He's dead now, but the truth of his statement lives on.
What you think about God (the way you think he works in the world, what you think he wants for you and from you) is the most important thing about you. What I think about God is the most important thing about me.
He's right because, as a general rule, we make our choices and live our lives in sync with what we ultimately believe matters to God. If you think God is concerned with social justice, then you will work with or contribute to organizations that combat injustice. If you think God is pleased when you show up at church, then you'll probably make it a priority to be at church more. You get the point.
You make choices based on what you really think about God. We all do. And that's why the quote is so true: What comes into our minds when we think about God really is the most important thing about us.
But there are a lot of opinions about what God is like. Even in our own country (which some people still insist is a "Christian nation"), there are many different views. The latest research polls (from Harris Interactive, December 2013) found that 74% of adults in the United States believe in God. That means that 26% of Americans don't even think there's a God at all. But among those 74% who do believe there is a God, the views are quite varied.
In 2010 a book came out called, America's Four Gods. The authors are professors at Baylor University, and they did a lot of interviews and research on what Americans really believe about God. Based on people's responses, the book identifies four different views of God that Americans have.
View #1: The Authoritative God
This is view is held by 31% of Americans. People who see this God this way believe that God is highly involved in the regular events of our daily lives: he's always watching everything and everyone. They also believe that he rewards people who do right, but he is especially busy catching people who do wrong and punishing them when they do.
View #2: The Benevolent God
24% of Americans hold this view of a God who is engaged in our world in caring, loving, and supportive ways. The Benevolent God is involved in our lives, but he is not judgmental at all. He really just wants people to be happy and healthy. If the Authoritative God is like a cosmic policeman who wants to punish the world, the Benevolent God is like a cosmic nurse who wants to heal the world.
View #3: The Critical God
This view is held by 21% of Americans. It sees God as the ultimate judge and enforcer of right and wrong. But instead of punishing bad and rewarding good in this life, God waits until after we die to settle the score and give people what they deserve in the afterlife.
View #4: The Distant God
This view is held by 24% of Americans. It sees God as the one who started the universe, but now he remains uninvolved with how things go. He doesn't trouble himself with the little details of our little lives; and he doesn't respond to our prayers or praises or offerings. Benjamin Franklin, one of America's Founding Fathers, held this view. He once wrote that he couldn't imagine that a "Supremely Perfect" God cares a bit for "such an inconsiderable Nothing as Man." The Distant God is real; he's just up there, out there, somewhere (see America's Four Gods, pp. 27-34).
To cut through the clutter, I want you to consider one of the earliest titles for Jesus. The birth stories say that Jesus will be called "Emmanuel," which means God-with-us. Jesus is God-with-us. So if you want to know about God, if you want to know what God is like, then look at Jesus.
So for two thousand years, when Christians have been asked, "What is God really like?" We simply point to Jesus, God-with-us, because God looks like Jesus.
One day, one of Jesus' disciples (a guy named Philip) said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied" (John 14:8 NLT). It's like, "C'mon Jesus. Quit holding out on us. How do we really know that you are the way, the truth, and the life (see John 14:6)? A lot of people are saying a lot of different things about God. How do we know that you're right? C'mon. Show us the Father. Show us what God is like. That's all we're asking for."
And Jesus simply replies: "You've been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don't understand? To see me is to see the Father" (John 14:9 MSG).
Anyone who has seen Jesus has seen the Father.
Do you want to know what God is like?
Look at Jesus. Because God looks like Jesus.
So, what is God like? From looking at Jesus, we learn that:
God acts with compassion.
God forgives with grace.
God speaks with power.
God heals the broken.
God includes the excluded.
God loves his people.
God cares about you.
Helpless Scarecrows & the Living God
Quick Thoughts on Psalm 82