Since I moved to Michigan, I have been visiting churches to find one where I fit best. Seeing and hearing how God is portrayed by different church people, I have come to the conclusion that most of us really only present a flat, 2 dimensional view of God. Have you seen the cardboard characters in the movie theaters of the featured attractions? What I have been "seeing" so far from Christians' words are 2 totally different images of God. One is a wrathful God, flowing white hair, storm int the background and lightning bolts in His hand ready to strike some terrible sinner. The other is a George Burns sort of man with a kind smiling demeanor who "loves everyone and could never send anyone to Hell". I could certainly see these sorts of cardboard characters in the movie theater featuring a movie about God. These views aren't just particular here, but everywhere I have ever lived.
The first view of God comes from a doctrine based on judgement. Fundamentalist churches who tend toward legalism portray this view of God. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23 is very prominent in these well-intentioned Christians' minds. We are totally depraved (utterly messed up). "Our righteousness is like filthy rags" Isaiah 64:6. As the preacher preaches, his messages are very black and white, and that's the way it is. The Bibles are on people's laps in King James 1611 version. The music is from the hymnal and the church seems like a throw-back to the 40-50's, maybe 70's , if you are lucky. The guilt-riddled sinner plods to the alter with his/her head down looking to the ground with teary eyes and the congregation sings from the hymnal "Just as I am". This is a common scene in this type of church. I imagine Charleston Heston of the old Bible movies. That cardboard cutout would be a scary image of God. Chuck Swindoll in his book "Grace Awakening" would call these people grace killers. Although God can and has gotten angry, it's not the whole picture.
The second view of God comes from a doctrine based only on love. Liberal and some mildly conservative churches tend this direction as a counterbalance against the harsh doctrine of fundamentalist brothers and sisters in Christ. This type of church never really has an altar call. The styling is very much up to date in it's appearance. The worship team seem like more of a rock concert. If you visit one of these you will wonder if you are in a Christian church. "God loves you. He would not want you to suffer, but want you to prosper." Many of them embrace very controversial doctrine and stances that are not considered mainline Christian thought. Did you notice something missing? Churches like this are growing like weeds. The cardboard cutout figure they portray is Jesus with a loving, milk-toast demeanor. Little children are crowded around him. Can you see a hippy-era Jesus? No one would ever be threatened by this figure at all. Everyone would want to embrace this type of person. Chuck Swindoll referred to this group as "Grace Abusers". Sin is glossed over, the blood of Christ is never talked about. Although "God is love, and in Him there is no darkness" (1 John 1:5), this not the full version of God, either.
There is a third view, however, which give a more full view of God, as much as humanly possible. The doctrine here is based on the fact that we as sinners are separated from God by that sin, but God offers us the ability to become right with Him through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior. This offers hope and new life here, but also eternal life with God. There is the truth of sin and it's consequences, yet love and hope are offered by the shed blood of Jesus Christ for our sin ( Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8, 10:9) We can walk in newness of a life in Christ,( 2 Corinthians 5:17-18) washed clean and unashamed. Sin is still present, but we are continually a work in progress. Phillip Yancy, author of "The Jesus I never Knew" brought to light the fact that we as Christians have gotten false images of Christ, correcting those images with Scripture. The church reflects it's community, isn't stuck in a time warp and the worship team knows it's performance is for an Audience of 1. The pastor follows the leading of the Holy Spirit to minister to the needs of those who come each Sunday. Humility & confident in Christ, the Word of God is opened for people to discover the truth God has for each one who comes. They love each other and reach out in sincerity to those who need Christ. There is a healthy balance. There are churches like this in America. Keep looking you will eventually find it.
What cardboard character of God do you hold? I would challenge you to discover Him more fully in the Bible.
Have a blessed Easter!