What do Christians visualize when they think about God?

art of God in Monty Python and the Holy Grail movieThe term Bible God is used occasionally throughout this Search for Truth blog. Bible God is our proper noun for the general version or idea of God resulting from a literal (or near-literal) translation of the Judeo-Christian God combined with extra-biblical dogmatic conventions heaped on over the centuries, cultural accretions from its evolution (starting with pre-Judaism gods, to Yahweh the OT god, to the completely different New Testament god, and evolution of the god idea in the CE [common era], societal constructions of God, and other things which are a part of the present-day “identity” of this deity or being.

religious art: painting of GodIn our writing, Bible God represents the deity worshiped by the more conservative Protestant Christian churches every Sunday morning. For people who choose to interpret the Bible in literal or near-literal fashion (e.g., huge numbers of Christian fundamentalists, for starters), Bible God may be assumed to have some of the following characteristics. (Some of these are believed by adults while others are admittedly more childish in nature; this will differ according to the reader’s perspective — just like everything else.)

  1. A father-like figure
  2. A mature male in humanoid form (probably w/same racial characteristics as the believer)
  3. A being with human emotions and a human-like ego (e.g., experiences jealousy, anger, judgment, demand for praise, etc.)
  4. Literal creator of universe in six calendar days, yet having to rest on the seventh day despite omnipotence (possessing unlimited power)
  5. Possessing a hard-to-understand mix of love, fear, anger, judgment
  6. Residing on a throne in heaven despite omnipresence (being everywhere at once)
  7. Surrounded by angels
  8. Omniscient

Particularly in childhood and relative youth, we cannot help but have a mental visualization of God containing at least some of the above features, if due only to popular culture and a rich history of religious art (e.g., Italian Renaissance paintings).

religious art: painting of GodObviously, some of the items listed above are not conducive to visualization. Though they’re standard, broadly accepted constituents of Bible God, the last three features above cannot really be visualized as imagery, per se (by this writer, at least).

Along with spiritual development often comes a more mature idea of Bible God or God in general; however, if one chooses to stick with common Christian fundamentalist church teachings, then one’s idea of God (along with spiritual development in general, IMHO) will probably remain credulous, unrealistic, and seriously constrained by the rigid, inescapable religious teachings which, to them, religionare undeniable as members of their chosen system of faith. Sadly, the intended spiritual message of The Bible will be missed or minimized, overshadowed or even crushed by the myriad supernatural fantasies that result from literal translation of poetic texts — fabrications of real talking animals, eternal torture, seven-headed beasts and other monsters, and so many other fancies of a massive, complex system built upon and caused by the eating of the wrong fruit.

As some religious folks mature (in terms of genuine spiritual development & growth), Bible God might lose some of the features in the previous list and become…

  • An invisible force enveloping the universe
  • A convenient term to use in place of “the unknown realm”
  • More indescribable, unknown, and unknowable
  • Less and less likely any type of identifiable “being” at all
  • Mother Nature herself; the very universe itself
  • Synonymous with terms like goodness, life, love, existence
  • A complete and total mystery

religious art: painting of GodWithin Christianity alone, the different versions or ideas of God[2] are probably uncountable; however, this number would undoubtedly increase exponentially when all religions and spiritual traditions are considered, and much more so when both modern and historical systems are added to the mix. With so many varying ideas about God, references in an article (or a blog post) to an undefined, generic "God" can be unacceptably vague to some readers. Mentioning an undefined, "blanket" God can water down the writer’s intended meaning, or result in the failure to deliver what might otherwise be a cogent, powerful central message. This is the primary reason we have chosen the words Bible God to represent the deity most commonly worshiped in United States Protestantism. An unspecified "God" is simply far too broad and undefined for a general or international audience, IMHO.

Christianity in filmWhen considered honestly, expecting one’s readers to share the writer’s idea of God in the context of popular writing would be presumptuous, egotistical, and perhaps even offensive. Writings (articles, books, blog posts, etc.) with a specified, limited audience consisting of those with deeply shared religious beliefs would be an exception. For instance, it would not necessarily be presumptuous for a Southern Baptist author — in his book with an intended audience of other Southern Baptists — to mention God generically, since the readers’ ideas of God would be similar enough to prevent a breakdown of the message.

Notes

[2] Many different versions of God

One might ask, How do you know that Christians have so many differing versions of God? Is this documented anywhere? Where are you getting your information?

To begin to imagine this idea, suppose each member of all Christian churches in your state participated in a religious poll. The primary poll question is an exercise to describe in 500 to 1,000 words one’s visualization or idea of God, with an option to include a sketch of one’s personal visualization of God — what this unique, personalized version of God might look like.

This polling exercise should relate specifically and only to the God he or she honestly believes in – the God he or she visualizes (if applicable) when thinking about God (something Christians probably ought to be doing fairly often, one would think).

We believe the result of this exercise would reveal a tremendous variety of ideas about God, thus the root of our idea.

[3] Multiple "Bible Gods"

One subject that’s rather unpopular with fundamentalists is the overwhelming likelihood that the Bible describes not a single God but multiple deities, or conflicting versions of a single deity. This is most strongly and obviously apparent in comparisons of the God of Israel, Yahweh, aka Jehovah, as described in the Pentateuch, and the God of the New Testament. A History of God, a book by Karen Armstrong, is the first reference I came across personally that described the Bible’s multiple Gods in detail.

Resources: Bible God

This post was started on Wednesday, June 27, 2012.