I have a vivid imagination. I picture fantastic things in my mind. It’s pretty cool and endlessly entertaining. It comes in handy when I’m telling stories to my grandkids. We fly to other worlds. Riding on the back of a giant golden winged sea turtle, we pause to scoop handfuls of pink delight from cotton candy clouds. Awesome!
This is how imagination works. We start with things we know: turtles, wings, clouds, cotton candy. Then, we combine them in new ways to create an imaginary world – filled with things we know, but rearranged into things and experiences we do not know. Still, somehow we can imagine them. The imaginary worlds we create reflect what’s inside us; revealing heart and mind – sometimes our desires and sometimes our fears.
So far so good. Cotton candy clouds imagined – that’s a plus. Exploring our desires and fears is good. But when it comes to our thinking about God, it’s different. God imagined is a problem.
Starting from what we do know we project to what we don’t. Starting with the creation, we project to imagine the creator. Combining and rearranging familiar things, we develop an image of God as we imagine him to be. This is God imagined – an artful expression of both our world and ourselves, all bound up with our desires and fears. This is God made in our own image.
This is why the Apostle Paul pleaded with the Athenian Philosophers:
“We ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.” (Act 17:29 ESV)
This is why God graciously laid out the wisdom of the second commandment:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:4 ESV)
To answer the question, “What is God like?” Mankind has always looked in one of two places – either the outer world of creation or the inner world humanity itself. Neither will do. The result is always God imagined, which is also God distorted and God reduced.
The words of the second commandment are not reserved for people who pull out hammer and chisel to pound on rock and fashion an image. They go to the heart of the matter. Did you catch the connection between the words “image” and “imagination.” The problem goes way beyond the carved statue. Here’s the problem: we tend to make up stuff about God. Our version of God looks a lot like ourselves and our culture – our values, desires, and preferences.This is God imagined.
But what is the truth about God? Can we know it, and If so, how?
The power of the gospel is God revealed vs.God imagined.
Next post: God revealed.