Tracey Meeks had a choice: Either she could believe God to be sovereign, good and loving -- or not.
Just 4 years into her marriage, Tracey's husband, Dave, was diagnosed with a malignant, inoperable brain tumor.
"Going through this stripped me of everything I thought I knew about God," says Tracey. "In some ways I had to start over with a lot of things. How do I pray? Do I pray 'Thy will be done'? Do I pray for healing?"
For 3 1/2 years Dave fought the tumor, which slowly robbed him of his ability to communicate and think. It eventually took his life.
The newly single mother of 2 was left to wrestle with the unanswered questions, the pain and that choice -- should she change her view of God?
Many Christians can list words that describe God: He is merciful, powerful, righteous, holy and just. But when life is tough, do we still describe God in the same ways?
Like Tracey, we have a choice to view God correctly or not. In the midst of her incredibly real pain and sorrow, Tracey worked hard to have a correct view of Him and to align her life with that view.
This is essential for us to do as well. But why is our view of God so important?
"Everything about our lives -- our attitudes, motives, desires, actions, and even our words -- is influenced by our view of God," wrote Bill Bright, founder of Cru, in God: Discover His Character. His son, Brad, helped launch DiscoverGod.com to get to know God better.
Simply put, our view of God directly influences what career we pursue, who we choose to marry or how we raise our children-the big decisions of life. Our desire to make the right choice leads us to choose based on who we understand God to be.
But our view of God also influences everything else -- our intentions, actions and opinions -- even if only subconsciously.
A.W. Tozer, writing in the early 1960s, acknowledged the pervasive importance of an accurate view of God. "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us," he wrote in The Knowledge of the Holy.
Because it affects every choice we make and everything we do, he compared a right concept of God to a foundation of a building. "Where it is inadequate or out of plumb," he wrote, "the whole structure must sooner or later collapse."
Tozer believed that, little by little, the church had surrendered a once lofty view of God for a low one.
This isn't a new problem. Even God's chosen people yielded to incorrect views of Him. After years of slavery in Egypt, God led the Israelites out of their bondage and through the parted Red Sea.
Each morning He provided manna that rained from the sky for them to eat. Yet when they couldn't find water, they doubted God as their provider: "They grumbled against Moses and said, 'Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?'" (Exodus 17:3).
Time after time God provided, but the Israelites failed to trust His goodness and provision.
This misconception can be dangerous because it leads to idolatry, or, in other words, the worship of something false. "The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is," wrote Tozer, "and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness."
When we don't view God correctly, we risk worshipping Him not as He truly is, but as whom we've created Him to be. We may not brandish a golden calf like the Israelites, but we quietly build more subtle substitutes.
God wants for you to have a correct view of Him: "Let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me" (Jeremiah 9:24). Here are a few practical suggestions for developing a correct view of God:
The first step to change is being open to change.
"God is only truly known in the soul as we yield ourselves to Him," wrote pastor and Bible teacher Arthur Pink in The Attributes of God.
On our own we can't begin to correctly view God. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you view Him correctly and to identify the lies you believe about God's character. "We must learn to measure ourselves, not by our knowledge about God, not by our gifts and responsibilities in the church, but by how we pray and what goes on in our hearts," writes theologian J.I. Packer in Knowing God.
"Some people think of [God] as a big bully, a cosmic policeman, or a divine Santa Claus," wrote Bill Bright. Often we don't realize that our views of God are skewed.
To analyze your views, make a 3-column list. First write words that come to mind when you think about God. In a second column give an example of how your life reflects each truth.
For example, do you say, "God is good" only after something great happens, or after the difficult times too? In a third column match your words to what God says about Himself in Scripture. How do the lists compare?
A word of caution: Pursuing a true view of God -- really knowing Him -- is not the same as understanding why He does or does not do something. God is very clear that His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9), so we need to fight the temptation to reduce life to cause-and-effect. Good and bad circumstances aren't exclusively to teach us lessons.
God has given us His Word as the clearest description of who He is.
In the Old Testament, God reveals His character -- His love, righteousness, wrath, justice and promises.
In the New Testament, God reveals Jesus -- His character in flesh.
In the midst of her pain, Tracey Meeks found a clear picture of God's character in Scripture. Each day after Dave's death she would search for a new verse to hold onto.
"I had just lost the person on this earth who most adored me and I thought I'd never be adored like that again," says Tracey. "But I knew that God adores me far greater than Dave ever could."
God affirmed this by leading her to several verses, including "I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness and speak kindly to her" (Hosea 2:14) and "As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you" (Isaiah 62:5).
Tracey and Dave had an older couple who encouraged them and helped them through the difficult times. "They would speak the truth of the Lord to us," says Tracey. "My friend Holly would tell me, 'Hold on to the truth, Tracey. Hold on to the truth.'"
Choosing to hold on to the truth -- aligning her thoughts to an accurate view of God -- did not change Tracey's circumstances.
But it did provide authentic hope in the midst of great despair.
God wants us to know Him. As John says in his Gospel, "Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent" (John 17:3).
We all have a choice -- to align our view of God with truth, or not. Our choice influences everything.