One of the main reasons people hold false perceptions of God is our tendency to project onto God the unloving characteristics of the people we look up to. We tend to believe that God is going to treat us as other do. The Gaultieres agree: We like to think that we develop our image of God from the Bible and teachings of the church, not from our relationshipssome of which have been painful. Its easier if our God image is simply based on learning and believing the right things. Yet, intensive clinical studies on the development of peoples images of God show that it is not so simple. One psychologist found that this spiritual development of the God image is more of an emotional process than an intellectual one. She brings out the importance of family and other relationships to the development of what she calls ones “private God.” She says that, “No child arrives at the house of God without his pet God under his arm.” And for some of us the “pet God” we have tied on a leash to our hearts is not very nice, nor is it biblically accurate. This is because our negative images of God are often rooted in our emotional hurts and destructive patterns of relating to people that we carry with us from our past.
Imagine a little girl of seven who has known only rejection and abuse from her father whom she loves dearly. At Sunday School she is taught that God is her heavenly Father. What is her perception of Him going to be? Based on her experience with her natural father, she will see God as an unstable, rejecting, abusing person she cannot trust.
Consider just a few ways in which your image of your father possibly may have affected your perception of God, which in turn affects your self-image. If you father was distant, impersonal and uncaring, and he wouldnt intervene for you, you may see God as having the same characteristics. As a result, you feel that you are unworthy of Gods intervention in your life. You find it difficult to draw close to God because you see Him as disinterested in your need and wants.
- If your father was a pushy man who was inconsiderate of you, or who violated and used you, you may see God in the same way. You probably feel cheap or worthless in Gods eyes, and perhaps feel that you deserve to be taken advantage of by others. You may feel that God will force younot ask youto do things you dont want to do.
- If your father was like a drill sergeant, demanding more and more from you with no expression of satisfaction, or burning with anger with no tolerance for mistakes, you may have cast God in his image. You likely feel that God will not accept you unless you meet His demands, which seem unattainable. This perception may have driven you to become a perfectionist.
- If your father was a weakling, and you couldnt depend on him to help you or defend you, your image of God may be that of a weakling. You may feel that you are unworthy of Gods comfort and support, or that He is unable to help you.
- If your father was overly critical and constantly came down hard on you, or if he didnt believe in you or your capabilities and discouraged you from trying, you may perceive God in the same way. You dont feel as if youre worth Gods respect or trust. You may even see yourself as a continual failure, deserving all the criticism you receive.
In contrast to the negative perceptions many women have about God, let me give you several positive character qualities of a father. Notice how these qualities, if they existed in your father, have positively influenced your perception of God.
- If your father was patient, you are more likely to see God as patient and available for you. You feel that you are worth Gods time and concern. You feel important to God and that He is personally involved in every aspect of your life.
- If your father was kind, you probably see God acting kindly and graciously on your behalf. You feel that you are worth Gods help and intervention. You feel Gods love for you deeply and youre convinced that He wants to relate to you personally.
- If your father was a giving man, you may perceive God as someone who gives to you and supports you. You feel that you are worth Gods support and encouragement. You believe that God will give you what is best for you, and you respond by giving of yourself to others.
- If your father accepted you, you tend to see God accepting you regardless of what you do. God doesnt dump on you or reject you when you struggle, but understands and encourages you. You are able to accept yourself even when you blow it or dont perform up to your potential.
- If your father protected you, you probably perceive God as your protector in life. You feel that you are worthy of being under His care and you rest in His security.