All of us who believe in God, and probably some of those who adamantly do not, have a mental picture of Him. But what does God look like in yours?
Picture this: Someone walks up to you and asks, “What does God look like to you?” What’s the first physical trait that comes to mind?
Do you think of a particular gender? A particular race? Perhaps even a particular hair color?
The movie Star Trek V: The Final Frontier has the crew of the USS Enterprise encountering what a renegade Vulcan believes is the real God. Take note of the physical traits of the being portrayed in this clip:
Yes, this “god” is an older white man with a flowing gray beard. He’s a cross between the stereotypical grandfather figure and, perhaps, Santa Claus.
As I watched the scene in subsequent viewings of the film, it dawned on me a few times that there’s something comforting — at least in the first few moments of the characterization — with this image. Maybe there’s something in the design of this character that seems to fit well with what we expect God to really look like.
In the novel The Shack, author William P. Young portrays the heavenly Father as “a curvy, maternal black woman” called “Papa,” a fact that led some critics to label the book as “heresy.”
Years ago, I was flipping channels on a Sunday morning and happened upon a black evangelist who claimed to have spent some 30 years researching the race of Jesus Christ to be able to prove, he said, that Christ was black. I remember wondering why someone would spend that much time on such a single detail when all of us who label ourselves Christians are supposed to believe that we are all God’s children, no matter what color we are or, presumably, what color He is.
But if Christ was black — and based on where He was born, He’d almost have to be — that leads some to then wonder what color God is.
A new survey reveals what God looks like to majority of Christians.
The short answer, apparently, is “none of the above.”
Psychologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sampled more than 500 Americans who were shown a large selection of images and asked to choose the one they think most resembles the Almighty:
…most chose a younger and friendlier version of God as they looked through hundreds of possible choices.
NBC News ran a picture of what older Americans chose as God’s likely image. The younger Americans’ responses created a very similar, clearer image.
Both seemed to have defined a younger white male.
Researchers say it’s possible those in the survey might have confused God with Jesus, which might explain the relatively younger appearance.
But there’s also this note from the study, and the emphasis added is mine:
The conservatives’ God was perceived as more masculine, older, more powerful, and wealthier than the liberals’ God … reflecting conservatives’ motivation for a God who enforces order.
Conversely, liberals’ God was more African American and more loving than the conservatives’ God … reflecting their motivation for a God who encourages tolerance.
Conservatives visualized a God who was better-suited to meet their motivation for social order, while liberals visualized a God who was better-suited to meet their motivation for social tolerance.
If you had to describe God with the one word you’d most hope would represent the attitude with which He dealt with you, would you want it to be “masculine,” “powerful,” “wealthier,” or “loving”?