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Philip Yancey

Seeing the Invisible God

Knowing God is something like knowing other people. But it is also quite different.

It is incomprehensible that God should exist, and it is incomprehensible that He should not exist; that the soul should be joined to the body, and that we should have no soul; that the world should be created, and that it should not be created.

One night I sat up until two o'clock listening to two friends recount their difficulties in relating to God. Judy described her many attempts to "break through" to God—attempts that had produced nothing but a sense of cold, disapproving silence. Stanley told of his lifelong struggle to feel that he mattered, that God cared.

I knew these two friends well, and it seemed obvious to me they were projecting their own family dynamics onto God. Judy had lost her mother at an early age. Although her father valiantly worked to raise three daughters in a stable home, he had never conveyed much warmth. She viewed him more as a schoolteacher, or an athletic coach, judging her performance and always raising the bar one notch higher.

Stanley came from a large, lively family of seven which had no lack of warmth or energy. Still, as the fourth child, and a twin at that, he had the persistent, nagging sense of being overlooked. Teachers in school invariably compared him to his older siblings. His father never quite mastered the skill of telling him apart from his twin, even though the two were not identical. "I sometimes think if I disappeared from my family, it would take a week or two for anyone to notice," he said with a wry smile.

In our conversation, I described the God I had come to know, a personality very different from their projections, and also very different from my childhood pictures of God. That evening reminded me that everyone has an image of God distorted in some way—we must, of course, since God transcends our capacities to imagine him. Our experiences of family and church combine with stray hints from literature and movies (The Scarlet Letter, "Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God") to determine what image of God we ...

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