Researchers at the University of North Carolina recently surveyed 511 devout American Christians and asked them this question: What does God look like? The surprising results suggest the true face of God is not the bearded old man envisioned in Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel. Instead, and maybe not so surprising, most people tend to believe in a god that looks like them.
For example, most of the respondents in the survey believe God looks like a young, white male. Imagine that. However, researchers discovered slight differences among various demographics. Younger people chose younger faces and attractive people chose attractive faces. Political conservatives pictured the face of God with strong, powerful characteristics while political liberals chose softer and tolerant facial expressions. Americans of African decent pictured God with a dark-skinned face. There were no differences among genders.
In the end, researchers found that people envision a god that best suits their own needs and biases when asked the question, “What does God look like?" Why does that not surprise us?
Chasing after an answer to this question leads us down a slippery slope that ends in idolatry. The Second Commandment prohibits the worshipping of God through idols and images (Exodus 20:4-7). Idolatry begins with an image of God we fashion in our minds that is inconsistent with the way He has revealed Himself (Romans 1:21). Besides, the question is a straw man. God is spirit and, thus, does not have a physical body (John 4:24). Of course, at Christmas we celebrate the incarnation when God took on human form in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:14; Philippians 2:5-11).
Does anybody really know what God looks like, let alone what He is like as a person? And why does it matter? In The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer says: "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us."
The God of the Bible is more than the sum total of His revealed attributes, but the qualities of His character do represent the starting point in knowing God personally and worshipping Him authentically.