‘What does God look like?’Published 11:00pm Friday, December 21, 2012
The questions never came with a warning.
When my children were little, the questions came, most often, at bedtime, at the end of an exhausting day, when you’d bathed and brushed; read three storybooks; said prayers; kissed faces and panda bears good night; fetched that last glass of water; and tucked little feet in tight.
But nearly a dozen years later, those questions resonate, the memory of the query as sharp and fresh as if it were asked just yesterday.
“Mommy, what does God look like?”
As the 3-and-a-half-year-old’s question broke the silence that night, I sat quietly, searching for the right answer to what was surely one of those pivotal parenting moments.
“Well, uh …” I said, stalling. “What do you think He looks like?”
“I always thought he looked like space – you know, all of outer space,” the sensible 7-year-old said. “Isn’t that right? Isn’t God all of space?”
“You could say that,” I answered slowly.
“Well how big is God, then?” the preschooler asked as he sat up in bed and stretched his arms wide. “Is He this big, or bigger?”
Much, much bigger, of course, I answered. “As big as all of outer space.”
“Oh,” he said, obviously puzzled. “But what about the man at church … the one who talks and does stuff. Is he God?”
Not exactly, I said smiling. “You could sort of say he works for God …”
“You mean God’s his boss?”
“God’s the boss of everything,” the big brother answered with that frustrated tone. “Don’t
you know anything? He’s the boss of the whole universe …”
And, cupping his hand over his mouth, the self-assured big brother looked at me and shook his head at his little brother. “He just doesn’t know anything, does he? He’s not even ready for first grade. I mean, he doesn’t even know that God is the boss of everything.”
As he flopped back onto his bed, I waited for the silence to be broken again.
“But, Mommy, what does God look like?” came the question again.
Does He look like the stars and outer space? Or the man at church?
What about the homeless man we saw on the street one day?
Does He look like the sun, or the moon, or even the rain clouds? Does He look like me? Or you? Does He drive a firetruck?
And, just as the questions never came with a warning, they never came with an easy answer.
How do you open a young, literal mind so it can grasp the intangibles – from love to faith to the theology of knowing that the face of God is in every person you meet? For that matter, how do you open adult minds to those principles … when so many minds are closed to new ideas, to love, to faith?
How do you tell him what God looks like?
Perhaps it starts with a simple image: a humble baby, lying in a manger. And knowing that He is God.
Stacy Graning is publisher of The Messenger.