Images of God

As I mentioned the other day, I’m currently reading James Keenan’s Moral Wisdom, a book I really think is worth taking the time to read.

I’ve written and spoken a number of times about our image of God – what our image of God is can have an enormous impact on us.

Talking about how various images of God are useful, helping us approach God in prayer and in hope, Keenan sounds two cautions.

First, he observes that “we need to make sure that our image of God is not simply one image.” The danger of failing to allow other images into our prayers is that we “confine our understanding of God to a minimalist understanding.” That seems right to me – we know at one level that nothing we say to describe God can capture God completely. But the danger of a single image is that we can easily forget that it is an image and it becomes a definition of God.

Second, he suggests that as we get older “we should look for images that are competitive with one another.” Our understanding of Jesus is broadened, for example, if our image of Jesus carries both the Jesus who turns over tables in the temple and the Jesus who welcomes little children.

As I reflect back over my recent retreat experience, I can appreciate Keenan’s point. Several times during the retreat, the Jesus I needed to be with was the figure represented in a sculpture in the retreat house’s Sacred Heart chapel. A seated Jesus is portrayed with a child. The child is leaning his head against Jesus’ shoulder. One of Jesus’ hands is around the boy’s shoulder and the other holds his hand in his lap.

But at other times, I needed to be with a more challenging Jesus. The Jesus who invites Peter (and me) to walk to him on the water. The Jesus who says leave everything and come follow me. And the Jesus (who I spent a lot of time with) who hung from the cross at which I stood. All of these images contributed to who Jesus is to me and who I am with Jesus.

What are you images of God? Do you have more than one?