Sam was a seminary classmate of mine. He was a great person, but one of the most remarkable things about him was his….hair! He had the thickest mop of brown hair a person could ever want. One day, he came to class and he had just had his hair “permed.” The “do” was curly and compact, in the “Afro” style that was popular in those days. But what made it even more remarkable was the next time I saw Sam’s wife, Vickie, she had an identical perm in her hair! Other than the not-so-obvious height difference (they were close to the same height!), if you saw Sam and Vickie off in the distance, it was hard to tell them apart! And they enjoyed that similarity very much!
Several years ago, there was a popular spam email that went viral about dogs. It was actually a slide show in which people, famous or otherwise, were pictured in split screen with pictures of their dogs in similar dress and poses. The whole show was done to the background music of “Who Let the Dogs Out?” It was a hilariously realistic show, simply because the likenesses between people and their dogs was uncanny.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego produced a study some years ago showing that people and their dogs often look alike. In the study, a panel of student judges was able to match 16 out of 25 purebred dogs to their owners. The reason for this, researchers say, is because dog owners tend to choose a pet bearing their resemblance in some way.
The study identified similarities between pets and people as physical characteristics or personality traits or both. Happy, outgoing, and affectionate dogs tend to be owned by warm and friendly people. Hairless, pop-eyed, pug-nosed pooches are…you get the idea.
When the Chicago Sun-Times ran this story, they included photos of several people and their dogs. It was amazing. Actress Fran Drescher’s dog, Chester, has big hair. The photo of J. Edgar Hoover and his boxer failed to identify which was which. They needed to.
The author of the article went on to explain: “A quick evaluation of my border collie brought mixed results. She’s good looking, obedient, and in shape. This momentarily boosted my self-esteem, but there were other troubling signs. It wasn’t the hairiness, shameless begging, or doggie odors that bothered me. It was the realization that my dog tends to be grumpy and snarly when what she’s told to do doesn’t match what she wants to do. Then I remembered that technically, the dog still belongs to my daughter.”
From a spiritual perspective, the question is profound: Whom do you look like?
Hopefully, we would all say we look like God. But understanding that question requires that we understand a little bit more about the culture in which we live and the perception it has about what God is or should look like. The Bible tells us that “No one has ever seen God.” (John 1:18), but continually the challenge throughout the Scriptures is to “be holy, for I [God] am holy” (1 Peter 1:15)
In his book Soul Searching, Christian Smith summarized perceptions about God that are prevalent in the church and in contemporary culture. He said that most young evangelicals believed in what could best be described as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” (we could also call this viewpoint “the Santa Claus god”).
Moralistic implies that God wants us to be nice. He rewards the good and withholds from the naughty.
Therapeutic means that God just wants us to be happy.
Deism means that God is distant and not involved in our daily lives. God may get involved occasionally, but on the whole, God functions like an idea not a personal being actively present in our world.
According to Smith, this is the version of God that’s prevalent in our culture and in our churches. Often without realizing it, every culture quietly molds and shapes our views of God. But we can’t grow in our relationship with God when we insist on relating to God as we think he should be. It’s the same way in our human relationships: if I demand that you just meet my needs and conform to my assumptions about you, you will probably feel cheapened and manipulated.
That’s why our surrender to God-as-he-is, as revealed in the Bible, is so important. Otherwise, we will have a god of our own imaginations—and, embarrassingly, our American god is an obese, jolly toymaker who works one day a year.
We’ve all heard that God is a loving God, compassionate, caring and full of mercy. The Scriptures teach us these things (Exodus 34:6), but they also repeatedly demonstrate that He is a jealous God who wants us to honor Him and Him alone with every ounce of strength we have (Exodus 34:7). So when He commands us to “be holy, for I am holy” He is defying the world’s perception of God and calling us to imitate, to look like Him!
How do I do that? Well, it is a faith venture that starts by my submitting and giving my heart’s desires to Him. Faith is a life-dominating conviction that all God has for me through obedience is better by far than anything Satan or the world around me can offer me through selfishness and sin.
I do not want to live the rest of my life as a Moral Therapeutic Deist. I want to look like the God of the Bible – yes, Jesus Christ. That leaves me wondering something else. If I stood in a group of people from all religious faiths and belief systems, would a panel of judges be able to match me up with Jesus? Or, in other words, if I were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict me? I hope so.
How about you? Whom would you look like? Would you be convicted?
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for this newspaper and a former pastor in the area. He may be reached at [email protected].