It’s a phenomenon newcomer – screen/non-screen persons. When communicating exclusively via screen, in our minds we ‘create’ these on-screen images as flesh and blood individuals. After weeks/months/years of these gatherings, that image is clear (to us), though unconsciously so. When the occasion presents itself, and we meet them in person for the first time, it can be disconcerting. We are suddenly obliged go through a series of steps in order to un-see the ‘them’ we’ve imagined and then to re-see them as they truly are. They are often initially unrecognizable – too tall, too short, too large, too small, wrong voice, etc. It turns out that what the screen fails to do is present the myriad physical nuances of the real person.
Another, less contemporary situation, is hearing, for a long time, about someone from a friend or relative. Lacking a picture sets our creativity in motion and we mentally round out the descriptions with our ‘version’ of how they’ll look, how they’ll sound, how they’ll interact with us. That’s the source of awkwardness at meeting, because both persons are experiencing a measure of that ‘I didn’t think you would look like that.’ Or, if you are a reader, and have some favorite authors, you automatically visualize all the characters to whom he/she introduces you. You may even have imagined how their voice sounds. Then, if the book is made into a movie, and the characters are ‘off’ (not as you ‘saw’ them during your reading) it is difficult to get over the glaring error made by the directors and then settle in to enjoy the movie.
None of us has seen God but we most surely have an image of Him in our heads, in our hearts, one we would probably have difficulty expressing in words. That image is always a composite of a wide array of people and input and experiences both good and bad from our earliest days to the present. For most of us, our image of God is a conglomeration of Scripture verses and stories, sermons, Sunday School lessons, parents, family, community, school. Bible language, when it talks of kings and rulers and thrones and prophets, etc. evokes a foreign, fairy-tale-like picture, unrelated to our present-day reality. Words like splendor and majesty and glory and worship and praise are a reach for contemporary followers of Jesus. But it is vitally important that we be continually forming a growing and more accurate picture of this One Who has offered us, at no cost to us, the gift of eternal life (if there are no shivers down our spines at seeing those words in print, we are probably asleep at the wheel). It’s an important striving because living in this world, we are in constant and dire need of being able to receive all aspects of our salvation, to appropriate all gifts, to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, to hear and accept Jesus’ invitations to come boldly to his throne of grace. Otherwise, laboring under an inferior image of our Savior we might, in a tragic case of mistaken identity, end up listening to the diabolically sweet purrings of the wrong voice. PD