I led a Celebration Recovery group in Chehalis a couple years ago when I was working with women who had spent so many years using drugs that their real personalities were hidden under their extreme toxic behaviors.
They barely believed God existed. Years of abuse had resulted in spiritual blindness, but these courageous women were slowly feeling their way to the hem of His garment.
One week, I challenged the group to each draw a picture of how they would like God to look. I sprinkled the conference table with brightly-colored markers, pencils, paper, ribbons and glitter glue, enough craft supplies to spark any child’s imagination. Hopefully, it would ignite theirs.
God exceeds both my artistic talent and my imagination. I was anxious to see how the women envisioned the deity who just wanted them to accept His love.
The Old Testament scriptures are filled with stories where God revealed Himself. In Genesis, He walks and talks with Adam and Eve, appeared to Abram (more than once), showed up with instructions for Isaac and revealed Himself to Jacob. But not once do we get an idea what God actually looks like.
In Exodus 34, Moses courageously requests that God “show him His glory.”
“The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.’”
This divine appearance revealed the character of God, but Moses documented nothing about the actual physical manifestation of God. There’s a reason. Before He answered Moses’ request, God put limitations on the event.
“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But, He said, ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.’”
What did Moses actually see? A man-like appearance? Or is the language about “my back” a metaphor to indicate the less-than-full nature of the revelation? Much mystery remains.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been speaking directly with God. But Aaron and all the people of Israel saw him. They were afraid to come near.
I was interested to see how my recovering women envisioned what even Moses could not see.
Several pictures captured Him with glitter glue smiles and clouds for hair. Many were dark scribbled blurs of hatred, recrimination and unforgiveness.
There was one particular picture I will never forget.
The artist had real talent with a hint of actual training. She had drawn two perfectly formed ears and two recognizable elbows. Nothing else. Later in a private session I asked about her picture of God.
“God doesn’t need a body. It would only slow Him down. But He does have ears to hear us cry out to Him in our pain. He even hears things we don’t have the courage to say out loud. And He doesn’t need hands and feet; that is the church’s job … to reach out in love, to go where the need is greatest.”
A few days later she abruptly left our program. When I cleaned out her room the picture wasn’t there. I hope it reminded her that no one can go so far that God cannot reach them.
Sylvia Peterson is a former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and an author. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.