We all have a picture of God in our head. I call it the Surreal God. We have in our imagination a God that is “other” that stirs up a bit of emotion, reaction and passion in us. Most people when they speak or think of God filter out anything that is not super-human, super-sized, powerful and larger than life. Just forming the word God with our lips conjures up a Zeus-like looking character who is sitting on a golden throne high above the earth using his gavel to make sharp decisions about mankind. Infused into the word God is the idea of “Bigness.” Those who believe in God believe he is powerful and glorious.
Here is the odd thing; those that don’t believe in God especially in the conscience of New Atheism believe God is supposed to look Big as well. They have similar expectations on God if he did exist. In Christopher Hitchens book God Is Not Great he said “If God did exist he would eradicate evil, injustice, needless suffering, he would swoop in and fix this world.” His reasoning goes; since God doesn’t act like a god there must not be a God. In the mind’s eye of those who do believe and don’t believe I find similar expectations on God floating around. God is supposed to present himself in big ways. That’s what gods do, right?
It’s hard to know where we pick up the pieces that make up our Surreal God. They attach themselves overtime. It reminds me of when I was washing my car and discovered a layer of bugs on the front hood. I never remembered seeing them before. So I scrubbed and scrubbed but they wouldn’t come off. They somehow became one with my car. Our Surreal God situates himself in our mental/emotional world and holds a lot of influence on us. But with a bit of probing there is still a lingering question in all of us “What is God really like?”
2000 years ago the 1st Century population had the same troubles with the Surreal God. The Israelites, who had loads of content on God (Yahweh) and were convinced He would present himself in a big way. This would only make sense to them since their interpretation of the law and data led them to believe in a God who is “other.”
The Romans who did not believe in Yahweh interestingly believed God would present himself in the same way. When God was dying on a wooded cross they mocked him for claiming to be God saying “call you angels and bring yourself down if you’re God.” They had expectations that a god would look a certain way and Jesus sure did not look like any god they were familiar with.
At Christmas when we get past all the pageantry and Christian cliques, we are presented with a God that does not look like a god. They way he wields his glory does not look so glorious. Jesus’ own disciple’s were confused about “Glory”. They expected glory to look a certain way, to them power presents itself with a certain feel, a certain look. At one point they’re arguing about glory. Jesus over hears and says “you don’t know what you are talking about.” Jesus knows that glory really is to reveal ones true character or true nature. Jesus follows up by expounding on glory and in his backdoor way tells them what God is really like “the first will be last… I have not come to be served but to serve and to give my life away.”
For some reason in our imaginations Jesus takes a back seat to our generic big God personality picture. But Jesus’ arrival to planet earth was pivotal move on God’s behalf to tell us “What God is like”. Jesus came to shatter and bring down our Surreal God so that we could truly love the real God. Jesus shows all his cards when he says “in me all the fullness of God dwells in bodily form.”
It’s hard to love a God that is Surreal. Martin Luther, a 6th century monk with brutal honesty shares his struggle with the Surreal God when he journals this “I was supposed to love this God but I couldn’t stir any up. God disliked me and I was tempted to not like him in return… then I read the stories of the God who becomes human in Jesus. And I found myself undone with love. Look to the crib where God lays vulnerable, look to the God-man who has ears to hear silent human cries, who is drawn to the weak and weak are drawn to him, who gives himself over to love that leads to his nakedness and a humbling sacrifice. This vision will lay hold of your soul and give you a God to love.”