How Do We Heal from Toxic Images of God?

“It is a lie–any talk of God that does not comfort you… How long will grown men and women in this world keep drawing in their coloring books an image of God that makes them sad?” – current translation of Meister Eckhart

How do we heal from toxic images of God? How do we move from an image of a far off, distant, untouchable, maybe angry, maybe indifferent taskmaster God to an image of a God who is with us, present in our everyday life, enfolding us with love?

What we believe matters because it affects how we move through life. A God who is with you, present in your everyday life, surrounding you in love is a God who transforms you: heart, soul, and mind. This is a God of Life, a Life that transforms our world.

In her book “Who are You God? Suffering and Intimacy with God,” Janet Hagberg offers some important steps in this healing process:

  1. Clearly name the old images;
  2. Determine why they are harmful or inadequate;
  3. Reconcile in our hearts with the well-meaning people who gave those images to us;
  4. Change and Embrace a New Image of God.

This is a process. Processes take time. And we often need help with this healing. These old images run deep. We need to find people who will help us with this process.

There are many ways that we could work on processing these ideas: therapy, spiritual direction, journaling, collage, and ritual are just a few. I thought I would share just one example here.

Recently, I found myself writing a letter to God. I realized that I’ve projected my own oversensitive aversion to mistakes onto God. I hate, hate making mistakes. I guess I always got the idea that God hated mistakes too. Now where would a Baptist girl ever get that kind of idea? (Wink and smile.)

I wrote to God about this mistake business, exploring where my ideas might have come from. At its core, these ideas stemmed from a belief in a God who remained distant from humanity because God’s perfection could not coexist with human imperfection. (It’s rather freeing to realize that this line of thinking probably stems from Greek and Roman philosophers like Plato rather than from the actual Bible. That’s what Brian McLaren says in A New Kind of Christianity.) The more I wrote, the sillier some of those the ideas sounded. Silly is good. It is easier to let go of silly-sounding ideas. I like Walt Whitman’s advice to re-examine all that we have been told and to “dismiss that which insults your soul.”

Dismissing the ideas that insult our souls is an important step. But if we stop at the dismissing without embracing a new, loving image of God, I wonder if we miss out on the opportunity for transformation and healing?

As I wrote this letter, I was reminded that God isn’t afraid of or disgusted by our humanity, our messiness, or our imperfection. The Bible tells of a God who walks with us in the dark places. (Psalm 23.) We are invited to walk with God. (Micah 6:8.) We can’t walk with someone who is far off and unreachable. We can’t walk with someone who isn’t present in our every day life. We can’t walk with someone who abhors our humanity.

This with-me-ness of God is one of the most transforming ideas my heart has stumbled into.

I’m meeting a God who redeems my failings. My mistakes and shadows have things to teach me. God works in and through the messy parts of life. God loves us in and through these messy parts. For me, that is really good news.

I give a hearty “Amen!” to Madeleine L’Engle’s words: “Allelulia! We don’t have to be right! We do have to love, to be vulnerable, to accept joy and pain, and to grow through them.”

So now, I keep looking for and finding reminders of a God that enfolds me with love. A God that says: “Abide in me, and I in you.” A God that walks with me in the ordinary, messy moments that make up this life of mine.

Like a Mother Hen
Drawing is one other way I am spending time with some other images of God.

What about you? Have you spent time processing your images of God and how they affect you? What has been helpful to you?




2 thoughts on “How Do We Heal from Toxic Images of God?

  1. I’ll join you with a hearty amen to Madeleine’s words. 🙂 Journaling has been very helpful to me. Also, spending time walking in nature and paying attention to what’s around me has really helped me see the joy and imagination in God’s creativity and to build an image of God as a creator who takes delight in what he creates to replace the image of a God who is constantly testing (and disappointed in) my ability to fully understand, explain, and prove beyond a doubt how he creates. Thanks for these good words and for giving us examples of ways to heal our own toxic images of God.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jo! Yes, journaling and walking in nature and just paying attention, those have been such transformative practices for me as well. I love hearing your thoughts. Thanks for being here.


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