Not long ago, while puzzling over the difficulties that bear down hard upon most lives—things like job loss, illness, financial pressure, conflict and other maladies—it occurred to me that the emotional pain we feel as a result of our troubles is often magnified by a colossal misunderstanding, one common to the human race. This misunderstanding arises from our lack of vision.
Most of the time, we see neither ourselves nor our circumstances nor the God we love clearly. As Paul says, we are always looking “through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13: 12). So our vision is to some extent blurred, limited, and confused, putting us into the foreground while everything else recedes to background. Our fears, our aspirations, our troubles—these are the focal points that command our attention.
This pattern of distortion happens to everyone, Christian and non-Christian, even though God has revealed truths about himself that should untangle and upend our twisted view of what is really going on. Despite the fact that God is now in the picture, we Christians, still plagued by selfishness and fear, often relegate him to the blurry background.
When I was a child I was introduced to a God who was all seeing, all powerful, and all knowing. But to my child’s mind he looked like someone distant, fearful, and untrustworthy. How could you feel close to a god who held you in disdain for your many failures, a perfect god whom your flawed self was incapable of pleasing? Fortunately, that imbalanced and distorted vision of God eventually gave way to the understanding that God loved me like the most faithful of fathers, indeed that he had given his son to save me and take away my sins.
In the years that followed, I watched as the church jettisoned the hard god of my youth in favor of a much softer god, one who is always tender and tolerant and who does not demand too much of his people, in which notions of holiness and awe have receded to background or disappeared altogether. But that soft god produces only soft followers, spiritually enfeebled and vulnerable to the shaping power of the surrounding culture and to the ever changing circumstances that characterize human life.
What am I arguing for? A return to the hard god? By no means. Let’s not discard one distortion so that we can embrace another. What we need is something only God can give—a true and deeper vision of who he is as the Almighty, Everlasting God—one who is holy and yet merciful, jealous and yet loving, righteous and yet forgiving. This is the God of Abraham and Sarah and Moses and David and Mary Magdalene and Peter and John and all the faithful who have preceded us. They lived with a sense of God’s majesty, a life-shaping knowledge of his greatness and goodness. As A.W. Tozer has said,
“the great Church, has for centuries lived on the character of God. She’s preached God, she’s prayed to God, she’s declared God, she’s honored God, she’s elevated God, she’s witnessed to God….”1
Let us not settle, then, for a vision of God that is thin and anemic, one that will fall to pieces when life becomes more difficult than we can bear. Instead, let us pray that God will draw us out of our complacency so that we might hunger and thirst for more of him.
- A.W. Tozer, The Attributes of God, Volume 2 (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread Publishers, 2001), 6.