God In Contemporary Fiction, Another Take


Typically readers learn about characters, not by what the author says about them or how he describes them, but by what they do. Since God does not appear in our world as a corporeal being, it’s not easy for an author to show Him in action. I mean, how is the reader to know that the protagonist’s near miss on the freeway was God’s doing?

How do we know in real life? How do we know what God is “saying” to us or how He is leading us?

Often times it’s the accumulation of things — an open door here, a closed door there, a passage of Scripture, a specifically themed article followed by a sermon much like it, and so on. But those things don’t make for great fiction.

Neither does God coming in to save the day in answer to prayer, though He might do so in real life. In fiction it looks like authorial manipulation. The story seems contrived.

The truth is, life is contrived, more than we’d like to admit. God is sovereign, after all. Yet we humans, made in His image, have the freedom to choose. So what does that combination look like in fiction?

I’ve been playing around with different options for showing God in a contemporary story, and what I keep coming back to is showing Him through a relationship with the protagonist. The reader, then, not being able to see how God acts, can see how the person trusting in God acts.

I’m still not sure where the conflict should be, but I came across this quote on Facebook, posted by the C. S. Lewis Society of California:

Be not deceived, Wormwood, our cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys. – C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Besides making me want to reread the book, I saw a kernel of a story there. Not the demon’s involvement, but a protagonist still obeying in the face of events that look as if God has abandoned him.

The protagonist’s unyielding obedience, then, would serve to show us God — that He is worthy of that kind of trust, that kind of service. That His love matters more than whatever earthly stuff holding on to Him might cost.

I still think showing God truly, so that readers come away after reading the story knowing Him more, or at least being curious enough to want to know Him more, has to be some of the hardest writing a novelist can undertake.

But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced this is what sets Christian fiction apart from all other fiction.

Christians or non-Christians can write about troubled teens who hurt themselves or others. All writers can tell stories about angst-driven adults who have been disillusioned. Christians can show the world truly and sinful man’s nature in all its ugliness in the same way that non-Christians can.

Both can also show the moral thread that runs through men and women, making some determined to fight for justice and others choosing to live by the rules of their own making.

However, only Christians can include God in a story and have Him appear as He really is. Non-Christians can’t because they don’t know Him. Of course we Christians don’t know all there is to know about God, and our stories shouldn’t lead people to believe that we have Him tamed.

But neither should they make readers think God is unknowable or inaccessible or uninterested or absent.

Part of creating great art is addressing universal themes and telling the truth about them. Hitler had a distinct worldview but it was false. If he had been a talented painter or a great writer, he still would have been writing about that which was false. There is no beauty apart from truth.

Hence, today’s Christian novelists, should we wish to create artistic stories, must write about life in a way that unveils truth about far more than man and his behavior in the bedroom. We need to stop worrying about what we can and cannot write according to publishers’ strictures and put our shoulders to the task of writing what needs to be written, what only Christians can write — stories that tell the truth about God.

– – –

For earlier posts on the subject see “Realism In Fiction” and “When God Shows Up In Fiction.”

The discussion continues with “God In Fiction Via The Protagonist.”

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: