I recently read an article in USA Today about how people view or see God. The headline was “View of God Can Predict Values and Politics,” and a survey conducted by Baylor University was presented. Experts claim this survey, which included more than 1,700 responses to a 16-page booklet with 77 questions, is the most detailed portrait of American religious convictions to date.
The Baylor survey found four very different viewpoints of God—”from a wrathful deity thundering at sinful humanity to a distant power uninvolved in mankind’s affairs.” The article went on to call these four viewpoints the “four Gods” that most Americans believe in today.
The researchers determined the identity of these “Gods” by analyzing people’s responses to questions about their God’s personality and involvement with the world. For example, the survey asked respondents to “agree or disagree” with any of 10 descriptions of their “personal understanding of what God is like,” including such phrases as “angered by my sins” or “removed from worldly affairs.” Respondents could check off 16 adjectives they believed described God, including words such as “absolute,” “wrathful,” “forgiving,” “friendly,” “distant,” and so on.
Here are the “four Gods” they came up with:
- The Authoritarian God
This God is angry at humanity’s sins and is actively engaged in every creature’s life and world affairs. He is ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on “the unfaithful or ungodly.” This God’s followers are often those who call themselves “Fundamentalists” or “Evangelicals.”
2. The Benevolent God
This God still sets absolute standards for mankind in the Bible, but he is seen primarily as forgiving, more like the father who embraces his repentant prodigal son in the Bible. This God’s followers—which come more from mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Jewish groups—believes that caring for the sick and needy ranks highest on the list of what it means to be a good person.
3. The Critical God
This God has a judgmental eye on the world, but he’s not going to intervene, either to punish or to comfort people. This God’s followers are less likely to go to church, and are also significantly less likely to draw absolute moral lines on hot-button issues such as abortion or gay marriage.
4. The Distant God
Followers of this God see a cosmic force that launched the world, and then left it spinning on its own. This God’s followers believe that they see a “Gone Fishing” sign posted at the heavenly gate.
The problem I have with all this is that none of these viewpoints are adequate when considering the true God of the Bible. The article implies that I am forced to choose between these four views of God, but none of them is accurate.
Therefore, I propose a fifth category:
- The Biblical God
The God of the Bible is angry at humanity’s sins (as those that believe in the Authoritarian God would say), but He is not “ready to throw thunderbolts” at us, or we would all be gone! And yes, the God of the Bible is kind and full of mercy (as those that believe in the so-called “Benevolent God” would say), but He also is concerned about mankind’s sinful condition. And while the God of the Bible is exalted above all of creation, He is not uninvolved in our lives (unlike the viewpoints of those who believe in the “Critical God” or “Distant God”).
The Bible itself gives us a classic description of how God relates to us in the book of Numbers:
“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24–26 NKJV)
This passage of Scripture tells us six things we need to know about what the Biblical God is like:
1. God loves to BLESS you: “The LORD bless you”
People use the word “bless” and “blessing” a lot, but it’s really a spiritual word. The world may try to hijack it, but they really have no idea of what it means. It is something only the child of God can truly experience. It can also be translated “happy.” You need to know that it is God’s very pleasure to bless you. Jesus said, “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32 NKJV).
I recently had a granddaughter, and my wife and I have been busy buying her little outfits. That’s not a duty, but rather a delight for us. As a grandfather, I want to bless my granddaughter, and your Heavenly Father want to bless you even more.
2. God will KEEP you: “The LORD bless you and keep you”
God wants us to be constantly reassured that He will keep us. And we need this reassurance in such an evil and uncertain world. We sometimes worry about our safety and security, not only for ourselves but also for our family. But know this—God never forgets whom He loves. He will protect His investment! Were it not for the preserving grace of God, not a single one of us would make it.
3. God SMILES on you: “The LORD make His face shine upon you”
God wants us to be reminded daily that when He looks on us, He smiles! God’s face shines with pleasure toward us as His very own children. When He sees you, His face just “lights up” with joy!
4. God is GRACIOUS to you: “And be gracious to you”
This too is something God wants us to constantly be reminded of. It’s important we understand what grace is. It has been defined as “God’s unmerited favor” (or God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense).
It might help to contrast grace with justice and mercy.
Justice is getting what I deserve. Mercy is not getting what I deserve. Grace is getting what I don’t deserve.
That’s why I never pray, “God, give me everything I deserve!” No, I will instead pray, “Lord, please extend your grace to me.” And He will. He loves to.
5. God is ATTENTIVE to you: “The LORD lift up His countenance upon you”
This phrase—”To lift up His countenance,” or to “lift up His face”—literally means “to look, to see, to know, to be interested, to have one’s full attention.” God is saying, “I watch out for you each and every day and you have my full attention!”
You may feel as though no one really cares about what you think, or feel, or dream. But God does. You have His full attention.
6. God wants to give PEACE to you: ” . . . and give you peace”
As you consider the fact that the Lord wants to bless you, keep you, and smile on you, it should impart personal peace to your heart. When you consider that God is both gracious and attentive to you, you should be comforted and overjoyed. This is why Paul could write:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! . . . Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4, 6–7 NKJV)
The “Biblical God” view of God is important because how you view God will determine how you view life as well. It will affect the choices you make in life, including whom you might marry, what you might do for entertainment, how you might earn a living, how you may vote, and so on. In fact, there’s really no area of your life that will not impacted by how you view God.
Take crises and problems, for instance. If you have a “big God,” you will have small problems, but if you have “big problems,” then you have a small God. Now that’s not to say that some problems are not big or in fact really big, but it’s to remind you that the God of the Bible is much, much bigger.
It’s all how you look at things.