From: Good Goats
Why is it so important to heal our image of God? It is not so we’ll know what afterlife is like. Rather, it is because we become like the God we adore. Studies show this is true in many aspects of our lives. In marriage, for example, the more a couple experiences God as a lover, the more likely they are to enjoy a wholesome, loving marriage. Andrew Greeley found that this wholesomeness extends to all aspects of marriage, including sexual fulfillment. So, too, in David Nygren and Miriam Ukeritis’s study of who are the most caring and least caring among those who choose celibate religious life, the most caring were four times more likely to image God as a caring healer than their less caring peers. Andrew Greeley also found that the more we experience God as a lover, the more sensitive we are to social justice.
Not just world peace, as we mentioned earlier, but every social justice issue is affected by our image of God. For example, the Roman Catholic bishops recently issued a pastoral letter on the economy which says that wealth or goods cannot be divided on the basis of what we merit through our work. Rather, they must be divided on the basis of what we need. But what if we have a vengeful, punishing God who calculates on the basis of our work exactly what we merit as eternal reward or punishment? In this case, we will probably choose an economic system that is also based on merit. We can easily say to those who have less, “To hell with you, we earned it.” But when God becomes a lover generously giving free gifts to those working only an hour, (Matthew 20:1-16), and even to unrepentant sinners solely because they need it, then we are likely to choose an economic system based less on merit and more on need.
Similarly, if we believe God gives up on people forever and does away with them by sentencing them to death in hell, then we can give up on some people forever and do away with such people by sentencing them to death through capital punishment. But when God doesn’t give up, then we are more likely to question capital punishment or any other option in which we might be tempted to give up forever on people who are threatening to us.
Whatever our addiction as a society, whether it be to violence and retribution as opposed to peace and compassion, or to hoarding money as opposed to sharing, we usually mimic the addictions we attribute to the God we adore.
Whether our addiction be work, money, smoking, drinking, or Dennis’s German self-righteousness, we get stuck in addictions for the same reason that alcoholic Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, took his first drink: to deaden the pain of not belonging. Before his first drink, the socially awkward Bill W. knew well the pain of not belonging. After his first drink everything changed. Bill became the life of the party and he said, “For the first time I felt that I belonged.” What followed was seventeen years of compulsive drinking, trying to recapture that first drink’s feeling of belonging. Finally, when he was thirty-nine and on the verge of being institutionalized for chronic alcoholism, Bill cried out to God for help. Suddenly his room filled with light and Bill felt a presence which “seemed like a veritable sea of living spirit.” Bill described this experience in almost the same words he used after his first drink, “For the first time I felt that I really belonged.” Bill never took another drink. He began drinking because it was the best way he knew at the time to belong, and he stopped drinking when he found a better way to belong, through his conversion experience of a loving God. We believe that the feeling of not belonging underlies every addiction. Every addiction (or compulsive negative behavior) began as the best way we knew at the time to belong to ourselves, others, God, and the universe. The way out of an addiction is to find a better way to belong.
If we have a God who can send us to hell, who can vengefully decide who doesn’t belong, then we are more likely to become addicted people. Treatment centers recognize this addictive cycle. Dr. Robert Stuckey, whose recover units have treated over 20,000 addicts, found that the recovery rate is much lower for addicts with a fearful and punishing image of God. He concludes that addicts in treatment “with a very harsh view of God have a harder time than people with no religious training at all.” Bill W. spoke of how in recovery, we generally change our image of God many times. But he concluded that once we discover a God of “belonging,” “all will be well with us here and hereafter.”