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In a 2006 study released by Baylor University, researchers found that a person’s view of God has a direct correlation to his or her political and moral perspectives. In a survey, Baylor researchers asked people to either agree or disagree with descriptions of their personal understanding of what God is like, such as believing that God is angered by sin or that God is removed from worldly affairs.
After all of the research was compiled, here are the four viewpoints of God that emerged, or the “Four Gods” as researchers put it: the Authoritarian God, the Benevolent God, the Distant God and the Critical God.
Those who held the view of an Authoritarian God believe that God is angry at the sin of humanity and is engaged in every person’s life and world affairs. He is ready to throw the thunderbolt of judgment down on the unfaithful and the ungodly. According to the research, those who call themselves fundamentalists or evangelicals would be of this view.
People who were inclined toward a Benevolent God believe that God still sets absolute ideas or standards for mankind in the Bible. This group draws mostly from mainline Protestants, Catholics and Jews. They primarily see God as a forgiving God, more like the father who embraces the repentant prodigal son in the Bible. They also were more inclined to say that caring for the sick and needy ranks highest on the list of what it means to be a good person.
Survey respondents who saw God as a Critical God felt that God has a judgmental eye on the world and is not going to intervene either to punish or comfort. People in this group were less likely to go to church and are significantly less likely to draw absolute moral lines on hot-button issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
Lastly, those with the perception of a Distant God see him as a cosmic force who set the world into motion and then left it spinning on its own. They don’t see God engaged in the affairs of humanity.
Personally, I don’t like any of these “Four Gods.” I think there are certain aspects of truth in some of the descriptions of how people see God. Yes, God is angry at the sin of humanity, as those who believe in the so-called Authoritarian God would say. But he is not ready to throw thunderbolts. Yes, God is alive and kind and full and mercy, as those who believe in the so-called Benevolent God would say. He does care about the sick and the needy. He is interested in what is happening in this world. And no, he is not merely a cosmic force who is disengaged.
So I would propose a fifth category that was not covered in the Baylor survey: the Biblical God. We discover who God is in the pages of Scripture. Here is what God says about himself in a blessing the priests were to pronounce over the Israelites: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24–26 NKJV). God loves to bless us. He loves to smile on us. He loves to listen to us, protect us and give us peace.
It is important how we view God because that will determine how we view life. In fact, our view of God will dictate how we live life and how we make decisions. Our view of God will influence us in the way that we vote. Actually, there is no area of our lives that is not impacted by how we view God.
For instance, when crises or problems come our way, how we view God will determine how we react. If we have a big God, then we are going to have relatively small problems. But if we have big problems, then we have a relatively small God. If we see God in all of his glory and all of his power, then we will see things in their proper perspective. It all comes down to how we look at things.
I love the words of Caleb, who, at age 85, said to Joshua, “So give me the hill country that the Lord promised me. You will remember that as scouts we found the descendants of Anak living there in great, walled towns. But if the Lord is with me, I will drive them out of the land, just as the Lord said” (Joshua 14:12 NLT). I can just imagine all the young bucks looking around and saying, “Where did that old dude come from? Look at him! He couldn’t do anything!”
Yes, he could. And he did. The fact is, when Joshua granted Caleb’s request, Caleb had to drive out the current inhabitants of the land. And the 85-year-old was completely successful. Why? He gave us his secret in Joshua 14:8: “But I wholly followed the LORD my God” (NKJV). Caleb wholly followed the Lord his God, which means that he gave 100 percent to God.
There always will be people who have no vision, no faith and no interest in change. There always will be people who want to live in the past, who don’t want to take any steps of faith and who are very small in their thinking. There also will be people who will try to discourage you from what God might be calling you to do.
Caleb saw his challenges through eyes of faith. He saw what God could do. We all need to take bold steps of faith. What are we so afraid of? So what if it doesn’t work out exactly as we had hoped? So what if everything isn’t a complete success? We can learn lessons even from partial failures – and even outright failures. Caleb never left his first love. Thus, he never lost his first strength. He saw God for who he is.
How do you see God right now? Is he an Authoritarian God? A Benevolent God? A Distant God? A Critical God? Or, is he the Biblical God? If you see God for who he really is, then you will see things in their proper perspective.