Whatever you believe about God, you are wrong. At least to some degree. It is unavoidable that you will see God as you are, not as He is.
The key to understanding the phenomenon lies in accepting how extremely limited your perspective is. I am aware that Wikipedia is not considered an authoritative source, but these pictures really do make my point particularly well, and you aren’t going to find many academically sound sources that will disagree with this, so consider the following (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth’s_location_in_the_universe):
Humbling, isn’t it? Unless you are exceptionally arrogant or delusional, you are compelled to admit that what you know of the universe is overwhelmingly little. No matter how brilliant your mind is, no matter how much you might have seen through Hubble, you have not seen nearly enough. You simply do not have access to enough evidence to make a sound judgment.
If there is a God who created all of this, and who is therefore – by definition and of necessity – larger than all of this and not bound by the laws that govern it, then that God is so far beyond our comprehension and understanding that any of our speculations about Him are laughably inadequate. All of our logic, all of our experiences, all of our feelings are bound by the dimensions that confine us, and we are only able to see a miniscule fragment of what constitutes the universe. We are hardly in a position to comment intelligently on the nature of a being outside of those dimensions and larger than even the universe.
And where there are gaps in our understanding – and there are inevitably enormous ones – our minds fill them in for us. And we fill in the gaps based on what we do know.
Many who do not believe in a God, for example, base that belief on their unpleasant experiences with those who profess to believe. While the hurt is often legitimate – people who profess to follow Christianity, or Islam, or Buddhism have committed many inexcusable and atrocious acts – the choice to assess an ideology by the behaviour of those who practise its core tenets imperfectly is not logical. The existence of God, however, cannot logically be deduced from the nature of those who profess to follow Him – whether or not they do so well.
For many, the gaps get filled in by culture, and so God comes to embody – and sometimes dangerously so – the aesthetic preferences and ideological prejudices of a culturally dominant group. Taste and theology become too easily blurred ( I have a suspicion that a God who is potent enough to speak the universe into existence doesn’t really care too much about whether or not I wear a tie). This is why, I believe, there are so many Christians who are opposed to heavy metal music or who become obsessed with what people do or don’t wear to church, or who see God as an elderly white male.
For others, God’s defining characteristics address their deepest fears or desires. And so we have – on opposite ends of the spectrum – a God who is inexplicably vexed by our reading Harry Potter, or a God who delights when we look foolish by falling over in the aisle and who seems to delight in chaos, frivolity and disorder.
The worst part of all of this is that we are content to let it go. We are reluctant to examine these deep-seated and problematic perspectives, because they are just too comfortable. They are meeting a psychological need, and so we don’t ever question them. Challenging the way we think of God would make us challenge our prejudices and shine a spotlight on our pride and imperfection, so we prefer not to. And so we allow others to persevere in their own delusions, unchallenged, because if we dared to question their beliefs, they might question ours, and we are – deep down – not sure if ours can withstand the scrutiny. Better to accept that they have their opinions and we have ours. We pay lip service to tolerance and live in an uneasy, and slightly contrived, brotherhood with the rest of humanity.
Of course, at some time, it is inevitable that the differing perceptions of God will come into conflict. Because we are so defensive of the validity of our perceptions, as we unconsciously try to maintain the structural integrity of our illusions so that our worlds can still make sense, we hurt ourselves and others.
So much of our understanding of God is simply rules made by men (Colossians 2:21 – 23). Our own fears and prejudices, our hurts and our desires, have helped us to fashion a picture of God (no picture is still a picture) that justifies our unwillingness to change. And as long as we refuse to change we will never grow. We will never know the fullness of life that the God who designed life has to offer, because we are adamant about living the lives we think he wants us to live. There is a God we want and there is the God who is. Most of us are too lazy or scared to discover the difference.
So here is my unlearning challenge, as it pertains to God: are you mature enough to acknowledge that your picture of God is wrong? And are you courageous enough to critically analyse it and revise it?