My dad used to lie to me regularly.
Okay, so maybe that’s a bit extreme, but it definitely felt like it when I was 10.
Since my dad has racked up a plethora of life experiences over the years, he has also made lots of acquaintances and friends that would come to visit us. He would prepare me to meet his friends in a less than straightforward way.
“Okay, Christian,” he said one Wednesday night, sitting down next to me with a serious look on his face. “Now, I think you’re really going to like Jacques, but there’s something you need to know before he arrives this Friday. He’s a really nice guy, generally speaking, but don’t say anything about the fact that he is three-feet-tall and has an eye-patch and peg leg.”
Nervous about meeting my dad’s miniature pirate friend, I would spend the next day and half in agony, wondering how Jacques lost his leg (Maybe he never had one?!). I’d remind myself that it was unacceptable to look directly into his eye-patch (should I just look at the ground while I talk to him?).
I was terrified to meet Jacques.
After a long day full of imagining how this meeting was going to go, Friday finally arrived. I was perched at the edge of my seat, eagerly anticipating Jacques’ arrival and my subsequent inability to refrain from touching his wooden leg. And then…
Knock. Knock. Knock.
It was game time.
My dad walked over to the door, and I stood behind him, but not too close to the door (after all, I didn’t want to scare Jacques by towering over him). And as the door swung open all the way, my father introduced me to his friend, Jacques.
His 6’2” non-pirate friend, Jacques, who arrived with both eyes and both legs.
What’s most embarrassing about this for me is that my dad (somehow) managed to pull this kind of trick on me several times. Each time I would prepare myself to meet the person my dad had described, only to have my mental image obliterated by encountering the real person.
My dad, of course, simply thought of this as a hilarious prank (and it was), but the reality is that I trusted his account of his friend, which in no way prepared me to actually meet his friend. Rather than prepare me to meet someone, he instead gave me false information and was entirely responsible for the faulty image I had in mind.
This makes me wonder: how often has this happened in our relationship with God?
As I speak with more and more of my friends, I realize how much their own perception of God has been shaped by others in their lives, and most often, how they perceive God is directly affected by the way their parents see God.
My friend, let’s call him “Eric,” recently told me of a time when he got into a fight in the car (of course) with his brother regarding who got to use the CD Discman next. The two couldn’t figure out whose turn it was, and so things got physical between them. At that moment, from the front seat, his mother burst out, “Oh, dear Lord, Jesus Christ! Please help these children!”
When I asked Eric what that was like, his response was sad: “It felt like mom and God were on a team against us, and we were just the bad kids that the two of them needed to fix.”
Even more heartbreaking is that Eric still frequently feels like God is just “out to get him” when he does something wrong or when he is “bad.”
This interaction (along with many others he has had) has shaped his perception of God. For Eric, God is a moral police chief, who is hell-bent on busting him. He usually feels like, whatever side he’s on, it’s the one opposite to God.
Again, this is his perception. And it’s what those interactions in his childhood prepared him for.
But this Sunday, we read some of the most well-known verses in the Bible:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (Jn. 3:16-17)
God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn us, but rather to save us. And this should always be at the forefront of our minds. Perhaps we, like Eric, frequently feel like God is just a big hall monitor who is waiting to zap us when we step out of line. Maybe we feel like God is distant from us and doesn’t care that we are in pain.
Maybe we perceive God as a cosmic butler or therapist who exists only for the sake of cleaning up our messes or helping us feel better about ourselves. Or maybe God is just always on the side of America because democracy is His favorite system of government.
It seems that many of us have the tendency to interact, not with God, but with our ideas of Him. We engage our preconceived notions of God as the starting point of faith, rather than seek to encounter God as He has actually revealed Himself through Christ.
And when we do this, we’re just as wrong about God as I was about Jacques.
But God invites us into something deep. He invites us to put away our notions of who He is and to meet Him as He is.
As a God who doesn’t condemn, but who saves.
And it is the same God who is gracious, compassionate, and kind – who is merciful to sinners. This should give us confidence to approach our loving Lord and to bravely confess our sins, to reveal our brokenness, to admit our fallenness. We can rest assured that God does not seek to punish us when we screw up, but rather that He seeks to bring us to Himself.
Our God is a God who saves humankind by becoming human, who calls not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. He is waiting at our door, waiting to have us meet Him for who He really is, and He invites us this week to inspect our hearts, to inspect our images of Him to release them as He fills us with His Love, to fill us with Himself.
Our God is far greater (and maybe even at odds) than the idea we often carry around in our heads.
Our God is far greater (and maybe even at odds) than the idea we often share with people, especially our kids.
Pirate: PiggBox. via Compfight cc
Kid: Cobstone via Compfight cc
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
For more on labeling people before we encounter them, check out this episode of Be the Bee:
For more on upcoming REAL events with Y2AM, check out this video: