Distorted Images of God

This Sunday I’m looking at distorted images of God. On Father’s Day we face the temptation of thinking all the best thoughts about fathers and then saying that God is the ultimate Father. But sadly our perspectives on the nature of God are skewed by our experiences of family. Instead, we’re challenged to reshape our approach to family based on the healthier images of God found in Scripture.

Juanita and Dale Ryan, in their 1990 study, “Recovery from Distorted Images of God”, provide some really helpful debriefing on this matter. The book’s no longer in print but it’s available for free as a downloadable pdf from the National Association of Christian Recovery.

Juanita says:

Juanita Ryan“None of us lived in perfect families. Many people have experienced parents or other family members as emotionally distant, unreliable, abusive, unrealistic in their expectations, inattentive or abandoning. As a result, we may see the God of the Bible through distorted lenses. These distortions interfere with our ability to talk honestly with God, to share our feelings with him and to trust him. Our distorted images of God keep us from fully experiencing his love.”

I’ve led groups through this material and found a mixed response. Some people don’t enjoy deconstructing their images of God. It’s actually quite painful to let go the ‘God’ you’ve had all your life. Others have found it a liberating experience to acknowledge that their family environment was not ‘perfect’ and that they are still on a learning curve.

I like what Juanita says on the Spiritual Abuse Recovery site:

“What ought we to do when we find that we serve a god who is not God? There is only one answer in the Bible. Throw the bum out. Get rid of him. It is an idolatrous attachment, and it can’t be reformed, restructured, rehabilitated or restored. This is not a point where it is appropriate to be moderate. We need to clean house. The god who gives us nothing but fear or shame is not God. Fire him. Or her.”

2 Replies to “Distorted Images of God”

  1. Duncan, I suppose the obvious question is to what extent we should restrict ourselves to patriarchal metaphors as the last quote alluded to, but Id go deeper and ask: why do we raise such issues on Fathers Day but never on Mothers Day?

    Yet, on the other hand just swapping the gender of the personal pronoun – that is from “he” to “she” or “it” creates as many probems as it solves doesn’t it! No easy solution.

    Those issues aside, the issue that came up for me the other day was, well, however we wax lyrical of the metaphors for the other two members of the trinity we can’t escape the masculinity of Jesus. But hold on, to what extent is the gender of Jesus essential to his divine nature? Is it any more important than other particularities, eg his carpenter trade or Palastinian background?

    Anyway I’ll shut up at this point as I suspect we need some women in this discussion 🙂

  2. I will be talking about the impact of mothers and sisters as well as fathers and brothers.

    Father’s Day is the entry point. However there are some excellent entry points on Mother’s Day as well.

    I have a wad of resources to pull out in that context, such as The Corrs’ “Forgiven Not Forgiven” which I juxtapose with Isaiah 41:14-15.

    The people of Zion said,
    “The LORD has turned away and forgotten us.” The Lord said:
    “Could a mother forget a child who nurses at her breast? Could she fail to love an infant who came from her own body? Even if a mother could forget, I will never forget you.”

Leave a Reply