Images of God 2



Images of God 2

We will all get older, but not all of us will mature. None of us can stop or turn back time, but all of us are presented with choices to learn from whatever lessons it teaches us.

There are many reasons people make the choices they do, and I was struck by an essay I read recently which began with the words “One of the most revealing ways to classify people is by the degree and aggressiveness of their conformism”.* Paul Graham suggests that both our tendency to think either independently or conventionally, and also the way we express these preferences, are determined more by our personalities than the beliefs held by the society we live in.

Graham describes a graph with four quadrants. The horizontal axis runs from conventional-minded on the left to independent-minded on the right, and the vertical axis runs from passive at the bottom to aggressive at the top.

It is worth quoting Graham as he explains his thinking by use of an example:

“Anyone who’s been to primary school has seen the four types, and the fact that school rules are so arbitrary is strong evidence that which quadrant people fall into depends more on them than the rules.

The kids in the upper left quadrant, the aggressively conventional-minded ones, are the tattletales. They believe not only that rules must be obeyed, but that those who disobey them must be punished.

The kids in the lower left quadrant, the passively conventional-minded, are the sheep. They’re careful to obey the rules, but when other kids break them, their impulse is to worry that those kids will be punished, not to ensure that they will.

The kids in the lower right quadrant, the passively independent-minded, are the dreamy ones. They don’t care much about rules and probably aren’t 100% sure what the rules even are.

And the kids in the upper right quadrant, the aggressively independent-minded, are the naughty ones. When they see a rule, their first impulse is to question it. Merely being told what to do makes them inclined to do the opposite.”

Graham’s essay is worth reading in full, and I will be returning to it in my next post. I agree that personality may well influence our natural preference for conformity or independent thinking, but other factors will either strengthen or weaken our commitment to that choice. An example might be the range of reasons why certain types of people choose to be politically conservative or progressive. An individual’s appetite for risking change, or for keeping things the same, will be influenced by age, education and whether the status quo is currently working for them.

But what has this got to do with the images we have of God?

As I read The Four Quadrants my mind instantly made the following connections:

Aggressively conventional-minded: Pharisees

Passively conventional-minded: Essenes

Passively independent-minded: Sadducees

Aggressively independent-minded: Jesus

Ok, the fit isn’t perfect and I am working with stereotypes. And if you struggle with the idea of Jesus being aggressive, substitute the word ‘Assertively’ in its place. As I have argued in previous posts, it seems incontrovertible to me that every one of us tends to define ‘god’ using our own preferred images and, if Paul Graham’s thesis is valid, the images we prefer are influenced by our personalities.

In my first post in this series I suggested that the process by which people refine their image of God often becomes stuck, and I offered Paul as a classic example of a biblical character for whom this had been the case. In this post I have proposed a few reasons why each of us begins with a different image of what God might be like, and why we may be pre-programmed to reach contrasting conclusions.


The Four Quadrants of Conformism by Paul Graham 


Picture of About the Author

About the Author

Craig Millward has been a Baptist minister for over 30 years and has extensive experience of the joys and challenges of church leadership.

More Posts by Craig Millward