Persons of faith, in my experience, tend to have rigid images of God. Some get absolutely outraged if they hear someone expressing a novel image of God.
Our Scriptures are full of images of God which do not seem to mesh well with one another. Jesus calls God “Father” (Matthew 5:16). Isaiah describes God as a “mother [who] comforts her son” (Isaiah 66:13). John’s Gospel declares: “In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Deuteronomy calls God a “Saving Rock” (Deut. 32:15).
In terms of our experience of human fathers and mothers, the words which we speak, earthly rocks and fire, God is none of these things! God does none of the hurtful things some parents do. God is not limited in the manner of our spoken or written words. God does not have the limits of our inanimate rocks. And Paul’s exclamation, “Therefore, we who are receiving the unshakable kingdom should have gratitude, with which we should offer worship pleasing to God in reverence and awe. For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29) reflects an awareness of a burning love absolutely unlike some devastating earthly fires.
Neither is your spouse a “baby”, a “tiger”, a “muffin”, a “bunny rabbit”. Any of these names can and does suggest a quality that you experience in your lover. But as with our names for God, none of these names expresses the totality of whom or what your spouse is!
Holding onto rigid images of God as though they express God’s totality; as though they make all other images of God invalid; arguing about God’s names; are good ways to avoid seeking the reality of God. These images, and many more, are useful pointers to the truth of God.
One image is superior, accessible, and profoundly more real! His name is Jesus!
In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Image of the Father. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). If we really want to know God we must Observe Jesus, Listen to Jesus, and Follow Jesus. Not passively! Not simplistically! Actively! Discerning from Jesus’ attitude God’s attitude; from Jesus’ way of treating people God’s way of treating people; from Jesus’ response to people God’s response to us; from Jesus’ way of relating to his “Abba”, our preferred way of relating to God.
Fr. John M. Lee, C.P., Retreat Director, Bishop Molloy Retreat House, www.bishopmolloy.org