I made a mistake at work recently.
It was pretty fairly innocuous in the grand scheme of things, and was made out of ignorance rather than incompetence, but still – it was a mistake, and I am a Type A perfectionist who hates making errors, hates knowing that other people know I make errors, and views all errors I have made as a fundamental referendum on my character.
So, in my prayer time, as I was talking about the mistake to God, I began to apologize. I’m really sorry, Lord. You know how much I hate making mistakes. I’m sure You’re disappointed in me, because you didn’t exactly put me in this job to make mistakes, but–
And then I stopped, and I really thought about it. Was God disappointed?
I hadn’t sinned in making my mistake. It hadn’t come from laziness, malice, disregard, distraction, or deceit. It happened because I was unfamiliar with how to do something and missed a step – that’s all. Was God really up in heaven, sighing and shaking His head, and saying, “See–this is precisely what I put you there not to do?”
It struck me, first of all, that “God” as I envisioned Him responding was starting to sound a lot like me: like the critical, unforgiving perfectionist voice in my head that expects to be 100% perfect at everything all the time. It also occurred to me that, no, God was probably not anywhere near as disappointed with my mistake as I was. He was probably far more disappointed with the matters of His kingdom that I neglect to attend to: the sinning I am doing, the things He needs me to do that I am not doing, my lack of love, my lack of service, my lack of obedience. But I swept all those things aside to imagine God tsk-tsking me over an innocent work error, and here’s why:
I have a bad habit of remaking God in my image. And you probably do too.
We project a lot onto God, often without meaning to. If you’re a Type A perfectionist like me, then you’re apt to project that onto God and imagine Him viewing you as critically as you often view yourself. Chide yourself for a personality trait you don’t enjoy? You’re likely to assume God doesn’t like it either. Bad experiences with an earthly father will probably influence your view of the kind of father that God might be. A life littered with fallout from a super-legalistic church will prompt you into envisioning God as the giant Rulemaster, gleefully condemning all those who fall short.
A speaker at a campus Christian group once encouraged us to envision God every time we encountered 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, a series of verses I more often hear invoked at weddings to describe ideal romantic love. “God is love,” 1 John 4:8 assures us, and in that passage in Corinthians Paul breaks down exactly what love – what God – is like:
Love is patient, love is kind. It doe not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
If you’re worried that you’ve started to remake God in your own image, start there. Start with Jesus, too. Start with what you know of God that is absolute and certain, and then ask yourself this: what I am assuming about God and how He responds to me, and is that from Him, or is it from my own projections and false beliefs?
A fully accurate image of God is going to tilt your world upside down. To believe that you are loved infinitely, just as you are, and that God wants this relationship with you, wants you in particular: it staggers. If you really consider it fully, it boggles the mind. You will not be able to live as before. You will not be able to engage in the normal day-to-day. Overwhelmed by the absolute goodness of this, you will be like the vineyard workersin Matt. 20:1-16 who got hired at five and received a whole day’s wages: stupidly overjoyed.
And that’s why, of course, we have a tendency to remake God. The stubborn sinful human heart wants to think that such goodness cannot be true. So we set about making God just a little more like us, assuming what isn’t real, recasting Him as a being as critical and petty and selfish and demanding as we are. When we do that, we run the risk of losing exactly what makes God so special – what it is that makes Him God.
Let go of who you assume God is, and embrace who He actually is. He is not interested in hiding His character: He likes revealing Himself to those who want to find Him. So shake off the assumptions that stem from your own insecurities, your upbringing, your experiences, and your beliefs to get a full and honest look at Him, and start there are you walk forward.
You won’t be the same.