The Jealousy of God; More Landon Snow

I suppose it is a little deceptive to say “more Landon Snow” because, apart from pointing out that the CFBA blog tour for R. K. Mortenson’s Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum (Barbour) continues through Friday, I really only wanted to give you a view of Landon’s progenitor. Literally.

rk mortenson

R. K., known as Randy, has undergone a number of changes in his life recently. Formerly a Navy chaplain, he left the service and took a pastorate, which also meant he moved from Florida to … North Dakota. Oh, and one other change. He and his wife, who already have two adoptive children, are expecting a baby boy in January. You can read more about Randy and his family in a great interview at Mom 2 Mom Connection.

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The jealousy of God. I wanted to take a look at this attribute because I think it is one our American culture finds particularly hard. After all, we understand God as loving, merciful, kind, even just and holy. But jealous? Isn’t that born out of selfishness, out of envy?

Because we are unsure of how sinless God has an attribute we associate with sin, we mostly don’t talk about it. At least that’s what I assume. I mean, what were the last five sermons you heard on the subject? Or the last five that even referenced the trait as part of God’s nature?

Me either. Except I did hear one, and this was superemely helpful. In essence, this speaker put God’s jealousy in context. Would not a loving husband be moved to jealousy if he saw another man wooing his wife? We would not equate such a response as sinful but as natural, to be expected.

So too with God and His people. He loves us and wants to jealously guard His relationship with us. We are His, bought with a price. And why wouldn’t He want to keep predators away?

Yes, predators. Think of the scheming men who prey on the young by making internet contact and luring them into a physical encounter. That’s the best description of what Satan wants to do

Except, of course, the Biblical image of him being a lion stalking its prey.

Prey. Either way, we are nothing but prey.

God doesn’t see us like that. He sees us as His creation, made new by the blood of His precious Son. Therefore, we are His children.

One of the best things about a loving dad is the way he protects his family and makes them feel safe. He jealously guards them.

Ah, jealously.

Can a Christian writer show God as a jealous God in fiction? I hope so. Showing that aspect of God’s character will enrich readers.

Published in: on November 30, 2006 at 2:04 pm  Comments (2)  

A Landon Snow Reprise; More on God

The granddaddy of the CSFF Blog Tour, the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance (CFBA), is featuring the same book we highlighted in November. I have learned a lot from participation in CFBA and want to continue supporting their efforts, and to top it off, I believe in Randy Mortenson as a writer. So, it’s a privilege to discuss his work once again.

The only thing I wondered about was how to avoid something that is one of my pet peeves in fiction—repetition, with redundancy coming in a close second. I had to ask, is there anything new I can offer the faithful readers at A Christian Worldview of Fiction?

Happily, yes. There is something of significance I neglected to put in my previous posts about Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum. This little tidbit will give you a bit of insight as to the quality of the Landon Snow books.

A Landon Snow short story will appear in the December issue of Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse Magazine for kids and, in fact, is already on their web site.

This is HUGE, as anyone knows who writes for children. Publication by this much-sought-after periodical is pretty close to an endorsement. Plus, it’s a great way for readers to sample the Landon Snow experience and for parents to know that this is a series worth investing in.

Take a break some time today and enjoy “Christmas Lights” by R. K. Mortenson.

– – –

In the discussion of a Christian worldview of God, I raised some questions Monday that I neglected to answer:

Does this side of God belong in our fiction? And if so, how do we show it without making Him—and by extension, His people who should be His hands and feet in the world—look cold, uncaring?

To the first question, I give an enthusiastic Yes, showing this side of God belongs. In that particular post I was referring to God’s refusal to renege on His pronounced judgment on Judah, to the point that He didn’t want Jeremiah to pray for them, even stating He did not accept their fasting or sacrifices. It makes God look, to the Twenty-first Century Christian in America as … well, intolerant, the one Thou-shalt-not to which our society ascribes.

So what? This is God revealing Himself—are we to edit Him? He wanted us to know this was the way He reacts to sin—are we to alter His character so as not to offend our modern (or postmodern) sensibilities?

But if an author portrays God in this light, and even more so, if he portrays God’s people, by extension, in this light, won’t that be fuel for the secular fire waiting to roast all things Christian?

My temptation is to answer that question with another “So what?” But here I think there’s a difference. We believers are to be light to our world, not cudgels. So how are we to show God as a holy judge who metes out punishment to His disobedient people?

I suggest it must be done by showing more than that side of His character. He is holy. He is a judge. He does mete out punishment. But He also loves infinitely. He also took the punishment on Himself. And while we were yet sinners, He extended grace.

I think the scene that represents this balance most to me is Jesus about to enter Jerusalem, where one of His first acts would be to take a whip to the people fouling up the temple with their greed and disobedience and one of His last would be to endure crucifixion. There He stood looking at the lost city, and He cried. He lamented the rejection of the people He desired to gather under His protection. In that moment, it’s as if God allowed us to see the unity of His complex character, the mingling of His justice and mercy, His holiness and compassion.

For a fiction writer to show God in that light is most desirable, I think.

Published in: on November 29, 2006 at 11:58 am  Comments (2)  

A Christian Worldview of God, Day 10

Much like Stuart, I think the many facets of God can best be revealed through the life-changing power of His Word. Tell a story about how obedience to the will of God altered someone’s worldview and caused them to act in a way that they normally wouldn’t.

What makes a fantasy story–any story for that matter–great isn’t the bells & whistles, it’s the characters, their motivations and the events that challenge and change them. That’s what allows us, the reader, to identify with them.

Comment by Kameron — November 26, 2006 @ 7:23 pm

I think Kameron’s comment is key to understanding how to show God, especially in a story not of the speculative nature. Because I write fantasy, having God do the amazing to show who He is and what He cares about, is quite natural.

Not so in the contemporary short stories I’ve worked on. Showing God really boils down to showing how the characters behave who are His—what they struggle with, what they choose, how they let their relationship with and what THEY understand about God to influence their actions.

Even in my “metaphor” story I referred to the other day, I think the reader can completely miss the symbolic inferences and still come away with a clearer view of God because one character finds a way for the truth to come out and by implication for justice to win.

There are no “God did this” statements, but I think about God’s work in the world. He brings the rain, without announcing every time that it is from Him. He gives reminders—in His word, with the rainbow occasionally in the sky—but pretty much He leaves it up to us to figure out that He is still in charge of nature.

I think, in much the same way, the writer should show God working through characters in the story and let the reader figure it out without the obvious announcements. Will every reader recognized God’s hand? No, undoubtedly not. But I don’t think we convince anyone that God is involved in people’s lives by telling them so.

In fiction, too often God’s work is mistakenly seen as author manipulation, and the story looks weak rather than God looking strong. Consequently, I think it is essential that we show God as we know Him to be.

Does He speak through a wife’s counsel to her husband? through a remembered Bible verse? a message from the pulpit? advice from a friend? a distinct sense of peace, or of disquiet? Perhaps through a sequence of circumstances? Or personal time in God’s Word? an example from the life of a hero of the faith? or of a faithful friend?

Why, then, can’t our characters experience the same hand of God? Why can’t they wrestle, as we often do, with whether or not this is, in fact, from God and not from their own imagining?

In other words, it seems to me, showing God work in our stories should be pretty much like how we see Him work in our own lives and in the lives of the people around us. Some of those people miss what God does, close their ears to what He says. Others hear and ignore. Some question. Some step out in faith based on what they perceive God to tell them and … no earth-shattering events take place.

Not everyone is Job with the restored family and twice the wealth. Not everyone is Joseph, ultimately with the position of second in command to Pharoah. Or of Esther, Daniel, or Noah. Some are Jonah at the end of the book, not the middle. Some are Stephen. Some are King Saul. Some are Moses, refused admission into the promised land. Some are David, refused the job of building the temple.

Regardless of what the people chose to do with what God asked of them, He comes through as righteous or good, as powerful or loving, as having a greater purpose, an overarching plan. He shows His character through the lives of the people with whom He has to do.

May I learn to show Him as clearly in my fiction, in my life.

Published in: on November 28, 2006 at 1:21 pm  Comments Off on A Christian Worldview of God, Day 10  

A Christian Worldview of God, Day 9

In a recent post in this series, I said I felt like I was scratching the surface when it came to describing God. I think that’s inevitable in a discussion about Him.

Of course, when I say in the title of this post, a Christian worldview, I mean by inference a Biblical worldview. In otherwords, a view of God as He revealed Himself. It’s a sure-proof way of “getting Him right.”

Except … the Bible, over 1700 pages in my version, with its countless verses, discloses something about God in even the most obscure passage. And just to be clear, we are talking about the un-containable God, the pre-existent one, who knows the names of the trillions of stars in this galaxy as well as the names of the stars in the other trillion or so galaxies out there.

In other words, God is beyond what He has told us and we can’t even absorb in full the part that He has divulged. So do we ever “get it right”? Probably not.

Should the fact that I know in part and can only show a small portion of what I know be cause for me to beg off and pigeon-hole God into some comfortable, culturally acceptable role: a year-round Santa, or the kindly grandfather, or perhaps the slightly bemused wise one?

In my post at Speculative Faith this morning, I mentioned Tolkien’s belief that fantasy would lead readers to a reverential awe of God. That phrase reverential awe really hit me. Do our readers come away from our stories in awe of God? Do we write in such a way as to cause readers to think more deeply about His nature, His purposes? Do they long to be in His presence? or fear the same, even a little?

This brings the discussion back to the point of how we show God at all. If it is through Him answering prayer, giving what our characters want, saving them from the consequences of their own choices, then I don’t see how readers will see more of God’s nature than the standard fare.

Does God answer prayer, give me what I want, save me from my wrong choices? Absolutely, but not always the way I want Him to. And sometimes He doesn’t answer prayer. I just read in Jeremiah where God tells the prophet not to pray for the children of Israel because He will not relent from the punishment He was foretelling, nor would He listen to them:

So the Lord said to me, “Do no pray for the welfare of this people./”When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry, and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them … Then the Lord said to me, “Even though Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me, My heart would not be with this people … (from Jeremiah 14 and 15)

Does this side of God belong in our fiction? And if so, how do we show it without making Him—and by extension, His people who should be His hands and feet in the world—look cold, uncaring?

I’ve got some ideas, but I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts first.

Published in: on November 27, 2006 at 1:53 pm  Comments Off on A Christian Worldview of God, Day 9  

A Christian Worldview of God, Day 8—The Writer’s Perspective

When I first started voicing my views of writing in a public forum, more than two years ago at the Faith in Fiction Discussion Board, I felt suddenly vulnerable. Here I was, stating what I believed about the craft and how it ought to be done. Wouldn’t everything I wrote then be held up in that light?

Probably so. I mean, in all of life, if we say one thing and do another, our inconsistency is soon discovered.

But I don’t think the pressure of taking a stand is a bad thing—scary, but not bad. It actually works in the same way that accountability does.

So if I say, XYZ about writing and then feel under compunction to be sure I do XYZ in my own fiction because the whole world—well, the reading public that stops by here 😉 —knows I took that stand, that’s a good thing.

I feel the same way about these comments about God in the last series of posts.

So this week I was working on a short story for the Writer’s Digest short short story contest. The last one I wrote, I ended up selling, so even though I have little to no hope of winning the contest, it does teach me more about writing fiction and gives me a chance to experiment a little. Throw in the possibility of selling the story and I’m there. 🙂 I guess I need the deadline push that contests give.

Anyway, I got an idea for the story, had no trouble with the beginning (surprisingly), but I didn’t know how to show God. YIKES! Wasn’t that the very thing we’d been talking about?

After much prayer, I ended up writing something different than what I’d intended at the start. And how did I show God? Metaphorically. Nothing more, really. Well, I guess there is a justice factor, too, that obliquely shows His character.

Part of me wants to be disappointed because this is not the type of story the magazine which published last year’s contest entry will be interested in. And at the same time, a good many people that read it will miss the underlying reference to God. Which is to say, it is most definitely not allegorical.

But I can’t really feel disappointed, because God answered my prayers about what direction to take. My conculsion: writing about God is no different than writing about anything else when it comes to its impact. I need to trust that He will use it as He sees fit, as I relinquish it to Him.

Published in: on November 24, 2006 at 12:39 pm  Comments (5)  

A Christian Worldview of God, Part 7 or Why I Love Him, A Thanksgiving Tribute

No post tomorrow, folks. Enjoy the day. Happy Thanksgiving to those of you U. S.’ers.

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Why I love God.

The plain reason is, because He loved me first.

He sky-writes that love with every display of His character, with His every act, His every word, with what He plans and purposes.

He is compassionate and understanding, knowing my frailty, that I am but dust. He sympathizes with my weakness and as a result, provides a way of escape from the enticements meant to lure me from Him.

He knows I’d flounder, if left on my own, so He’s given me His Spirit to be with me always, to comfort me, pray on my behalf, to guide me into truth, and keep me until that day when I’ll see God in person.

He pardoned my iniquity—the thing that obstructed me from having a relationship with Him. He forgives me my trespasses—the stuff I continue to do that grieves Him.

But He’s jealous. He wants my whole heart, my undivided love. In fact, His Holiness requires it. My waywardness and His purity are like oppiste magnetic poles. They do not … cannot connect.

With His Son as the mediator, the piece that provides the connection, I enjoy God’s complete acceptance.

More than acceptance. Because of His mercy, He redresses me in the suitable garment of His righteousness, allowing me to stand clean before Him.

I’m only scratching the surface. How can I describe His holiness or justice, His protection, His power or provision?

He is—from before the foundation of the world—and always will be. No one is more permanent, more dependable, more secure, more trustworthy or reliable. He is the Rock that is higher than I.

And He is my Father, my Friend.

Simply, He loves me to Himself.

Published in: on November 22, 2006 at 12:03 pm  Comments (2)  

A Christian Worldview of God, Day 6

The discussion about healing continues, and it is interesting, but I think it sidetracks us from the issue. How do we show GOD in our fiction?

I agree with Beth that writers need to show Him as they know Him. So someone who has experienced God’s miraculous power may choose to include a way of showing God in that light. But showing only that one aspect of God is exactuly what I am talking about—too much Christian fiction paints God in one-dimension.

For example, when I say “miracles,” the discussion turns to healing and stays there. What about the other miracles Jesus performed—turning water to wine, stilling the storms, providing a net full of fish for his weary disciples, telling Peter to pull a coin from the mouth of a fish, feeding thousands of people with a small amount of food? That’s not to mention that I Corinthians 12 actually separates healing from miraculous power:

9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers … (NIV)

Where are the stories today of water to wine?

Now, I know I cited Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River with its depiction of a man walking off the bed of a truck and not falling (the miracle of defying gravity) as an example of the type fiction I’m talking about.

In this case, there was a bigger issue. ***SPOILER ALERT*** In the end, the father dies—steps in front of a bullet—to save his son, but before he expires, he performs a miracle. He trades his healthy lungs for his son’s diseased ones, so the boy not only lives but now thrives, healthy and whole. All the while, the other son, who is a murderer—an unrepentant, vengeful man running from the law—is not even confronted about his sin.

Which boy had the greater need for healing, the one with the temporal need, or the one with the eternal?

Painting God as someone more interested in patching up clay pots than in replicating the image of His Son, in my thinking, is problematic.

After all, we all die. Scripture is clear that this world is temporal. No matter how much faith a person has, in the end he will die unless Jesus returns first. Which puts a bit of a crimp in the notion that healing depends on faith—no one must have enough faith, since in the end, everyone dies.

Eternal God is not short-sighted—He’s looking out for us long-term. Yes, He cares about what happens to us here and now, because He cares about us. But in His caring He longs for us to be like His Son. If our health gets in the way of us becoming like Jesus, what is our health? It is an impediment, an obstacle that has to go. Why would God not remove that?

God also made us to give Him glory. If through our response to sickness we can better glorify Him, then what is sickness? It is a means to the greatest purpose of life. Why would God take that from us?

In other words, God is the great physician, but He is not only the great physician.

Take Lazarus as an example. Jesus purposefully did not go to him when he was sick, in essence refusing to heal him. Martha clearly stated their faith: “Lord, if you’d been here my brother would not have died.” Faith was not the issue. Jesus told his men what it was about:

“Lazarus is dead, and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe
(John 11:14b-15a)

Lazarus had to die to provide for a greater miracle.

So, too, today. These clay pots in which we live will perish. In the process, God is performing a greater miracle than patching pots.

He’s taken those who would be eternally dead because of sin and raised us to eternal life. He is preparing His bride. He is expanding His family. He is growing more branches. And more specifically, more personally, He is fashioning the new life He gave me, so that I am becoming more and more like Jesus.

That’s the God I want the world to know.

Published in: on November 21, 2006 at 12:09 pm  Comments (12)  

A Christian Worldview of God, Day 5

Discussion is good. Healthy. Instructive even, if we let it be so. I sort of hate to post my thoughts because I don’t really want to see the dialogue from Friday’s post come to an end. Nevertheless, the opportunity is perfect.

You see, I think this discussion proves my point: the use of the miraculous in fiction does not necessarily reveal God and might even obscure Him.

First, a portion of the readership may put the book down and not pick it up again because they believe the miraculous is not for today.

Second, a portion of the readership may dismiss the miraculous as a fictional device along the line of walking through a wardrobe into a fantasy world.

Third, a portion of the readership may be enamored with the miracle itself and either want to see it in real life or will fall into doubt because of its absence.

And where is God in all this? Who is looking at God, praising Him, drawn to Him, eager to see Him unveiled?

Jesus Himself found people clamoring to be with Him for the wrong reasons (free food, all they could eat) and ended it by clarifying the cost of discipleship. He also refused to give signs when people asked Him for ones point blank. In those cases, the miraculous was getting in the way of what He wanted to accomplish.

I’m suggesting this might be the case in fiction today. If what we want to do is show God as more than a one-dimensional character, more than an unknowable figurehead, the miraculous might get in the way.

To write Christian fiction, I think, we need to show God in an active way, but what does that mean without the miraculous? I think we authors need to consider how we want to portray Him, perhaps more strenuously than we consider how to portray our fictional characters.

Should God look the same in every story? He doesn’t even look the same to different people in real life. And yet He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. How do we portray this?

I go back to what I said earlier. God is complex. Too often in Christian fiction, however, I see Him being simplified and stereotyped.

Odd, isn’t it, that the Person we most want people to know, is the One we have the most trouble showing.

Published in: on November 20, 2006 at 6:00 am  Comments (10)  

A Christian Worldview of God, Day 4

In order to show God, some contemporary novelists have inserted the supernatural into their stories. Ted Dekker comes to mind. In Heaven’s Wager, one of the character’s has visions of what is to happen in the lives of her daughter, grandson, and son-in-law. As a result, she begins a daily, solitary prayer march which, along with her odd choice of garb, makes her look nuts—to the protagonist, definitely, but to the reader as well, because we aren’t privy to the subject matter of her visions until the end.

In three of her books, Brandilyn Collins had a protagonist, Chelsea Adams, who saw visions. Chelsea didn’t appear nuts by her behavior, but within the story, those confronted with her visions reacted to her as if she wasn’t mentally stable.

In Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, the protagonist’s father sees visions perhaps but also performs miracles. Not in the capacity of a televangelist, or anything, but he walks off the bed of a truck without falling, brings his dead baby to life, and the like.

What does the miraculous in fiction reveal about God? I’m not sure it does. When the characters do something or experience something so other that sets them apart from the reading public, I can’t help but think most readers will chalk up the events as fictitious devices.

Much like I did in the movie “The Sixth Sense.” After seeing that movie, I actually gave very little thought to the supernatural aspect. Of course, it was built to surprise, and the author engineered the end twist so effectively, understanding how he pulled it off became my main focus. Still, I doubt very many viewers came away thinking the supernatural elements were indeed real.

Perhaps I’m off on this. The thing is, miracles are … well, not common. That’s why we call them miracles. If they were part of the routine of life, we wouldn’t see them as out of the ordinary.

“Oh, did you hear about Betty’s nephew?”

“The poor ten year old with MS?”

“Yep, except he doesn’t have MS any more. Healed. Betty’s pastor stopped by with three elders, prayed, and the boy is back to one hundred percent.”

“Just like my cousin Janice. She had cancer, you know, but the doctors say there isn’t a trace left and cancelled the treatments they had scheduled for her.”

“She’s so fortunate. My Uncle Bob went through all the chemotherapy, lost his hair, was so sick and miserable, then had to die before he was restored.”

“That would be hard. My husband Dan died from a heart attack last year. Thankfully he wasn’t sick for months and months.”

“Dan died? I didn’t realize that.”

“He was better the next day, so we didn’t have a chance to tell everyone.”

You get the drift. Miracles are not common.

I wonder if the miraculous in fiction, rather than showing God, actually might not obscure Him further.

Published in: on November 17, 2006 at 8:16 am  Comments (21)  

A Christian Worldview of God, Day 3

I really enjoyed the Landon Snow tour we finished up yesterday. We had a great group of bloggers, and if you haven’t yet had a chance to read their posts, I encourage you to spend some of your down time over the weekend reading what they had to say.

Loving tours as I do and enjoying this one as much as any, I am still happy to get back to the topic of the day. As I said a week ago, this subject is my true passion and why I write fiction. The problem with Christian fiction in the latter part of the Twentieth Century, one of them anyway, was its intention to evangelize. Meaning, essentially, the stories intended to show someone being introduced to God and in the end entering into a relationship with Him. Not that evangelizing is a problem. Just that it made the stories repetitious and “agenda driven.” And because they showed God in one dimension.

Last Friday I posed this question:

What would it be like to focus on something besides meeting God?

I think fiction published by Evangelical Christian Publishing Association (ECPA) houses in these early years of the Twenty-first Century have been trying to answer that question. However, I think most authors have taken the tack of expanding subject matter rather than deepening the depiction of God.

Let’s show Christian characters struggling to do right for example. A worthy endeavor.

Or I’ll show a Christian character whose life, not his words, attracts someone—not to convert, but to show interest in God—leading the reader to believe there is hope for change. Again, a worthy endeavor.

But is that all we’ve got? I tend to think this last type in particular still has a one-dimensional God. He is still the rescuer, but just not so overt.

In the former, He still loves His own and will even discipline them, which shows another side of His character. A step in the right direction.

Maybe I’m spoiled as a fantasy writer. It seems to me the genre allows for so much more in depicting God.

What are contemporary or historical writers left with in showing the Unseen? Basically they must show God by showing how He affects others, by what others say about Him, by the actions others attribute to Him, by what others do who claim to follow Him. Anything else?

It’s not an easy row to hoe.

Published in: on November 16, 2006 at 12:50 pm  Comments (3)  
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