How to Develop a Healthy Internal Picture of God

Human brain. A healthy internal picture of God requires ALL of your brain.

What do you imagine when you think of God? I don’t mean the facts you intellectually know about Him, but what your internal “system” senses and believes. Your internal picture of God matters more than many people realize.

Human brains “know” things in at least two different ways. Your left brain knows what time it is, while your right brain “feels” it’s too early in the morning to get up. Your left brain can see the caller ID on your phone, but your right brain would instantly recognize your spouse or best friend the moment you heard their voice even without caller ID.

Knowing things about God with your left brain is important. Without that, your understanding gets downright wonky. But it also matters deeply what you feel about Him, what your right brain “knows” and “senses.” Our faith cannot be based on feelings! But you can’t have a relationship with Someone your right brain dislikes or is afraid of.

Consider your internal picture of God, what both your left brain and your right brain know about Him.

Knowing God with Your Left Brain

We learn truths about God from reading the Bible and from others who have walked with Him. Is the God you imagine truly the God of the Bible?

The God we worship is the One who has always been there from eternity past and will always be there for eternity future. He’s the One who spoke the universe into existence with His words, and yet who thought so much of humankind that He kneeled in the mud to form Adam with His own hands and breathe His own life into him (Genesis 1, 2).

He’s the God who holds all the atoms together with what some scientists call “cosmic glue” (see Colossians 1:17), and who also holds the trillions of galaxies with their countless blazing suns in His hand. Go outside some night and gaze at the stars. Watch under a microscope the life teaming in a drop of pond water. That’s all His doing.

And in human affairs, He’s the One who caused the top of Mount Sinai to smoke, who backed up the Jordan River for His people to cross, and who filled Solomon’s temple with His glory so thickly that the priests couldn’t enter for a time. He walked with the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace and spoke with Elijah in the still small voice.

And then He did the unthinkable. This God we worship left His throne and entered Mary’s body as a human embryo. He lived among us as a man, getting dirty, shedding tears, bleeding real human blood. And while here He healed the lame, made the blind to see, raised the dead, and healed human hearts ravaged by evil and sin.

And then He died. But He lived again! Now He lives in you through His Holy Spirit, and will soon return to make everything right. This is our God.

Knowing God with Your Right Brain

Wonderful! But what does that really mean for you? When you’re frustrated about your job, struggling in your marriage, worried about paying the bills, or filled with internal shame or pain, it’s not left brain “truths” that seem most present. It’s your right brain “sense” of God that looms largest.

What feelings come up when you imagine God? Does it feel like He’s largely out to “get” you, looking for you to mess up? Is He perhaps “nice” enough but far away and not very involved? Perhaps He’s unreliable; you never know whether He’ll really come through for you or not, so you better grasp what life you can from whatever limited sources seem available.

Where do you imagine God to be when you pray? Is He up in heaven, managing the inconceivably vast universe so you’ve got to yell loud enough or grovel deeply enough for Him to notice? Maybe you imagine Him somewhere in your town or neighborhood. You feel as the girl did who wrote to me recently; “God was certainly there, but He wasn’t with me.”

Our ambivalence about coming close to God, about staying with Him, is often explained by our less-than-good internal sense of Him. Your right brain is mostly master over your left brain. You can’t have a secure attachment to God if you’re afraid of Him. It may be very enlightening to explore your emotional sense about God.

Knowing God with ALL Your Brain

When asked about the greatest commandment Jesus answered, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). We too often make that an intellectual exercise, trying to do the right things. But Jesus said “love.” The only way you can truly love God that way is to love Him with all your brain. Left and right.

Ouch! Most of us are divided. Your left brain tries to drive the bus while your right brain is shrinking back in fear or shame. An accurate picture of the “double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). What do we do?

We must find ways to bring our whole selves to relationship with God. This does not mean turning off your left brain, but it does mean bringing your right brain to the party. A few words on what can help you do that.

  1. Embrace story. Neurobiologically story brings your right and left brain together in powerful ways. Read a portion of the Bible and then pause. Imagine yourself in the story. Be there as Jesus walks on water; “Don’t be afraid.” Reach out and touch the risen Christ with the disciples when Jesus appears to them. And invite Jesus into the traumatic stories of your memory, to be with you there.
  2. Get honest with God. He already knows you’re angry with Him, or anxious, or forgetful, so don’t try to hide. Imagine Jesus being in the room with you. What would you say to Him if you could physically see Him? You might write that in a journal. Find a Psalm that expresses how you feel and use that as a starting point for your prayer. Let your true emotions come out in God’s presence.
  3. Keep showing up. You get to know your friend by spending time together. It’s the same with God. Five minutes a day is a start, but don’t stop there. Ask Him to show you who He truly is. Keep coming back into His presence both in worship with other believers and in your quiet moments alone with Him. Listen for His voice. And keep doing it over and over again.

Your internal picture of God matters. You can grow here, and it’s worth the investment.

Your turn: What is your internal picture of God? More than what you intellectually “know” about Him, what do you “feel” about Him?  Leave a comment below.

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