Images of God: How They Affect a Person's Relationship With God

Posted: 1/13/2012

by Pat McEntee,
Associate Vocation Director

I am basing my article for this month's issue on a retreat talk I recently prepared about the various images of God. This topic allowed me to reflect on what the images of God may be for those who dedicate their lives to serving God in religious life, and how they may be different from the images of God for those drawn to married or single life.

I think we can all identify with the image of a "gimme God." During childhood (and possibly beyond), this God was only really necessary when we needed or wanted things. This image isn't far removed from that of the "Santa Claus God," who gives us all the things we want as long as we pray really hard for them and behave. Hopefully, as we get older, we come to realize these aren't fair ways to approach God. They are selfish views of God, and they tend to assume that God cares more for those doing the asking than for anyone else, especially if it means that when God grants these requests, others might go without.

As we get older, we often encounter the "back-burner God." This image of God is needed only on rare occasions and certainly only sought out when it is convenient or absolutely necessary. Sometimes we can even go so far as to make God into a "garbage-dump God," who becomes someone on whom to dump our troubles. For example, we blame God for the tragedies that are so often a part of our lives. With this image, we end up blaming God for allowing awful things to happen and even go so far as to say God caused them.

Hopefully, those who feel drawn to religious life will take different views of God at some point in the journey. First of all, I believe those pursuing religious vocations have an intentional desire to discover the correct images of God. This doesn't mean that those in religious life have perfect relationships with or perfect images of God, but there is a definite intention to seek these out.

One primary image many religious hold is God as a friend. Seeing God as a friend requires a continual building of the relationship to strengthen that friendship. Much as in any other friendship, communication is essential.

Those in religious life might also be more likely to see God as both divine and human. When a friendship has been developed with God, it is imperative the individual understand that any relationship with God must extend to the human beings around him or her. It has been said, "How can I love a God that I cannot see if I don't love the people around me whom I can see?"

Some religious might also view God as a wrestling partner. Just because a relationship and friendship have been developed with God doesn't mean there aren't times of struggle. Life isn't easy, and everyone is faced with situations and tragedies that will lead him or her to question and maybe even argue with God. Much as in a good marriage, it is through those arguments and struggles that the relationship will grow stronger. God's wisdom and plan are so far beyond our comprehension that it is important to wrestle with God and slowly come to a better understanding of what God has in store for us.

Ultimately, we can have a variety of images of God. It is up to each of us to nurture and develop a relationship with God and to establish appropriate and realistic images of God. Finding the truest images of God is what discernment is all about. Once the individual knows these personal images of God, he or she will be able to focus on the relationship with God and the call to service.