Images of God 7



Images of God 7

This blog series came together as I read Paul Graham’s essay, but the seeds were planted a month before as I spent well over an hour reading the numerous submissions made to the Baptist Union Council ahead of the final decision on human sexuality and marriage. As we debated and prayed, we were surrounded by a montage of letters, prayers and opinions pinned up on noticeboards all around the meeting hall. As other Council members were talking in the bar at the end of the day I spent an hour alone, doing my best to read every word.*1

As I read I was struck by two things: pain and passion. All of us felt pain, both for ourselves, and for the hurt that was often being felt more viscerally by others. Much of the passion sprung from wildly differing, and frankly contradictory, opinions on the nature of God. I recall a letter that asserted that God was angry that we were not respecting his Word that was clear and fixed. Another stated that God would “leave” us if we did not obey. These confident assertions were surrounded by hundreds of more nuanced statements about God, each of which led to a different conclusion on the issue we were debating.

It struck me with some force that as each of us worshipped and prayed together numerous times over the course of that gathering, we were all praying to a God of whom we had numerous, vastly different, mental images. And, by virtue of the fact that every member of Council takes God very seriously, it was clear to me that the choice we were going to make the following day was likely to reflect the dominant image of God we entered the room with. “What”, I began asking myself, “what are the forces that have influenced, and maybe even determined, the mental images I have of God? How do I identify them, and how do I judge which are helpful, and which to trust?”


“The Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.”*2

If you doubted my description of Jesus as ‘aggressively independent-minded’ in the second post in this series, these Pharisees invite you to think again.

These poor Pharisees were trapped by the Image of God they had constructed for themselves using scriptures they had interpreted using their preferred methodology, limited in their imagination by their synthetic-conventional level of spiritual maturity, influenced by their conventional-minded personalities and bolstered by their status as the religious professionals of a dominant sect.

And those outside their heavily defended fortress could do little more than shrug their shoulders as they turned away from an image of a god who seemed eternally angry, petty, judgemental and far too small.

The point of Jesus’ words are clear. As bearers of God’s image, each of us is invited to respond to the most accurate Image of God we are able to discern. So what God is like is not an academic question, as if believing the right things about God is what life is about. Neither are we to project our own personalities and prejudices onto a god of our own making, which makes it vital for each of us to explore questions such as these.

Because God is… I am. Because God is… you are. He has made you a spiritual being, and he invites you to offer back to him someone who is being made more fully human with every ‘yes’, and each small step you take in a hopeful direction.


*1  No judgement is implied here. I simply need quiet in order to read, understand and reflect on what people are saying.

*2  Matthew 22:15-22.

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