What’s God like?
19 Biblical images of God
Some things are invisible like the wind, electricity, gravity, atoms, gas, electromagnetic fields (such as X-rays, infrared, microwaves, and radio waves). We can’t see them, but we use many of them every day (such as the radio waves used by cell phones). God is also invisible (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17).
Today we will see that multiple images are required to show us what God’s like.
Does God exist?
But some people think that God doesn’t exist. That He’s as real as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. They don’t believe the first verse of the Bible that says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1NIV). Instead they think that science has explained what used to be attributed to God.
But science can’t explain the origin of matter and energy. How something came from nothing. The ideas of the big bang and evolution can’t explain it. And it’s outside the laws of science. Also the origin of life is a mystery to science, they can’t create it in the laboratory without using cells from living creatures.
I think that God exists because something like us and the universe exists. God is the ultimate cause of the effects that we see around us. No one has come up with a better explanation yet. And God never attempts to prove His existence because, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Ps. 19:1).
The big picture
We’ll begin with some general aspects of God. As a creator is always greater than their creations, God is greater than us. More powerful and more intelligent.
The Bible says that there are three aspects of God: Father, Son and Spirit. That’s where the word “Trinity” comes from. Today we are looking at God the Father.
God doesn’t have a body like us, He’s a spirit. The Bible says “God is spirit” (Jn. 4:24). That’s why:
– God is invisible.
– God’s not limited in space and time like the physical world.
– We rely on God’s revelation in Scripture to learn about the spirit world.
– God doesn’t have a gender. God isn’t male or female, although we generally speak of God using male pronouns. Also when the Bible mentions God’s hand, ear, eyes and mouth, it’s a figure of speech (Dt. 33:27; 2 Chron. 16:9; Isa. 59:1; Mt. 4:4;). We will see that the Bible uses lots of figures of speech to describe God. That’s one way of describing someone who is invisible.
Note that I write “someone” and not “something”. God isn’t a force or a principle. God is a person. A person has “personality”, a “soul” (Hebrew and Greek). They have a mind, emotions and a will. God has these (Ps. 78:41; 139:17; 1 Cor. 1:1). They are able to think about what they are doing (unlike animals and machines). They have relationships with other persons. Although the three “persons” of the godhead are united in the one being, they also relate to one another. They are divine persons.
How can we know what God is like if He’s invisible? The best way is to look at what the Bible says about God because it’s a message from Him. It uses at least four kind of words to describe God: names, adjectives, verbs and metaphors.
– Names are titles.
– Adjectives are words that describe nouns or pronouns.
– Verbs are words that describe actions.
– Metaphors are figures of speech which compare two unrelated things. Like, “You’re an angel”, “Don’t be a pig”, “It wasn’t long before their relationship turned sour”.
Today we’re looking at images of God in the Bible. These are mainly metaphors because the Bible teems with metaphors.
Metaphors as images of God
These are powerful images which help to show who God is and what our relationship with God can be like. First; God is likened to certain people.
God’s like a father. A kind and loving father. A father was the head of the household. He protected and provided for the needs of the family. And his sons inherited his wealth.
God the Father is the supreme sovereign of the universe because He created it (Eph. 4:6). The Israelites called Him Father because He created their nation (Dt. 32:5-6; Isa. 64:7-8; Mal. 2:10) and He continued to sustain them (Jer. 3:19; 31:9) and protect them (Isa. 63:16). They were like His children.
In God’s covenant with David, God said “I will be his (Solomon’s) father, and he will be my son” (2 Sam. 7:14; 1 Chron. 17:13; 22:10). Later this verse was applied to Christ (Heb. 1:5). So the father-son relationship is a metaphor for both the relationship between God and His people, and God the Father and Jesus Christ.
As a father interacts with his children, God interacts with us. We can communicate with Him through prayer. Jesus told His disciples to pray “Father, hallowed be your name” ( Luke 11:2). In the parable of the lost son, God is like the father who welcomed his son back after he had wasted his inheritance (Lk. 15:11-32).
For Paul this fatherhood is based on the salvation He has made available in Jesus Christ. This is why Paul refers to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; 11:31). It’s through the work of Christ that God invites us to call him “Father”. And through Christ grace and peace have resulted and we have become God’s children with an inheritance (Rom. 8:12-17; 1 Pt. 1:3-4; 1 Jn. 3:1).
This metaphor, Father, is used so often that it’s a title of God. It’s appropriately masculine because God has given husbands authority in the family and elders authority in the church.
If God is like our father, then we are like God’s children. Like His sons, an inheritance awaits us. This image reminds us of God’s provision for us.
God’s also like a mother. A mother brings infants into the world and cares for them. Young children spend most of their time with their mother and feel secure with her.
God “gave birth” to the Israelites when he created their nation (Dt 32:18). He cared for them like a mother eagle cared for its young (Dt. 32:11-12). His love and care can be compared to that of a concerned, caring and comforting mother (Ps. 131:2; Isa. 49:14-16; 66:13).
If God is like our mother, then we are like God’s children. As His children, we can be secure. This image reminds us of God’s care and love for us.
God’s like a lord or master. A lord or master had power and authority over servants, slaves, or property.
God’s rule and authority rests ultimately upon His creation and ownership of all things and all people. David said:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for He founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters” (Ps. 24:1-2)
God is the owner and governor of the whole earth (Ps. 97:5; 114:7; Isa. 1:24; Mt. 1:22; Mk. 5:19; Acts 7:33). That means He has authority over people whether they realize it or not. The psalmist uses “Lord” to honor God and express thanksgiving (Ps. 16:2; 57:9-10).
This metaphor is also used as a title of God in the both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Hebrew noun Adonai (Strongs #136) applies to someone of higher rank in society (Gen. 18:12). The master rules the servant and the servant submits to the master. The Greek noun kurios (#2962) means master (Mt. 1:20; 7:21; 18:27). It signifies power, authority, and ownership.
What’s the modern equivalent of “lord”? Sir? Master? Manager? Ruler? Captain? Commander? Chief? Leader? Boss?
If God is like our boss, then it’s like we’re under God’s rule. This image reminds us of God’s leadership and management.
God’s like a bridegroom and husband. A bridegroom loves and cares for his bride. They belong together.
The relationship between God and Israel is likened to that between a bridegroom and a bride (Isa. 54:5). Israel belonged to God. But Israel and Judah were unfaithful. This is illustrated by the unfaithfulness of Hosea’s wife.
The equivalent New Testament metaphor is that the church is the bride of Christ. Christians belong to Christ, like a bride belongs to her husband.
If Jesus is like our bridegroom, then we are like His bride. We belong together. This image reminds us of God’s love for us.
God’s also like a king. In ancient times, a king ruled a city or nation. A king has authority over all others. They have ultimate authority. In democratic countries like ours it’s difficult to imagine a king with absolute power and where there is no avenue for appeal.
God’s covenant with Moses was like a Suzerain-Vassal treaty. God was the Suzerain, the great king who promises to be Israel’s King and Protector. The ark of the covenant was His throne and the tabernacle/temple was His palace.
God was like Israel’s king (Ps. 5:2; 74:12; 95:3; 98:6; 145:1; Jer.10:10; Zeph. 3:15). He said, “I am the Lord, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King” (Isa. 43:15).
He is also like a king over all creation (Ps. 29:10; 47:2, 6-8; Zech. 14:9; Rev. 15:3; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:15-16). “For God is the King of all the earth” (Ps. 47:7).
In the gospels, Jesus only once (Mt. 5:35) explicitly called God king and in the parables (Mt. 18:23; 22:2, 7, 11 13) He only indirectly calls God king. In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Mt. 18:21-35), God is like the king who cancelled the servant’s debt. In the parable of the wedding banquet, God is like the king who invites people to his son’s wedding (Mt. 22:1-14). This shows God’s mercy and grace.
If God is like our king, we are like the subjects of His kingdom. This image reminds us of God’s authority and power. Eventually, God will defeat all opposing powers to bring justice and peace.
God’s like a judge. A judge assesses the guilt of the accused and determines the penalty if they are guilty.
Abraham called God “the Judge of all” (Gen. 18:25). And David said, “God is a righteous judge” (Ps. 7:11). God was Israel’s Lawgiver and Judge (Isa. 33:22). Peter said that God “judges each person’s work impartially” (1 Pt. 1:17).
There’s good news and bad news. At the exodus, the Israelites were rescued, but the Egyptians were judged. In future, Christians will be rewarded at the judgement seat of Christ for their obedience and service (1 Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). This is because Jesus has already paid the penalty for their sinfulness. But, unbelievers will be judged and sentenced as guilty at the great white throne “according to what they had done” (Rev. 20:11-15). Meanwhile God is patiently waiting for people to repent and turn to follow Him because He doesn’t want anyone to face this judgment (2 Pt. 3:7-10).
If God is like a judge, then we are like the accused. Because Jesus paid our penalty, this image reminds us of God’s love for us.
God’s also like a warrior. A warrior defends and protects against enemies.
After the exodus, the Israelites sang “The Lord is a warrior” (Ex. 15:3). David often pictured God as a warrior who delivered him from his enemies (Ps. 18:13-14). Nehemiah said, “Our God will fight for us!” (Neh. 4:20). God also defends the weak (Dt. 10:18; Ps. 10:14; 68:5-6; 146:7-9; 147:6). He is “the Mighty Warrior who saves” (Zeph. 3:17).
One of God’s titles is “Almighty” (Gen. 17:1; Rev. 21:22). This means He is all powerful (omnipotent).
Satan is our greatest enemy. But Jesus was God’s means of defeating Satan. And Jesus is also described as a warrior (Rev. 19:11-21).
If God is like a warrior, then we are like those needing deliverance from Satan. This image reminds us of God’s power to defend and protect.
God’s like a potter. A potter makes pottery out of clay. The pottery displays the potter’s creative skill. They make a work of art from a lump of clay. Isaiah said,
“you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand” (Isa. 64:8)
The potter can do what they want with the clay. For example, Jeremiah said that the fate of Judah was up to God, like the fate of the clay is in the potter’s hands (Jer. 18:1-10). As the clay doesn’t question the potter, we shouldn’t question God (Isa. 29:16; 45:9; Rom. 9:21). As the clay is at the mercy of the potter, we also rely of God’s mercy.
If God is like a potter, then we are like the clay. This image reminds us of God’s creativity and sovereignty.
God’s also like a shepherd. A shepherd cares for sheep.
In Old Testament times God chose a nation of people, the Israelites, to follow and obey Him. The picture that’s used is of God being their shepherd; “Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock” (Ps. 80:1; Jer:31:10). He would lead them and care for them and they were to follow where He led. The imagery of a shepherd and his flock provided a picture of the way God cared for His people
David said, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Ps. 23:1). The shepherd sustains and guides the sheep (Ps. 23:1-4; 28:9). Ezekiel contrasts selfish leaders (Ezek. 34:1-10) and God’s leadership (Ezek. 34:11-16). Isaiah described God’s deliverance of the Jews from exile as:
“He tends His flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in His arms
and carries them close to His heart;
He gently leads those that have young” (Isa. 40:11).
If God is like a shepherd, then we are like the sheep. This image reminds us of God’s loving leadership.
God’s like a gardener. A gardener cares for plants.
In the Old Testament, Israel is pictured as God’s vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7). A failed grape harvest was a symbol of Israel’s disobedience, rebellion and idolatry. In the New Testament, Jesus is pictured as the true vine, believers are the branches and God the Father is the gardener (Jn. 15:1-8). God prunes us to be more fruitful.
If God is like a gardener, then we are like the branches of a plant. This image reminds us of God’s loving care.
Second; God is likened to some animals.
God’s like a lion. A lion is a predator that rules the land.
God’s judgement of Israel and Judah (Hos. 5:14; 13:7-8) and ungodly nations (Jer. 25:37-38; 49:19; 50:44) is likened to the devastation caused by a lion.
If God is like a lion, then His judgment should be feared. This image reminds us of God’s punishment of sin.
God’s like an eagle. An eagle is a majestic bird that rules the sky.
After the exodus, God helped the Israelites like an eagle helps its young to fly (Dt. 32:11). God is like an eagle, He covers us, shelters us (Ps. 36:7, 63:7, 91:3-4) and hides us (Ps. 17:8).
The Psalmist wrote, “Surely He (God) will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge” (Ps. 91:3-4).
If God is like an eagle, then he can provide refuge. This image reminds us of God’s protection.
Third; God is likened to some inanimate things.
God’s like a light: “God is light; in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5). Light is the opposite of darkness. In the Bible, light symbolizes purity and goodness, and darkness signifies evil and sin. So God is pure, righteous and holy.
Psalm 119 says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Ps. 119:105). Light reveals things. It shows us what’s ahead. It this case the Bible shows God’s truth.
David said, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:1). Here “light” is associated with deliverance from one’s enemies.
God will be the “everlasting light” in the new Jerusalem (Isa. 60:19-20). He will be the source of all truth and righteousness.
If God is like a light, then He can show us the truth and the way to go. This image also reminds us of God’s holiness.
Rock, fortress, stronghold, refuge and shield
God’s also like a rock, fortress, stronghold, refuge and shield. These are used for protection against enemies.
Ancient cities and fortresses were often built on rocky hills. David hid in these areas to avoid his enemies. When he praised God for deliverance from his enemies, David said, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Ps. 18:2).
This image is associated with safety and security (Dt. 32:4, 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 22:2, 32, 47; Ps. 18:2; 31:3; 62:2; 71:3; 78:35; Isa. 17:10). A more direct metaphor is to say that God is like a refuge: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Dt. 33:27; Ps. 46:1).
If God is like a rock, then he can provide a safe refuge. This image reminds us of God’s protection.
God’s like a fire. A fire burns and consumes whatever is combustible.
When the Israelites were warned against idolatry, they were told “the Lord your God is a consuming fire” (Dt. 4:24). This shows God’s righteous anger against the sin of unfaithfulness and disobedience. The same imagery is used to express how God will destroy the Canaanites because of their wickedness (Dt. 9:3). The consuming fire is a symbol of God’s judgement of sin (Isa. 29:6; 30:27, 30; 33:14). Today God is like a consuming fire to all who refuse to listen to Him and is to be worshipped with reverence and awe (Heb. 12:29).
Ezekiel had an image of God as a man full of fire surrounded by brilliant light (Ezek. 1:26-28). God’s presence is often symbolically revealed in the form of fire and light (Ex. 13:21; 19:18; 4:17; 40:34, 38; Isa. 66:15). They are symbols of God’s holiness, which can’t tolerate any sin.
If God is like a fire, then His awesome holiness means that He will judge everything that is contrary to this holiness. This image reminds us of God’s judgement of sin.
God’s like a tree. A tree has flowers and fruit.
God told Israel that “your fruitfulness comes from me”, because He was “like a flourishing juniper tree” (Hos. 14:8). This tree is evergreen, its leaves don’t fall off in winter. Its fruit is a pine cone that’s the source of nuts. As the tree provides the nuts, so God is the source of Israel’s blessings.
If God is like a tree, then Israel was like His fruit. This image reminds us that God sustains His people.
Fourth; God is likened to certain attributes.
Beginning and the end
God’s like the beginning and the end, which is symbolized by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega (Rev. 21:6). As Creator of the universe, He was there when it began. As God will also be there at the end, He rules over all human history.
If God is like the beginning and the end, then He is always present. This image reminds us that God is eternal.
God’s loving (1 Jn. 4:8, 16). In particular, He loves His people (Dt. 7:8, 13).
This kind of love is described as, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).
It means that God doesn’t force Himself on anyone. Instead, He has shown His love in this way, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son (Jesus), that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (Jn. 3:16-17).
If God is loving, then people are the objects of His love. This image reminds us that Jesus was God’s love gift to us. Have you accepted God’s gift? This kind of love drives out fear of judgment (1 Jn. 4:18).
God’s a savior. A savior saves someone, like a lifeguard (or lifesaver) rescues people in danger of drowning.
Because David was often saved from his enemies, he wrote “Our God is a God who saves” (Ps. 68:20). God sees and watches all of us (Ps. 33:13-14). Savior is used so much in the Bible that it is often used as a title of Jesus Christ.
If God is a savior, then people are the ones He rescues. This image reminds us that God sent Jesus to rescue us from the judgment we deserve for our sinfulness. Have you been rescued yet?
God’s also like an eyelid, a builder, physician and teacher (Dt. 32:10; Ps. 103:3; 119:33; 147:2; Isa. 28:26).
We have looked at several images of God from the Bible. Different images highlight different characteristics of God. If God was on Facebook, He could choose between these profile pictures because He:
Provides like a father
Cares and loves like a mother
Manages like a boss
Loves like a bridegroom
Reigns like a king
Sentences like a judge
Defends and protects like a warrior
Creates like a potter
Leads like a shepherd
Prunes like a gardener
Punishes like a lion
Illuminates and is pure and holy like a light
Protects like an eagle and a rock
Judges sin like a fire
Sustains his people, like a tree provides fruit
Saves like a lifeguard (lifesaver)
Is always there
So God can meet all our needs. In response, do we:
Live like a child of God?
Feel secure in God’s love?
Follow God’s instructions?
Have a close relationship with God?
Respect God’s reign?
Realize that Jesus paid our sentence?
Realize that Satan is defeated?
Acknowledge that God made us?
Follow God’s leading and guidance?
Accept God’s discipline?
Fear God’s punishment?
Feel safe in God’s salvation?
Recognize God’s sustenance?
Realize God’s presence?
So multiple images are required to show us what God is like. But I’ve left the best image till last. Paul wrote, “The Son (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). He’s “the exact representation of His (God’s) being” (Heb. 1:3). And Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). So Jesus is the best image of God.
Written, February 2016
Also see: What’s Jesus like?
What’s the Holy Spirit like
February 22, 2016 | Categories: Christian, God and Jesus, Spiritual | Tags: attribute, bible, figure of speech, image, invisible, metaphor, personal, Scripture, spirit | Leave a comment