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Hi, my name is Dean Smith and in this podcast, I want to talk about our secret thoughts. The things we secretly think about ourselves.
Many of us have secrets. Things we think, but have never told anyone.
We secretly wonder if God really loves us, or if God loves others more than you. We wonder if we could ever be good enough to be used by God? Does God really have a purpose for your life? Are we good enough to serve God?
Sure, on the outside, things look great, but on the inside, these secret thoughts swirl around in our minds.
What is behind this?
We may have a clue from an article published in 1994 in the Journal of the Scientific Study of Religion that reported on the odd connection between how children perceived God and how they perceived their parents.
The study asked 153 children to rank how they perceived God on a number of characteristics, such as kindness, love, patience, and warmth, and then asked them to judge their parents on those same characteristics.
The researchers found that despite differences in race, religion or financial status, the children visualized God in the same way they visualized their parents.
And this connection should not surprise us. Because God created parents to have that important role in a child’s life.
In Genesis 1:26, we are told that God created humans in the image and likeness of God.
Likeness implies that we are similar to God. We think, have emotions, and a will, and these similarities allow us to have a relationship with God.
But the Hebrew word for image, ‘tselem’, has a completely different spin on it. The word means representation. We are to represent what God is like.
In fact, this Hebrew word is used throughout the Old Testament to describe idols.
It is used in the ten commandments, telling the Hebrews that they were not to make any idols or graven images (as the King James Bible quaintly described them), in Exodus 20:4.
But this unique word also leaves the impression that humans were to function as the idols representing God, not something made of wood or stone.
This leads to the bigger question. What purpose would it serve to have humans, you and me, be the idols that represent God?
I mean I could say to you really look Divine today, and of course, would reply Ditto to you, Dean.
And having gone through that routine, what else does it accomplish?
Well, I believe it was done for the children, who as they interacted with their parents, would gain an understanding of who God was and what God was like.
This would serve as a natural bridge for them to develop their own personal relationship with God, their Heavenly Father, as they matured and became adults.
But then sin entered the world and this idol that was intended to represent God was horribly scarred and cracked, and because of that children developed wrong and often flawed perceptions of what God was like.
Unfortunately, these flawed perceptions typically follow us into adulthood.
In 1999, Catholic psychologist, Paul Vitz caused quite a stir among atheists when he wrote a book entitled, Faith of the Fathers: The Psychology of Atheism, where he examined the family life of many renowned atheists, like Madelyn Murray O’Hair, Voltaire and Nietzsche.
And he noticed that they all had one caustic similarity, they came from homes where their fathers were either very abusive or absent. As they got older, their response to this flawed perception of God, was not to believe in God at all.
Though we haven’t gone to the extreme of these atheists, many of us to some extent have a distorted image of God, largely because of our parents.
Our parents weren’t perfect and neither are we, so it applies to our children as well.
Because of this, we may struggle by believing that God prefers others over you like your parents preferred your brother or sister over you.
We may think that no matter what we do, it is never good enough for God.
We may think that we will never amount to anything in the Kingdom of God because that was hammered into us by our mom or dad.
We may find it difficult to trust God because you couldn’t trust your dad. I know one man, who had a horrible time trusting God, and it could be traced back to his narcissistic earthly father, who time and time again, would give his son permission to borrow the family car and then at the last moment change his mind. When this man was in his 70s and 80s, he was still talking about the behavior of his earthly father.
At other times, we are scared to do anything because if you make a mistake, God will punish you. Because, no matter what we did, it was never good enough.
We struggle to believe that God loves us unconditionally because our parent’s love was always conditional.
Our obedience to God is driven by guilt, as your parents guilted you into obedience.
This list is endless.
So how do we break free from these false perceptions of God?
In Matthew 18:21, Peter asked Jesus how many times he had to forgive his brother, seven times. Now, Peter thought he was being overly generous, because the Jewish rabbis taught, based on a misinterpretation of prophecies in Amos, that a person only needed to forgive three times, and then on the fourth, you could let them have it.
In other words, Peter was thinking he was twice as good as the best rabbi, but then Jesus replied seventy-times-seven.
Essentially, Jesus was saying we need to forgive indefinitely. I mean who could keep track of forgiving someone 490 times and if you did manage to do that you really have to wonder if the person had forgiven the 489 times previous.
But the seventy-times-seven principle may mean something else.
Because I think there are times you may have to forgive an incident more than once. I am not talking about forgiving 490 different incidents, but forgiving a single incidence 490 times.
Let me explain.
I was in my late twenties, and I can still vividly remember the day I was walking down 11th avenue in our city, and I had a flashback of an incident that happened to me years earlier as I was growing up.
There were thousands of things that happened to me as a kid, that I couldn’t remember even if you paid me, but there were four I couldn’t forget.
And for no explainable reason, I would periodically get these same four memories flashing through my mind.
They were always the same and were as clear and as alive to me, as the day they happened years earlier.
I had been getting these flashbacks for years, but this time I asked God why I was getting them. I felt the Holy Spirit say that I was still getting them because there was still an emotion attached to them, such as anger, betrayal, or shame, that was keeping these memories alive.
And the Holy Spirit told me that I needed to forgive what happened to me and those who were involved, my parents.
And I began to do this. I forgave each of those incidents and I thought it was done.
Then late one night, I got another lesson on forgiveness as I pulled into the driveway of our home. I can still remember the headlights lighting up our house and something triggered one of those flashbacks.
It surprised me because I had previously forgiven the incident. I wondered what was going on, but then I felt that the Holy Spirit was urging me to forgive again.
That is when I learned that the seventy-times-seven principle can also refer to layers of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is like an onion. We forgive and one layer is pulled off. But there are more layers left. And over time, the Holy Spirit will lead you to forgive again, and maybe again, and then one day the onion has disappeared.
Jesus described that final step as forgiving from the heart in Matthew 18:35. Of course, this principle applies to all areas of forgiveness, not just the areas involving our parents.
I remember being plagued by those memories. I remember the name of the street where I asked God about those flashbacks.
But today I can’t remember what they were about, except one, and that is because as I forgave and forgave again, this broke the emotional attachment that kept these memories alive.
For the first time, these flashbacks finally had a chance to grow old.
But as I was working on this podcast, oddly one of those memories came back to me and I wondered if there was more I needed to forgive.
It involved a football game in high school. I was on the team, and I had finally talked my dad into coming to the game. We were playing a very tough team, and I ended up lined up against a strong player and I was getting beaten all the time.
In fact, the coach was pulling me from the game, but then he would send me back in. I knew my dad was watching and It must have been hugely embarrassing for him, as I am sure the other parents were talking.
But by the second half, I was finally able to make the necessary adjustments and I was doing quite a bit better and other players were being pulled because of their play.
And I remember looking up to see if my dad was still there and I saw he was gone.
That was my flashback that had been rehearsed again and again in my mind, looking up and seeing he was gone.
Though I had forgiven my dad, I wondered why I was still having this memory. Sometimes, it is not always clear what we need to forgive, and I felt God saying that I needed to forgive my dad for specifically giving up on me.
You see God never gives up on us, but sometimes we believe He has.
Look, I don’t want to dump on our parents, because they went through the same stuff with their mom and dad, who went through it with theirs and we have done the same to our kids.
And I am not suggesting every time you have a flashback, that it means you may need to forgive. I am just suggesting that it may not always be the pizza.
I believe the journey to wholeness, and a proper relationship with God must invariably go through our parents.