An old man in the sky with a beard? A sort of electric force? A statue with a lot of arms? A cow? We all see God in our different ways, and what else could you expect?
I was having lunch with the boss of the local radio station. "To my mind, the statement 'God is love' totally sums up the Christian religion," he said, "as long as we love each other we'll all go to heaven."
"Do you love pedophiles?" I asked.
"Be reasonable," he replied.
His idea of love was mere soppiness, a warm cuddly feeling that he felt for his mother and his girlfriend.
Another acquaintance asked me whether Christians believed in reincarnation. Others have told me that Jesus has usurped control of the universe from the Old Testament God of wrath and justice. How are we to know anything about God? There are only two ways; we can either guess or God could reveal himself to us.
You could make an educated guess. That's what philosophers do. Some think that Plato got quite close to the real thing by his educated guess, though others, including myself, would not want to trust Plato's ideas with their lives.
In 1 Peter 1:10-12 the apostle lets us into the secret of exactly how he knows about the salvation of our souls. In a word it is by revelation (v 12).
First it was the prophets (v 10) who revealed the truth. We are apt to think of the prophets as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the rest, but of course there are prophets in the books of Law, the history books and the books of wisdom literature. When Jesus is talking to the two on the road to Emmaus he explained to them what was written about him in Scripture beginning with Moses and all the prophets. Some of the most important prophesies are from the Psalms (eg Ps 22). We are given a hint here of how the prophets came by their information. They certainly searched with the greatest of care (v 10), but it was the Spirit of Christ within them (ie the Holy Spirit) that was doing the pointing and the predicting (v 11).
Here we have a universal explanation of the inspiration of Scripture. The writing was done by the individual authors: Moses, Samuel, Isaiah and the rest, but the Bible is the Word of God. How can it be both? Because the Spirit is within (predicting and pointing) but the writer is still searching for the right words with the greatest of care.
It is not clear that the prophets knew exactly the significance of what they were writing. However, they did know that they were writing for us, not just for themselves (v 12).
What the prophets were writing about was made clear when the gospel was preached (v 12). The preaching of the gospel was also the work of the Holy Spirit (v 12). So we have it: both the Old and New Testaments written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit.
What else can we need. If you want to know about God go to the book written by God. Both are about Christ who is the image of the invisible God. Begin with Jesus; read the Old Testament through Jesus shaped spectacles.
It is important not to add anything. The Apocrypha is not the inspired word of God. Sure there are some fine things in it, but there are fine things in Charles Dickens - neither is Holy Writ. Don't rely on the Magisterium. The Church Fathers and Popes from Gregory the Great to Rick Warren are just men. Weigh what they say in the light of Scripture.
It is important not to take anything away. A group of Jesus scholars are trying to find the real Jesus. They have been through Mark's gospel and tried to determine which of the sayings are the true sayings of Jesus. Only one story remains after their butchering - the parable of the mustard seed. And only 76% of them agree on that!
However, I do not stress these points to embarrass Catholics or liberals. Evangelicals often add to Scripture. You've heard about the pastor who was disciplined by his Elders for taking the youth group to the swimming pool? Mixed bathing! Or the Preaching Elder who was carpeted for skating across the loch to get to the kirk when the roads had been made impassable by snow. After hearing his defence the other Elders said, "Weeell, as long as ye didna enjoy the skating."
We are apt to take away also. There are passages that we avoid preaching on (I have only ever heard one sermon on Ezekiel). Sadly many churches prefer to sing songs rather than listen to sermons. Eighty minute 'worship' services with five minute homilies have become increasingly common.
The Quakers used to talk of Scripture as 'the outer light'. Sadly, they have come to prefer 'the inner light' which they take to mean the Holy Spirit within yet is often personal whim or prejudice. The Bible instructs us to test the spirit. He can only be tested against Scripture.
What a privilege it is to have the word of God in our hands. WE no longer have to guess.