27th January 2013

Self-Portrait of God

“Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.’”
John 16:8-9 NIV (UK)

What might be a self-portrait of Rembrandt was recently discovered hidden under another one of the Dutch master’s paintings. By using advanced scanning techniques, scientists investigated a Rembrandt painting titled “Old Man with a Beard” and, much to their surprise, the scan revealed that another painting was underneath—one that might well be an early, unfinished self-portrait of the artist himself. It seems as if Rembrandt had begun a self-portrait, then later used the canvas to paint the “Old Man with a Beard.”

The story reminded me of the way most of us think about God. We often think of him like that second painting—an old man with a beard. After all, that’s how religious artists usually portray him. So we grow up thinking of God as an old, distant, and rather threatening figure—stern and quick to anger if we fail to live up to his impossible standards. But this way of thinking about God obscures what God is really like, just as the painting of the old man obscures the self-portrait beneath it.

To get a true idea of what God is really like, we need to look beneath the layers of the popular concepts about God, by looking to the God revealed in Jesus Christ. When we do that, a true and undistorted understanding of God emerges.

“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” Jesus explained. Only Jesus shows us what God is really like. Our God—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—loves us unconditionally and will never let us go. God is not out there, somewhere in the sky scowling at us, ready to pounce and punish. The Bible tells us that it is the Father’s “good pleasure to give us the Kingdom,” and that God is not “willing that any should perish.” It tells us that God sent Jesus into the world because he loves the world—not to condemn humanity but to save it (John 3:16-17). Once you get past the layers of misunderstanding, the true picture of God is one of love—much greater than we can possibly imagine.

Through Jesus, we are shown God’s true heart toward us—we see him as he really is, not as a distant figure who is angry with us and unconcerned about us. In fact, he is right here with us, ready for us to turn to him and receive his loving embrace.

Don’t let other images get in the way of who God is or how God feels about you. Look to Jesus, who alone is the self-portrait of God.

Holy Father, thank you for revealing yourself through your Son, Jesus Christ. Not just a picture, but your very thoughts and intents towards us. Help us to embrace the real you, not our preconceived ideas about you. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Study by Joseph Tkach

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