A 1994 study reported in the Journal of Scientific Study of Religion revealed children perceive God in much the same way they perceive their parents.
The researchers studied 49 children from a middle to upper-middle class Christian Reformed church and 94 children attending a nursery school, a Head Start day care program and two elementary schools.
Each of these 143 children were presented with a set of characteristics such as patience, kindness and warmth and asked to rank how much these attributes applied to both their parents and to God.
“Regardless of race, socioeconomic status or religious affiliation, children in our studies reported thinking about God often and perceiving God as similar to their parents in nurturing and power,” the authors stated.
This should not surprise us, as God gave parents the mandate of molding a child’s perception of God.
The true idol of God
In Genesis chapter 2 we read:
God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (v 27 NASV)
We read in this verse God created men and women in His image. The Hebrew word for image, ‘tselem,’ is a strange word. It is derived from an older Hebrew word that meant a shadow or phantom.
Tselem refers to a representation or resemblance and was repeatedly used throughout the Bible to refer to an idol or as the King James quaintly called them “graven images.” We see the word used in Isaiah 40:19 of workmen creating a molten image or idol of their god.
So in this context, it appears God wanted men and women to be the idol that represented Him, not carved rock or wood.
The big question is why?
If we are all “idols” of God, it would be fruitless to mimic God’s image to each other. So what was the purpose for this?
In fact, I believe God wanted us to represent Him to our children.
As children watched and interacted with their parents they would gain an understanding of who God was and this would be a natural bridge for them to have a personal relationship with their Heavenly Father as they grew older.
Then came man’s catastrophic fall into sin and this “image” of God was horribly scarred providing children with a false representation of who God really is.
Today, many of us struggle with a wrong perception of God. If we believe our parents favoured a sibling over us, we tend to believe God does the same.
If our parents were repeatedly angry or disappointed with us, we view God in the same way. We believe He is in heaven with a big stick ready to punish us for every sin we commit. We believe He is always disappointed in us and no matter what we do, we can never measure up.
If our parents repeatedly brought up our past sins, we tend to believe God really hasn’t forgiven our sins. If your dad was an alcoholic, due to the erratic and often abusive behavior that comes with it, you may find it difficult to really trust God.
All these perceptions are contrary to what the Bible says about God.
How do we change these wrong perceptions of God?
There is no easy way to do this. One of the keys is we must take a difficult journey back through our parents.
We must forgive our parents for the way they treated us. Unfortunately, for many this forgiveness will not be a one time event. Because these wrong images are so deeply ingrained, we may need to repeatedly forgive our parents for the same issue before its fully dealt with.
Like an onion, forgiveness has many layers. As we forgive and peel one layer back, another remains, requiring us to forgive yet again. But one day we wake up and the onion is gone.
- The Journal of Scientific Study of Religion: Reported in the Regina LeaderPost