Have you ever thought about all the images of God you carry around in your head and heart without even realizing it? From time to time, I reflect on whether any false or lesser images of God have crept into my psyche. During one of these reflections a while back, I discovered that my image of God looked more like Santa Claus than I would have believed. It seems ridiculous, I know, but let me show you what I mean.
Santa relates to the children of the world based upon their behavior—whether I’m good or bad determines his view of me. If I’m good, I’m placed on the “nice list” and I get good things. If I’m bad, I’m placed on the “naughty list” and I get a lump of coal as a sign of my depravity. And, by the way, the standards about who makes the nice list and who makes the naughty list are not public so none of us even know how to qualify. It’s all pretty arbitrary. We don’t know for sure until we open our eyes on Christmas morning and see what he brought. So, if you’ve done some bad things here and there (and I’ll just speak for myself, when I say I have), you’re on pins and needles for the whole month of December. Plus, Santa only comes around once a year. He’s not involved in the day-to-day matters of life. He’s more absent than present. When you send him a letter, he doesn’t write back and you’re never sure whether he gets your mail. Finally, Santa has no power other than to fly with reindeer, mobilize magical elves to make toys, and squeeze his body into chimneys. This is all sweet, but once you’re about 15, or if your life isn’t picture-perfect, it seems a bit irrelevant. His power doesn’t heal sickness and he doesn’t provide long-term hope.
This analysis led me to ask myself these questions: Are you unsure where you stand with God? Are you hoping that at the end of the day, your good outweighs the bad? Do you find yourself “good binging” to make up for the bad you’ve done hoping to even out the scales? Do you pray not knowing whether anyone actually receives your pleas or is interested enough to listen? Is God more absent than present? Do you believe God is unable to empower you and supply you the courage, wisdom, and grace you need to live a full life?
If my answer to any of these questions is yes, then I have replaced the actual living God with someone who looks a lot like Santa. And God is not at all like Santa. With God, in Christ, I know exactly where I stand—blameless, saved, secure. I have no work to do; no good-binging is required to restore me to His good graces. God receives every prayer, whether I utter it or not. He knows the deepest parts of my heart. God is actually within me—more present to me than any other person or thing in all of creation. And nothing can separate me from His love.
What false or lesser images of God do you carry around with you without even realizing it?