"I want God, not my idea of God."

A classic C.S. Lewis quote recently showed up in my newsfeed on Facebook. The quote was, "I want God, not my idea of God." Initially I thought nothing of it. I liked it. But then I realized how thought provoking the quote really is... I wondered if it actually had any meaning. After all, almost anyone from any side of the spectrum could "like" this quote and if two people from opposing theological and social perspectives could both like the same quote for completely different reasons, does the quote actually mean anything? I like it because it challenges someone else's distorted idea of God, but someone else might like it because it challenges my idea of God, which they see as distorted as well. It validates everyone. So who's right? The quote doesn't help us there. But precisely on this point I realize how debilitating this quote actually is.

"I want God, not my idea of God."

The truth is, to say this quote and actually mean it requires an inhuman degree of humility. We like our ideas of God. We can parse those, explain those (even if we simultaneously say they're unexplainable), we can make our own decisions based on those ideas. We can have ideas. In fact, our idea of God is all we really have at all. So to distinguish who God is from our idea of God is essentially to lose God.

To say, "I want God, not my idea of God," is to give up... to give up control, to give up understanding, to give up on our own action and become utterly helpless and utterly Godless. But it is precisely in this place of surrender and Godforsakenness that God comes to meet us. It is only when we give up on the only thing we have and rely solely on that which we cannot grasp, explain, exploit, or control that we encounter the God who is utterly free and perfectly present.

So it's ironic that my first inclination, and perhaps many others' inclination, to read this quote—"I want God, not my idea of God"—as validation. It is, in fact, the opposite. Since all we really have is our idea of God, it dismantles us and debilitates us from whatever attempts we might make to lay claim on God, even our claims to faith. It makes us utterly dependent, mere recipients with no power to receive but the power given to us.  It mocks our claims to power and confidence. It celebrates the God who shows up when all our ideas fail. It celebrates what we dare not celebrate; our loss of the only God we know—the trading of the God we know for the God who is real, the trading of the God of confidence for the God of the cross, the death of the God we can use and argue
and the discovery of the God who gives Godself to everyone (even our enemies).

Such a quote can only be said, and meant, in fear and trembling. I bet that C.S. Lewis had a pretty good idea of the weight of this statement. I bet he said it fearfully. May I say the same for us.


Interesting. I've always hated that quote because it scared me. All any of us "have" is our own idea of God. Lewis is asking us to give that up for an unknown, and unknowns are usually scary (at least for me). However, God is completely unknowable for us, because if He is known, He becomes our own idea. Lewis is telling us to let go and fall into the unknown with faith. That's a tall order.