Pick a God…

I keep running into this idea in my readings lately. It’s been studied that in monotheistic faiths, there seems to be basically four general categories of perspectives on God. God can be seen as authoritarian, benevolent, distant, or critical.

The authoritarian God is not necessarily angry, though He can be so if people are failing to live up to His standards. He is not a touchy-feely God, but one who is very focused on the rules. Those rules might be set that way to keep people safe or because they’re somewhat arbitrary, but regardless of why they’re there, right and wrong are of utmost importance. The statistics seem to suggest that about 30% of Americans see God this way.

The benevolent God is one who is active in the lives of people, seeking to make life good, though perhaps not always via the methods that people might choose for themselves. This God actively cares and, while acknowledging the rules, is not as fixed on them as the authoritarian God. The rules do define right and wrong, but love and relationship can smooth over when the rules are broken. Roughly 25% of Americans hold to this kind of God.

The critical God doesn’t much involved much, but He is still attentive. Like the authoritarian God, the rules are of great importance, but rather than using means to guide people into following the rules, this God expects them to be followed with little incentive or guidance. He might even be more focused on punishing rule-breakers than paying attention to those who follow them. Some also see this God as waiting until the end times to unleash wrath against those who fail to live up to His standards. Around 15% of Americans see God like this.

Finally, the distant God is right about what it sounds like. God is not involved and may or may not be particularly attentive to the affairs of human beings. He might be one who set the universe in motion and walked away or one who just watches without being particularly interested in having any kind of relationship with the world. He’s not harsh, but He’s not caring either. The statistics say about a quarter of Americans have this kind of image of God.

The curious thing about this concept is that it applies to monotheistic faiths on the whole, and it doesn’t entirely matter which faith. It’s not like the Jews have a distant God, and the Muslims have a critical God, and the Christians have an authoritarian God. These perspectives cut across religions. A Jew or Christian or Muslim or even certain Buddhists or Hindus can have a view of God that fits into any of these four perspectives.

On top of that, I think it’s a little naive to say that a person’s understanding of God will fit squarely into any of these categories. I suspect anyone’s perspective will draw a little bit from here and a little bit from there. Perhaps a healthy God image can’t fit perfectly into any one category, just like you couldn’t slot a spiritually and emotionally healthy person into any one of these categories. A person might be more authoritarian in one situation, a little more distant in another. God is surely similar.

Regardless of this blending, there’s probably still a dominant quadrant. While God might be sometimes critical or distant, He might be mostly benevolent or authoritarian or some other combination.

Is there a right view of God? Probably. There is, after all, only one God.
But I ponder a different set of questions when I think about this. What is your view of God is only the starting place.

  • What shaped your view of God to be like that?
  • What does your view of God say about you? About your view of religion? Your view of yourself?
  • How does your view of God shape your relationship with Him? Does your relationship with Him match your view of Him?
  • How might your active and conscious understanding of God differ from your more automatic and unconscious perspective of Him? Could you unknowingly have a view of God that’s different from what you think? (The answer to this last question, by the way, is yes, according to multiple studies, so the real question is back up the preceding one – how are they different?)
  • What would a conversation with God about your perspective of Him be like?

3 responses

  1. So… I struggled through the last two weeks with a prayer project from Judy Ten Elshof asking similar questions…
    And now I get a brand new batch to ponder and wrestle with.
    It’s as though God may be saying something. Thanks for the invitation… Good words, brother.

    November 7, 2012 at 10:22 am

    • Glad I could add to the struggle that is your life?

      November 8, 2012 at 6:53 am

  2. Pingback: Connecting Two Minds «

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