God cloudsYesterday, I read the following sentence in a book I’m currently working my way through (and which I will most likely review once I’ve finished it):

Jesus is the redefinition of God.

Let that stew in your saucepan for a moment.

What the author is alluding to is something I’ve recently said many times on this blog: that Jesus is the most complete revelation of who God is, and that as such, we should allow what he shows us to reframe our thinking about God.

Many if not most Christians will instinctively agree with that last statement. But if you really stop and think about it, it raises a couple of very significant challenges.

First, many of us (me included) come to faith in Christ at a point in our lives at which we have already formed some mental preconceptions about God. These are typically passed down by the culture at large. Ask a seven-year-old to describe God, and chances are she will talk about (or draw) a picture of an old man with a white beard. Ask someone a bit older, and probe a bit deeper, and you will probably end up with a picture of a God who is by turns a benevolent old man and a somewhat capricious and fearful judge.

These concepts of God owe more to Plato than they do to our Judeo-Christian heritage. They are actually closer to the Greek pantheon overseen by a lightning-bolt-wielding Zeus than they are to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The problem is that these ways of thinking about God are so ingrained in our cultural psyche that, even after coming to faith in Jesus, we tend to import them into our new-found relationship with the Living God. We subconsciously assume that the God we have encountered is more or less in line with the God we have inherited from culture.

Second, scripture itself only makes matters worse. It contains a multiplicity of often dissonant depictions of God, ranging from the disturbingly violent and vengeful to the heartbreakingly tender and compassionate. The problem, I contend, is not really with scripture itself, but rather with the way most of us have been taught to read and understand it. The Bible is often presented to us as the ultimate and inerrant authority on matters of God and faith. This means we are forced to find a way of conceiving of God that holds the various dissonant voices we find in its pages in tension. The result is that we end up believing in a many-faced God who is at best unpredictable and at worst downright dangerous. Which approach plays right back into our Platonic notions of a capricious God on whose right side it is in our own best interests to be.

What is the answer to this conundrum? It lies, I would suggest, in my opening quote: Jesus is the redefinition of God.

Just as we have misconceptions about God that are bequeathed to us by our culture and history, so the first century population among whom Jesus lived had their own misconceptions. Their notions of God were often based around a military warrior who would wreak fiery destruction on his enemies, and their best and brightest scholars distilled God’s holiness into a convoluted matrix of rules and regulations that no normal person could ever hope to follow. Jesus came to redefine their definitions of God: to show that God is forgiving, not retributive; merciful, not vengeful; patient and long-suffering, not bad-tempered and irritable.

Why, then, do we suppose Jesus doesn’t need to correct our own definitions of God?

[ Image: Scooter Flix ]