In the mind of the child
When you are raising children you realize that you are, in fact, creating God in their minds. This goes on in every land in the world, in every culture and every language. Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus and Atheists are, to some degree or another, instilling in the children’s minds an image of God. Or in the Atheist’s case, non God. The Jesuits had an expression: “give us a child until he is seven and we will give you the man”. I expect that, for most of humanity, our paradigm of God and life is pretty well established by the time we are seven years old.
He who created us is aware of the effectiveness of training children. The Bible instructs us to“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov 22:6). Moses told Israel to “Gather the people together, men and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law: and their children, which have not known anything, may hear, and learn to fear the Lord your God…” (Deut 31: 12, 13).
A concept of God can be created in a child’s mind as the result of parents implementing the Bible’s principles to the best of their ability, or indirectly. Sometimes this is accomplished subliminally, by the what they see and hear all around them in their homes and from their friends. However, the end result is that the child grows up with an image of God in his mind that is the end result of all the information he has received, understood and accepted. The child has a lot to do with this process as well. His (or her) basic personality impacts how he processes the incoming information. As he gets older he starts making decisions about what information he is willing to be exposed to. Without even thinking about it consciously, his mind will pick up and retain information that pleases him and select against facts that are opposed to conclusions he already holds, or conclusions he desires.
The grown child
And so the process continues. What begins with man creating God in someone else’s mind in earliest childhood, transforms into a process wherein the grown child begins to create his own image of God in his mind. In the course of exercising his God given free will, he makes choices about what information he will seek out, and what criteria for acceptance he will apply. For example; we have a lower threshold for standard of proof regarding a statement that supports a conclusion we desire, than we do for a statement that supports positions opposed to our preferences. Information that reaches us about God that we do not wish to accept, must cross a much higher bar than that which we find pleasant. We have a natural aversion to information about the judgmental side of God, and a marked preference for that which emphasizes His love and mercy. And this selection process is both consciously and subconsciously at work in our lives all day, every day.
Mankind’s self-centered desire to create God in an image of their preference, and to reformulate His teachings into what man wishes to hear, is at the basis of Paul’s statement of condemnation.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath showed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, and being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish hearts was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things” (Rom 1:18-23).
The image of God
Extreme examples can help us understand an issue. However they can be dangerous in that they provide a too convenient way for us to excuse ourselves from any relation to the example. None of us have reworked our image of God into a golden calf that must be worshipped with fertility rites, but that is not to say we have not modified the image of God in our minds. This might be to suit our preferences or, in some cases, to answer a difficult question. By limiting, or even eliminating, our exposure to “the whole counsel of God” we set ourselves up as editors-in-chief of the Bible, and little by little this increases our control over the image of God in our minds and hearts.
There was an interesting statement made by a leading Catholic bishop in America some years ago, when the matters of birth control and abortion were raging controversies. The Catholic Church’s position was clear. Neither is allowed. End of discussion. The interviewer pointed out to the bishop that most sexually active Catholic women practice birth control. (Recent statistics indicate 98% do so.) It was also pointed out that leading Catholic political figures have voted for legislation allowing abortion. The bishop’s answer was unequivocal in condemning those actions but the term he used to describe those individuals is very telling. He called them “Cafeteria Catholics”. What an apt term to describe people who pick and choose what they are going to believe and obey, whether they are Catholics or Christadelphians or anyone.
We can all readily identify with the tendency in our own lives to pick and choose what we will deem as critically important in our own daily lives. Of course we can’t see it in our own situations quite as easily as we can see others making these kinds of choices but that is a matter for another day.
What we think and believe about God is the end result of many things:
Our parental training
Information about God that we have received from our environment consciously and subliminally,
Our own reading of God’s word,
This is all molded and shaped by what we decide to accept or reject. These form our paradigm of God.
There are times in our lives when we are forced to reexamine our paradigm. We learn new information, something happens to ourselves or our loved ones, a major catastrophe results in horrific death and destruction, and questions arise that we must grapple with.
When we are young we are inundated with new information. Everything is new. We see a man in a wheel chair that was born with a terrible disability. We lose a 13 year old friend to polio. We become aware of the suffering and starvation that exists in so much of the world. Untold millions of people who are trapped in miserable, and often painful, existence due to no fault of their own, and it shakes to the core the paradigm of God that the Bible seeks to present; that God is love. And then we must question and reexamine the image of God in our minds that has been created to that point.
There is probably no single question that has disturbed genuinely sincere people about God more than the challenge of reconciling a loving God with the tragedies in this world. This is complicated by the fact that God’s offer of ultimate relief is so exclusive in its construct. Acts 4:12 in referring to the name of Jesus Christ states: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” What about the billions, literally, of people who are living today and have lived and died throughout the ages that have had no opportunity to even learn about Jesus Christ? Biblical principles set forth man’s inherent nature as mortal versus immortal, and that he is totally dependent on being resurrected at the return of Christ when “this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1Cor 15:53). When these two facts combine, extreme pressure begins to build up in some men’s minds. And like flood water building behind the dike, it seeks ways around the obstacle.
There are many ways around the obstacle. A non-exhaustive list might include:
Atheism: One can study evolutionary science and decide that it makes more sense than the seemingly irreconcilable issues of a loving God and a suffering world that is His creation. No God, no issue. Of course there is no future hope for anyone if we go down that path.
Deism: The belief that there is a God force of some kind but it is not a person per se. A bit like the Hindu Brahman concept.
Agnosticism: Whether or not there is a God is unknowable. I do not have a question about God’s fairness to defend.
Reincarnation: A “second chance”. Ultimately we will all be saved.
Cafeteria Christianity: I believe in the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ but I do not accept that the Bible is to be believed literally in some areas.
Christianicus Americus: “I won’t kill, rape, rob or steal and if there is a God, and He won’t accept me in heaven, I don’t want to worship Him anyway”. It is a concept subliminally taught in old John Wayne westerns.
Ignore the whole question. Go through life without questioning.