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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Listen to who God is

We truly know ourselves only as we come to know God’s love for us. In the warming, forgiving and transforming love of God, our true identity appears. But our fear of God often blocks the road to intimacy. We fear that God isn’t really loving or can’t be bothered with “the likes of me.”

Such sick or misguided images of God trouble many. These images typically lodge themselves in our souls when we were too young to recognize or evaluate them. But once there, they organize thought and feeling by shaping how we see. They disfigure our lives and relationships until God’s love and better understandings rout them out. The process takes a lifetime.

Which of these false images of God has shaped your vision?

God, the police officer (or school principal), who punishes me if I break the rules.

God, the divine bookkeeper, like Santa keeping track of who’s naughty and nice.

God, the stern judge, who protects the innocent and punishes the guilty. People often ask, ‘why bad things happen to good people?’ because on some usually unconscious level they believe this idea.

God, the video game player, who pushes all the right buttons but is far removed from the playing field.

God, the eternally placid, the unmoved mover who floats far above the arena of human sin and sadness, struggle, destruction and death.

God, the thief, who “takes” the ones I love.

God, the master of disaster who orchestrates our accidents and other “acts of God.” God, the capitalist, who helps those who help themselves.

God in my pocket, who is with me because I succeeded, escaped disaster or won the game. But what of those who suffer, fail or are prone to lose? Are they unblessed, forsaken?

God, the goad who will answer my prayer and bless me if I pray hard enough.


These images are far from the God of Scripture, whose Spirit labors constantly amid human confusion and dissolution to give us life. Compare these or other troubling images with the God who appears when you pray the Scripture stories listed above (see “Listen to Jesus”).


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