- Sonya Leigh Anderson
What do you picture when you think about God? Or to give my question a current-day spin...
What would God’s emoji be?
I’ve always loved the quote from A. W. Tozer: What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
Whenever I share my story, which I’ve been doing more often lately in conjunction with my book launch, I tell about a transformative season during which God dealt with my pride and then “gave me what I’d been missing”—which as it turns out, started with LOVE. I was overwhelmed by a sense that God was wildly in love with me.
His gaze on me was the gaze of love.
Earlier this week I was listening to a podcast from John Mark Comer, and he and his panel were discussing Delight. Actually they were discussing Sabbath—the first in a series of “Rule of Life” practices. And they asked this question about how we imagine God—
When we picture him, do we see DELIGHT?
Do we imagine a God who radiates JOY?
Because, according to an early 20th century Swiss theologian named Karl Barth, “God’s triune being is radiant, and what he radiates is joy.”
And a more recent, but also deceased, American philosopher, Dallas Willard, said this, too. “God is the most joyful being in the universe.”
So I ask you. When you picture God, do you picture THAT?
Or is it only dead people who think such thoughts?
Tuesday afternoon I read an entire book of essays, which I’d picked up recently at the public library. It was a gorgeous autumn day, and I’d had a busy weekend, and a busy Monday. So I gave myself permission for a bit of Sabbath on a weekday afternoon. (Even though I thoroughly appreciate John Mark’s Practicing the Way, I will admit I do not perfectly practice Sabbath as a “rule of life.”) But for a few long hours of an unseasonably warm mid-October afternoon, I hung my hammock and I grabbed my stack of library books, and I rested.
I often appreciate a book of well-written essays, and the one I selected for my Tuesday rest was truly delightful for the first several chapters. It was quality writing, a satisfying mix of honest storytelling and lovely prose, exactly what I’d hoped. And then, predictably (at least in my experience with this particular genre) there came an essay in which the author gave us a glimpse of her own faith story. And it was…again predictably…a story of deconstruction. A story of a girl who grew up full of precious faith and then went to a (very conservative) Bible college and in the process found she actually despised certain portions of scripture and more than anything she despised the way certain Christians practiced their religion and today she confesses she’s not really sure what she believes.
And all of this made me rather sad.
Later, thinking about this woman’s story, and so many like hers, I couldn’t help but wonder—what would she choose for her God emoji? (And I wonder, too, about her college professors.)
John Mark (or was it Tozer?) suggested that what we think, when we think about God, tends to shape the person we become. In other words, our God emoji becomes our own emoji, too. (My words, not theirs.)
My vision of God probably tends toward the love emoji, with the three little hearts. Or the care emoji, arms wrapped around the chubby red heart like a comforting hug. But recently, I’ve begun to ask God to increase his joy in me.
Taking my cues from a few old philosopher-theologians, I close my eyes, and imagine—
Happiest eyes and ear-to-ear grin.
My God, who radiates JOY!!
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy(!) 1 Peter 1:8
God, increase my capacity for joy!