We’re sharing the beginning of a series written by our friend, Fr. Michael Schleupner. This opening reflection certainly has us conjuring our own unique image of God. Does it inspire you too?
Our Image of God – 1
What is your image of God? What words, phrases, maybe sentences would you use to describe God? How do you see God? What is God like to you?
As I am writing this reflection, I am in my personal prayer space located in my bedroom. I have here a small reproduction (very inexpensive) of a seventh century Coptic icon. The icon depicts Christ not as a king or ruler but as our friend. It presents Jesus holding the Book of the Gospels, standing next to a Coptic saint. Jesus is resting his arm on the shoulder of this saint with these words in a border below the painting: “I call you my friends.” These words are from the Gospel of John 15:15. The word gospel finds its origin in Old English and literally means good news. So, the message of this icon is clear: the good news is that Jesus is our friend. This lies at the very heart of the gospel. It is wonderful news to be able to image God as my or our friend.
I, and many of us, have not always seen God that way. When I was a child and teen, I saw God as a distant, stern, older man, as a type of accountant (although I would not have used that word then) who was watching and counting our good deeds and bad deeds, and as a judge who would eventually decide whether to reward us with heaven or punish us with hell. I did not see God as a friend. The result was that my primary feeling in relation to God was fear. I was afraid of God and felt that I had to do everything possible to earn God’s love, if in fact God were really loving. In truth, I felt that I had to earn salvation. This fear of a distant God led me and many of us in those days to go to confession often out of fear. I had to carefully remember everything bad that I did and the exact number of times that I did it. If I didn’t remember and confess exactly, I would not be forgiven and might end up in hell. If I did confess fully, that would keep me in the state of grace.
I think my early image of God was the image of many Catholics, maybe many Christians in general. And just imagine: we would dare to call that good news.
Stay tuned for more on the image of God next week.
~Father Michael Schleupner