I think this is a question we humans have been asking ourselves for many thousands of years. And I also think how we answer this question is very much determinative of our general worldview and how we conduct our lives. In other words, it is not simply an abstract, philosophical question: it has a direct bearing on the here and now.
You may have heard the expression, “You are like the God you worship”. I think there’s a lot of truth in this saying. In other words, if you believe in an aggressive, warlike God, you are quite likely to exhibit aggressive, warlike behaviour; conversely, if you believe in a compassionate, peace-loving God, you are quite likely to direct your efforts towards achieving peaceful and non-violent coexistence with your neighbours in this world.
The Old Testament is, in many ways, an argument or debate between those with different answers to the question, “What is God like?” Through the Torah and the historical books, the wisdom writings and the prophets, we find competing images of God: some depict him as a punctilious law-keeper determined to mete out punishment at the slightest offence; some paint him as a warrior God who protects his servants but is merciless to his enemies; yet others portray him as a God of endless compassion and mercy whose patience never runs out.
The question is, which of these depictions of God is right? What is God really like?
Well, if you want to know what someone is really like, you can read a book about them… or you can actually meet them in the flesh. I’ll leave it to you to decide which of these provides the more accurate picture of the person in question.
So God, in his infinite, eternal wisdom, stepped beyond the bounds of the holy book written about him and took on flesh, becoming a human being, so that we might be able to see and understand – as up close and personal as can be – what he is really like. The writer of the Fourth Gospel puts it like this: “We beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten Son” (John 1:14).
If you could ask a group of Jesus’ forbears the question “What is God like?”, I’m sure you’d get a variety of answers, some of which would involve bloody vengeance against enemies. And if you could ask a group of your own contemporaries the same question, you’d probably get a similar range of answers; there are plenty of people alive in the world – some of them even in the Christian church – who believe that God is primarily a dispenser of brutal justice against his (or your) enemies.
So if you really want to know what God is like, don’t just ask Jesus’ forbears (the writers of the Old Testament), for if you do, you’ll end up with a confused and diluted picture. And don’t just ask your contemporaries, for they will probably offer a similar range of biased opinions.
No, if you want a definitive answer to the question “What is God like?”, you have to look beyond the text of scripture to God himself… or the nearest we can get to him, which is the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Christ. And, if you really want a clear answer, you have to be prepared to realise that not everything that men have said about God – even when they’ve documented it in scripture – is complete or accurate.
[ Image: Waiting For The Word ]