Your world is an ashtray
We burn and coil like cigarettes
The more you cry the ashes turn to mud
– Marilyn Manson

Ok, so Marilyn Manson’s 1996 tune “The Reflecting God” is intense. And it would be an understatement to say these lyrics project a radically different vibe than, say, Michael Buble’s slightly less desolate 2009 pop offering of “Just Haven’t Met You Yet”. Buble’s “glass half full” take on life has almost nothing in common with Mansons’ bleak “ashtray three-quarter empty” prognosis.

While these two contrasts in optimism are packaged in different genres, I have no intention of railing against either the intensity of Manson’s metal persona or the syropy slickness of Michael Buble’s crooner image. A treatise on the purposes of music and art will have to wait for another time.

(Personally, I am more of a pop guy than a metal guy, to the dismay of my 90’s self who flirted shamelessly with Van Halen, Stryper and Whitesnake. “Here I Go Again On My Own” – Anybody?)

Musical styling aside, it would appear that Manson’s perspective on life and Buble’s perspective on life give at least a hint as to their belief about the universe or God and the potential for good or evil that underlies our existence.

I bring up these two examples to raise a question that we could ask of Marilyn Manson, Michael Buble and ourselves: Does what I believe about God affect the way I present him to the world? Or to put it another way: Do my attitudes toward the people around me tip my hand and display what I truly believe God is like, even if I don’t verbalize those beliefs?

The answer, I would argue, is a resounding yes.
(This would all be so easy if we could restrict our analysis to pop or industrial metal but we can’t.)

The world can only understand the God I believe in based on the God I reflect.

The character of God is one of the central themes in the Gospels. All four gospel writers seemed intent on letting the reader know what Jesus was really like, and by extension they were proclaiming their understanding of what God was really like..

Pastor and author Brian Zahnd has summed it up like this:

“God is like Jesus.
God has always been like Jesus.
There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.
We have not always known this.
But now we do.”

God is like Jesus. If I ever get a tattoo this statement is near the top of my list. These words are both life-giving and unsettling. If God is like Jesus, then I’m not stuck, trying to piece together some semblance of god consciousness from the mists of history. The unknown “God Out There” that the Apostle Paul talked about in his Mars Hill dissertation – the distant incomprehensible deity of both ancient and modern contemplation –  is old news. We have a whole new set of ideas to work with.

If the Gospels accounts are accurate, if God actually did integrate himself into the human story, becoming a jewish carpenter in first century Israel in order to engage with his creation and show by example what God is like, well. that changes everything. We have something revolutionary to work with. Jesus ways of interacting with people  becomes a lens through which we see what God is really like.

I don’t have to wonder how God might relate to a person just like me, or different from me, opposed to my views, or dismissive of my values. I don’t have to guess how God treats his enemies. I need not wonder any longer because Jesus makes it clear. And this leads us back to the point:

I reflect the God I believe in.

If Jesus was truly the visible image of the invisible God, as the Apostle Paul says (Col. 1:15), then I don’t need a more accurate picture of the heart of God beyond what I see in the words, actions and responses of Jesus. While I can learn things from the Old Testament that inform me of the nation of Israel’s journey to discover the true Yahweh, I can’t base my future actions on deficient depictions of a wrathful, vengeful deity as is sometimes recorded in the Hebrew scriptures. To state it another way: the books in the Old Testament present an incomplete snapshot of what God is really like and I misrepresent God recklessly when I broadcast these fractured images across my life to the people around me.

Yeah, I get it. Jesus is God. I believe that. What’s the problem?

Well, if the God I actually believe in is the God I reflect to others, then it would be wise for me to consider what my “reflecting” says about my subconscious preconceptions about him.

If I allow myself to get angry at “those people” is it because, secretly, I believe God is also angry at them? And if God is angry at them, how much harm could it do if I were to cheat just a little bit, and help God out by venting or railing or accusing? I mean, it’s going to happen eventually. God is going to drop the hammer “one of these days” in an apocalyptic tantrum, might as well get a jump on the inevitable reign of shock and awe and hey… maybe we can clean this mess up before lunch.

My outward displays of anger or an attitude that defends and even exonerates my anger towards others can be justified ONLY if I believe that God would act the same way if he was in the room.

I reflect the God I believe in.

If, on the other hand, I am confident that Jesus acted in history, in each moment, in unison with the heart of the Father, doing and acting in ways he saw his father doing and acting, this changes everything. I should be eager to hear and act on the words of Jesus famous Sermon on the Mount because I consider the words glorious advice from the mouth of God to his children intent on living the truth of his arriving kingdom. What I don’t do is plaster his words all over my house in swirly font barnboard memes – and then ignore those very words.

Now you would think this would be a simple shift, once I get past my bad habit of spinning a poor reflection of God. A reflection that looks more like me than Him. And you would hope that if the God I believe in doesn’t look, talk, walk, listen, forgive, empathize, console, and confront with restoring love as exemplified perfectly in Jesus, that I would acknowledge that I had lost the plot and change course. You would think.

So, what’s holding me back? Why God, is it so hard to live this stuff? Maybe, in some strange prophetic sense, Buble got it right after all – I just haven’t met you yet.