If God seems angry and unkind you may need to re-map your brain through loving relational engagements that improve your self-image.
Scientific research shows that our gut-level beliefs about God change our brain circuits. When we worship the true God with our hearts it activates brain pathways and turns on higher brain regions that help us to become more like Jesus — more compassionate, wise, humble, and confident. But lower views of God correspond with activity in more primitive brain regions involved in selfishness, fear, and anger. (See The God-Shaped Brain by Tim Jennings.)
The Bible described the powerful impacts of our image of God long before brain science. In John’s gospel, we read that knowing the true God and Jesus Christ is how we experience eternal life (John 17:3). Paul warns that if we exchange the truth of God for distorted images of him then our minds will become darkened and we will be ruined by sin (Romans 1:28-31).
A.W. Tozer wrote The Knowledge of the Holy to elevate our minds and hearts to be absorbed with the majesty of God. He invites us to get underneath our heady concepts of God to explore our emotionally-laden image of God. In other words, he’s not only concerned about our theology, but also our knee-ology:
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…
That our idea of God corresponds as nearly as possible to the true being of God is of immense importance to us. Compared with our actual thoughts about Him, our creedal statements are of little consequence. Our real idea of God may lie buried under the rubbish of conventional religious notions and may require an intelligent and vigorous search before it is finally unearthed and exposed for what it is. Only after an ordeal of painful self-probing are we likely to discover what we actually believe about God (pp 1-2).
In my (Bill’s) doctoral studies I found a correlation between our experience of our father and God as you might expect, but there was an even greater correlation with our experience of our mother and God. And the largest correlation was between our self-image and our God-image.
So to experience God’s love in your brain and heart you need to consider how you treat yourself, especially your inner, child-like self. Do you feel that you’re too needy or too emotional? Do you get impatient, perfectionistic, or critical with yourself? Do you lose touch with your emotions?
You’re likely to experience God similarly to how you feel about your inner child. Sadly, if we study the Bible and do other spiritual disciplines without warm, empathetic, and encouraging Body of Christ relationships we are not likely to experience much intimacy with God or growth in Christlikeness.
To know Jesus’ Abba we need personal experiences with God’s love early in childhood — or reparative, re-forming experiences of divine love later in life.
So Jesus gave us his new command, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Tangible, emotional-relational connections strengthen our thinking and our faith to make life-giving spiritual contact with Jesus and the Father through Scripture meditation and prayer.
Dear Father God, guide us into soul friendships to give and receive divine empathy, delight, and encouragement. Shine the smile of Jesus into our heart and out from our face and personality as we do our job, lead a Bible study, preach a sermon, listen to a friend, play with a child or shop in the market. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
In our book Your Best Life in Jesus’ Easy Yoke we help you to renew your image of God, de-stress, and live in Jesus’ rhythms of grace.