Religious scriptures, particularly in the Judeo-Christian tradition, see man shaped and created in the “image of God”. Yet, when we look at the way people tend to view or imagine the God (or Gods) they worship, we see a clear tendency to have God take on human motives and tendencies, and react in particularly human ways.
The Gods of ancient Greece had favorites, carried on love affairs, fought wars and expressed anger, jealousy and hatred on a regular basis. Of course, they also had occasion to express their positive powers of intelligence, beneficence and a sense of justice in their dealings.
God in the Old Testament encouraged and supported his “chosen people” to fight wars and destroy people and societies that worshipped other Gods. The history of Christianity is riddled with instances of God being called upon to defend the faithful and destroy the “heretics” or “heathens”, and a victory in warfare was seen as a validation of God’s Will and the justness of the cause.
This anthropomorphic view of God is not limited to the religions of the West; rather it is a general human tendency to externalize God and give God human qualities and make him approachable.
When people view God in this light, they believe that through prayer, praise and worship they can influence God to intervene on their part. Sri Aurobindo explains: “…worship is then a means of propitiation by gifts and a supplication by prayer. He gets God on his side by praying to him and flattering him. With a more advanced mentality, he conceives of the action of life as reposing on a certain principle of divine justice, which he reads always according to his own ideas and character, as a sort of enlarged copy of his human justice; he conceives the idea of moral good and evil and looks upon suffering and calamity and all things unpleasant as a punishment for his sins and upon happiness and good fortune and all things pleasant as a reward of his virtue. God appears to him as a king, judge, legislator, executor of justice. But still regarding him as a sort of magnified Man, he imagines that as his own justice can be deflected by prayers and propitiation, so the divine justice can also be deflected by the same means. Justice is to him reward and punishment, and the justice of punishment can be modified by mercy to the suppliant, while rewards can be supplemented by special favours and kindness such as Power when pleased can always bestow on its adherents and worshippers. Moreover God like ourselves is capable of wrath and revenge, and wrath and revenge can be turned by gifts and supplication and atonement; he is capable too of partiality, and his partiality can be attracted by gifts, by prayer and by praise. Therefore instead of relying solely on the observation of the moral law, worship as prayer and propitiation is still continued.”
This represents early stages in the evolution of devotion and as the process continues, another understanding begins to replace or at least refine this view.
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 2, The Motives of Devotion, pg. 530