our own image of God in a way that suits what we want him to be. Here are a couple of extreme examples.
During the Middle Ages and subsequent decades, God was often perceived as a scary, easily angered, and extremely strict deity, and this particular paradigm was frequently portrayed in the religious art of the era. God was to be obeyed and revered, and the loss of an eternal home in Paradise through failure was a constant anxiety. Closeness or intimacy with a God like that sounded uncomfortable at best, and downright dangerous at its worst. For many, God was a somber judge, and so his followers followed suit.
For many, God was a somber judge, and so his followers followed suit.
In the 1970’s, I began ministering to youth during what was called the Jesus Movement, and “Jesus freaks”, new disciples of Christ, were even on the cover of Time magazine. The Gospel was presented in simple terms, and new converts became evangelists themselves with little to no training. In some quarters, there was a glib or over-familiar attitude toward God. Christ and the apostles were referred to as “JC and the Boys”, and “the Man upstairs” was a common term for Almighty God. God was your “pal”, and prayer was often flippant and, yes, I believe it would be fair to say, irreverent.
In the first instance, there was an attempt by the church to “put the fear of God” into church attenders to stimulate obedience and curb sinful behavior. God was a God of holiness and judgment. The other was an effort to portray the Lord in a more personal, loving way, emphasizing his mercy and compassion rather than judgment. God was, first and foremost, your friend and companion.
Now there is some truth in both extremes. The apostle Paul, the greatest champion of Grace, says;
Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.
Romans 11:22 ESV
Kindness AND severity? Not the way my view of God the Father frequently appears! And yet, a Bible teacher from my younger days was often fond of saying, “God is ALL of his attributes ALL of the time”. Unlike humans, it seems, God can be loving and merciful at the same time that he is just and righteous. Our experiences at the human level of these attributes would seem that they must be opposite, mutually exclusive, and so, knowingly or not, we choose the attributes of God that fit the way we want to see God to the exclusion of the others.
how we perceive God will have a direct bearing on how we pray as intercessors
Can you see then that how we perceive God will have a direct bearing on how we pray as intercessors? If God is stingy, we will not have faith to believe God for generous abundance. If God is strict, we may feel that suffering is a punishment for our or others disobedience, making it hard to pray for healing or deliverance.
If God is our “buddy”, then our approach in prayer may be to treat God as our “heavenly butler”, answering our smallest whims or desires. Thankfulness and praise may get lost in a spiritual “entitlement” that is presumptuous and arrogant.
If these are two ends of a benchmark, then how do we steer between them? How do we avoid the errors of both (and other) extremes?
The answer is not complex; nor is it hidden. We can and must look intently and specifically at Jesus! Looking at Jesus, as revealed in Scripture, from his birth, his life, his ministry, his trial, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension will give us great insight into the nature of God the Father to whom we are praying.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
Jesus is God revealed to us in human form. He is “the exact representation and perfect imprint of His [Father’s] essence” (AMP). He’s not just “like” God, he’s not a different God nor a junior God. He is God himself, intervening in human history to save a lost humanity who are without any hope whatsoever in saving themselves.
So, the more we explore the totality of how Jesus is revealed to us, especially in the Gospels, the more we will be able to pray appropriately to our loving Father, a deity more powerful and magnificent than we could ever imagine.
we can have full confidence to enter the very presence of God
The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that we can have full confidence to enter the very presence of God with totally clear consciences solely on the basis of Jesus’ shed blood for us (Heb. 10:19). How amazing when we stop to truly think about it! Coming into God’s presence in prayer without fear of punishment for our sin, and yet also coming without arrogance or presumption, knowing that it is only by the Grace of God that we are there at all!
Let me encourage all of us to “search the Scriptures” to increasingly learn more of what God is truly like, and may we “look to Jesus”, the very imprint of God’s nature, as our final authority in showing us who God is and what he is like. Amen!