How Do You Picture God?

Most depictions of God in art throughout church history have imagined a distant and exalted older man, often with a look of anger in his eye. Interestingly enough, most depictions of Jesus (except when he is clearing the temple), show him in softer and more compassionate moments. If Jesus was the exact representation of the Father’s nature, why do so many people see their demeanor so differently.

Most images I had of God growing up were scary. They were never engaging or inviting. Jesus, was the good guy. He’d fixed things with Father, or so I was told, but that didn’t make him any less scary. If I was going to be around God, I wanted to be hiding behind Jesus’ robes.

Paul, however, had no such image of God. He understood that the cross fundamentally changed how we get to view God—no longer as terrifying judge, but now for who he really is, Abba Father. “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15) As I’ve said many times, Abba is the safe connection a little child has with his or her dad.

After our Mother’s Day family get-together, my daughter sent me this picture. I don’t know when she took it. It’s a tender moment between my granddaughter, Aimee, and me. When I saw it, my heart leapt, not only because I loved having that moment captured in a photo, but because it drew me to think of my own relationship with God the Father. This picture screams Abba, even though I’m not really her dad! This is the image Jesus died to secure in our hearts—Father’s lap is the safest place for us to be, even at our most broken.

When you consider God’s demeanor toward you, I hope you something like the image below in mind, rather than the one above. If not, there’s more work for his Spirit to do in you. And I pray he does it.

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30 Comments
  1. Janna May 14, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Hey, Wayne. I was talking again with someone about this idea that God is LOVING and not ANGRY. It is difficult though to get past scriptures that talk about fearing Him. Or even Paul’s writing that “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of a Living God.” Is it terrifying in the sense of our flesh? How do we reconcile the idea that God of Love will lash out in eternal anger and torture those who do not repent? I want so much to believe that He is Loving and passionate for me, but after years and years of duty-driven teaching and trying to please Him, even fearing I might go to hell because I hadn’t gotten the sinner’s prayer right, it is . . . well, terrifying I guess.
    Janna

  2. Wayne May 14, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    janna,

    Knowing him as the Abba helps answer what you’re asking. Our podcast on the Kindness and Severity of God might answer some of what you’re asking if you haven’t heard it yet.

    You can find it here: http://thegodjourney.com/wordpress/2009/03/06/kindness-and-severity/

    Wayne

  3. Bones May 14, 2009 at 7:41 pm

    I was mulling over that verse from Hebrews a couple of days ago, about falling into the hands of the Living God… And it dawned on me that it would be terrifying, except that I’m in His heart!

  4. Janna May 14, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Hey, Wayne. I was talking again with someone about this idea that God is LOVING and not ANGRY. It is difficult though to get past scriptures that talk about fearing Him. Or even Paul’s writing that “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of a Living God.” Is it terrifying in the sense of our flesh? How do we reconcile the idea that God of Love will lash out in eternal anger and torture those who do not repent? I want so much to believe that He is Loving and passionate for me, but after years and years of duty-driven teaching and trying to please Him, even fearing I might go to hell because I hadn’t gotten the sinner’s prayer right, it is . . . well, terrifying I guess.
    Janna

  5. Wayne May 14, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    janna,

    Knowing him as the Abba helps answer what you’re asking. Our podcast on the Kindness and Severity of God might answer some of what you’re asking if you haven’t heard it yet.

    You can find it here: http://thegodjourney.com/wordpress/2009/03/06/kindness-and-severity/

    Wayne

  6. Bones May 14, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    I was mulling over that verse from Hebrews a couple of days ago, about falling into the hands of the Living God… And it dawned on me that it would be terrifying, except that I’m in His heart!

  7. D'Anna May 15, 2009 at 5:06 am

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful picture! and think, it is a shadow of how our relationship with Papa is really . . .

    Thank you, Wayne, for sharing your journey with Him with all of us! I live in Russia – and I know several missionaries now who are learning to lived Loved . . . For me, I’ve moved from black and white to Technicolor and life is BEAUTIFUL again!
    Thank you, Brother! BIG HUG! : )

  8. exdroid May 15, 2009 at 6:53 am

    Thanks Wayne…I just listened to the above podcast…..Wow !! That was awesome. I too had been troubled by that passage in Hebrews recently myself that Janna mentioned.

    I think that ‘it’s a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God’ is about the consumng fire WITHIN his love…rather than what i used to see it- as falling into the hands of an Angry god.

  9. D'Anna May 15, 2009 at 8:06 am

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful picture! and think, it is a shadow of how our relationship with Papa is really . . .

    Thank you, Wayne, for sharing your journey with Him with all of us! I live in Russia – and I know several missionaries now who are learning to lived Loved . . . For me, I’ve moved from black and white to Technicolor and life is BEAUTIFUL again!
    Thank you, Brother! BIG HUG! : )

  10. exdroid May 15, 2009 at 9:53 am

    Thanks Wayne…I just listened to the above podcast…..Wow !! That was awesome. I too had been troubled by that passage in Hebrews recently myself that Janna mentioned.

    I think that ‘it’s a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God’ is about the consumng fire WITHIN his love…rather than what i used to see it- as falling into the hands of an Angry god.

  11. Laura May 15, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Several months ago I was dealing with this very issue– if God is our father, how is it that our concept of Father God seems to be so terrifying? I was praying about this, asking God to help me to know what he is really like as my father. I hadn’t even finished this prayer when I thought I heard him say, “Call me Daddy.” This was extremely mind-blowing for me, since I had never heard of anyone actually calling God Daddy, although I was familiar with Romans 8:15. It took a few months for me to fully believe that God really did say that, and it wasn’t just my imagination. What an awesome, unimaginable thing, that the almighty God is also Daddy to us!

  12. Theresa May 15, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    What a precious picture Wayne. That first picture up top reminds me of a snarky bumper sticker I saw years ago. It would be a perfect picture to go with it. It read: Jesus is coming back and boy is he p*ssed. (With apologies to your sweet daughter.;) )

    I also remember years ago entering a Catholic Church and gasping when I saw the crucifix up front. Yea, verily…Jesus really did look….well…you know….

  13. Laura May 15, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Several months ago I was dealing with this very issue– if God is our father, how is it that our concept of Father God seems to be so terrifying? I was praying about this, asking God to help me to know what he is really like as my father. I hadn’t even finished this prayer when I thought I heard him say, “Call me Daddy.” This was extremely mind-blowing for me, since I had never heard of anyone actually calling God Daddy, although I was familiar with Romans 8:15. It took a few months for me to fully believe that God really did say that, and it wasn’t just my imagination. What an awesome, unimaginable thing, that the almighty God is also Daddy to us!

  14. Theresa May 15, 2009 at 6:07 pm

    What a precious picture Wayne. That first picture up top reminds me of a snarky bumper sticker I saw years ago. It would be a perfect picture to go with it. It read: Jesus is coming back and boy is he p*ssed. (With apologies to your sweet daughter.;) )

    I also remember years ago entering a Catholic Church and gasping when I saw the crucifix up front. Yea, verily…Jesus really did look….well…you know….

  15. Julie May 16, 2009 at 7:43 am

    I love to hear Brennan Manning talk about the fear of God….
    “If you are afraid of God, you do not know Him.”
    “In love there can be no fear…” from 1 John

    and his definition of fear is my favorite:
    “The affectionate awe (radical amazement) at the infinite goodness of God.” (silent wonder)
    “In loving me, You made me lovable.”
    “It is a profound act of faith in Jesus Christ.”
    “It heals our image of ourselves. We have seen His glory–He was filled with love. He frees us of fear of the Father and dislike of ourselves.”
    (quotes from Brennan’s conference in 2008 at Glen Eyrie)

  16. Dave May 16, 2009 at 10:08 am

    Wayne:

    I know the scripture says that ‘no man has seen God’ at any time’ but I also can’t see your pictures on this blog!

    Neither picture is displaying so I wonder if they were moved ?

    https://www.lifestream.org/ablogimages/angrygod.jpg
    http://lifestream.org/ablogimages/ABBA.jpg

    Thanks,
    Dave

  17. Julie May 16, 2009 at 10:43 am

    I love to hear Brennan Manning talk about the fear of God….
    “If you are afraid of God, you do not know Him.”
    “In love there can be no fear…” from 1 John

    and his definition of fear is my favorite:
    “The affectionate awe (radical amazement) at the infinite goodness of God.” (silent wonder)
    “In loving me, You made me lovable.”
    “It is a profound act of faith in Jesus Christ.”
    “It heals our image of ourselves. We have seen His glory–He was filled with love. He frees us of fear of the Father and dislike of ourselves.”
    (quotes from Brennan’s conference in 2008 at Glen Eyrie)

  18. Dave May 16, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Wayne:

    I know the scripture says that ‘no man has seen God’ at any time’ but I also can’t see your pictures on this blog!

    Neither picture is displaying so I wonder if they were moved ?

    https://www.lifestream.org/ablogimages/angrygod.jpg
    http://lifestream.org/ablogimages/ABBA.jpg

    Thanks,
    Dave

  19. shaun May 16, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    Hi Wayne,
    I just wanted to say that this idea that God really does love me is not new, yet it seems new(does that make any sense?) because I have believed that He is a God of Love for most of my life, yet I have never truly lived in that reality.
    I can’t see your pictures for some reason but it’s ok I have seen lots of pictures.
    The picture I think of now is sort of a vision that I had during a very difficult time in my life when I was separated from my children. It was the image of God’s arms holding my son embracing him with complete affection and security. And my son Resting in his arms with a warm smile on his face.
    That is what I hope to realize in my own life as I go along on this journey.
    I also wanted to thank you for sharing your thoughts and life with all of us complete strangers on the internet.
    I am so glad I found you guys, listening to you and Brad has been for me;
    a word in season.
    Peace

  20. shaun May 16, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Hi Wayne,
    I just wanted to say that this idea that God really does love me is not new, yet it seems new(does that make any sense?) because I have believed that He is a God of Love for most of my life, yet I have never truly lived in that reality.
    I can’t see your pictures for some reason but it’s ok I have seen lots of pictures.
    The picture I think of now is sort of a vision that I had during a very difficult time in my life when I was separated from my children. It was the image of God’s arms holding my son embracing him with complete affection and security. And my son Resting in his arms with a warm smile on his face.
    That is what I hope to realize in my own life as I go along on this journey.
    I also wanted to thank you for sharing your thoughts and life with all of us complete strangers on the internet.
    I am so glad I found you guys, listening to you and Brad has been for me;
    a word in season.
    Peace

  21. Wayne May 17, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    My apologies to those who tried to access this page on Saturday night. We uploaded a complete rebuild of the Lifestream website and some image photos didn’t make it through. It has been fixed now, obviously, but I do want to apologize to those who were frustrated at not being able to see the photograph! As you can tell, it has all be restored now…

    Blessings,

    Wayne

  22. Wayne May 17, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    My apologies to those who tried to access this page on Saturday night. We uploaded a complete rebuild of the Lifestream website and some image photos didn’t make it through. It has been fixed now, obviously, but I do want to apologize to those who were frustrated at not being able to see the photograph! As you can tell, it has all be restored now…

    Blessings,

    Wayne

  23. Amy May 21, 2009 at 7:05 am

    I have to say with much much joy, after many years of having the first picture in my heart, that
    the 2nd picture is the picture that I know of the Father NOW!

    Love it!

  24. Amy May 21, 2009 at 10:05 am

    I have to say with much much joy, after many years of having the first picture in my heart, that
    the 2nd picture is the picture that I know of the Father NOW!

    Love it!

  25. Amy May 29, 2009 at 11:52 am

    LOVE THIS PICTURE

  26. Amy May 29, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    LOVE THIS PICTURE

  27. John June 9, 2009 at 5:06 am

    Thanks… Jesus himself said that if we have seen him we have seen the Father.. That changes everything when we realise how kind, tender, generous and loving our dad really is… wonderful!

    John

  28. John June 9, 2009 at 8:06 am

    Thanks… Jesus himself said that if we have seen him we have seen the Father.. That changes everything when we realise how kind, tender, generous and loving our dad really is… wonderful!

    John

  29. Maurice Fuller June 22, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    Wayne,

    I heartily concur with your assertion that the Father is not a scary, angry old God. However, there is abundant scripture for the gentle ,loving nature of God. Why didn’t you quote some? Certainly, our relationship with God is not theological but personal. But the scriptures reinforce our genuine experience with the Father. God. in the Bible, in fact, is portayed as a Servant. Jesus, as the Suffering Servant, did not simply show us a hidden side of God, He fully and accurately revealed Him. God does not use His power to conquer us, as tyrants do. He uses His great power to serve, protect and deliver us. This is all clearly taught in scripture (although most of us have missed it). Our translations have been at fault in the many places where they use the same word to describe both the coercive power of heathen kings and the loving power of God (“authority over” in both instances).

  30. Maurice Fuller June 22, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Wayne,

    I heartily concur with your assertion that the Father is not a scary, angry old God. However, there is abundant scripture for the gentle ,loving nature of God. Why didn’t you quote some? Certainly, our relationship with God is not theological but personal. But the scriptures reinforce our genuine experience with the Father. God. in the Bible, in fact, is portayed as a Servant. Jesus, as the Suffering Servant, did not simply show us a hidden side of God, He fully and accurately revealed Him. God does not use His power to conquer us, as tyrants do. He uses His great power to serve, protect and deliver us. This is all clearly taught in scripture (although most of us have missed it). Our translations have been at fault in the many places where they use the same word to describe both the coercive power of heathen kings and the loving power of God (“authority over” in both instances).

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