I have had some interesting conversations over the last few weeks with several different authors about the fact that God often doesn’t do things the way we expect. In fact, there are times when God’s ways—and the ways of those He used–seem…
Even–dare I say it?–wrong.
Think about it.
The person who came to work in the field just before the day ended got paid the same as the folks who’d worked all day.
God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so he wouldn’t let the Israelites go.
God promised Abram and Isaac that their descendants would be more than the sands on the beach…and gave them wives who were barren.
God gave a prophecy to Rebekah about Jacob, which she “helped along” by some of the most blatant favoritism found in Scripture.
A guy tries to keep the Ark of the Covenant from falling on the ground, and God strikes the poor slob dead.
And on it goes. Things happening, and people doing things, that seem, to say the least, outside the boundaries of godly behavior.
Now, I’m not looking to get into a theological discussion with anyone, so please don’t post all the reasons I’m being a heretic. This isn’t about theology. It’s about writing. More than that, it’s about authentic writing.
A number of the authors I’ve been talking with have come to me because they’re struggling.
“I don’t want to write something that makes God look bad.”
“If I don’t add something here to make this make sense, what will people think of God?”
“This makes so little sense to the contemporary reader, won’t they just see God as unfair?”
These questions, and others like them, seem to come tucked inside the package when God gives you the task to write about Him. Whether you’re crafting fiction or nonfiction, odds are very good that you’re going to hit a spot where your fingers pause over the keyboard, and you struggle.
Because God’s ways are NOT our ways.
Not by a long-shot.
We want life to be fair, and God to appear righteous, even to those readers who don’t share our faith. I mean, He’s GOD, right? So of course we need to make sure we write words that make what God and/or His selected people do look right.
But here’s the thing. When we pretty up God and the people He’s used, we skate on some very thin ice. Basically we’re trying to put God in a nice, reasonable box. One that’s all wrapped up in sparkly paper, no wrinkles anywhere, with a big, beautiful bow on top. But friends, we can’t do that. None of us can sand off the seemingly rough edges or whitewash the hard realities of who God is.
Not without taking away from the fact that He is God.
I love what C.S. Lewis writes in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, God is Good, but he’s not Tame.
He’s not a God who fits in a nice, neat little box. Let alone one with a bow on top.
God’s not…pretty. He’s GOD. Almighty. Omniscent. Ever Present. The Beginning and the End. And there are things we will never understand about why He does what He does, or why He uses whom He uses. (David? Really, God? A guy who has an affair with a married woman, then murders her husband?)
But as hard as the reality is, the last thing your readers need is a cleaned-up, spit-and-polished, sanitized God. Nor do they need you to explain away His wildness. Instead, I challenge you to write about the reality of following a God who is so far beyond our ability to comprehend that at times we can only shake our heads and say, “I don’t get it. I don’t even like it a lot. But you know, God is GOD. And I trust Him.”
Are you writing about biblical characters who behaved badly? Then be honest about that. Let them be who they really were, not the versions that have gone through some spiritual makeover. Recognize that not every biblical tale, nor every encounter with God, is inspirational.
Some, my friends, are cautionary.
But whatever you are crafting, I guarantee if you’re honest and authentic with your readers, God will use your words to change lives. Because He uses everyday people who will speak truth–even scary, less-than-pretty truth.
Does God need a makeover? Hardly. He just needs us–no, He commands us—to speak (and write) truth in His name. And to taste and see.
That He’s good.
That He’s love.
That He’s the real thing, not some sugary substitute.
Write truth, friends.
And let God be God.
Can’t help but shout out an “Amen” to this post, Karen!
I also really needed this reminder this week. I need to remember that I’m writing for God, not just for men. It’s too hard to think up a God that will please everyone anyway. There isn’t one. The true God is all the things you said. Good, love, Savior. That’s enough for me to trust and follow Him. Thank you!
I figure that if I don’t understand why God does what he does, it is a problem with my understanding, not a problem with God. Which is a scary thought when it comes to writing. In my writing, I have things that God allows that might seem strange, but they all seem to work out in the end. The only thing is, God does things that we won’t understand until we reach the undiscovered country. I sometimes wonder if tying up the loose ends of a story gives an inaccurate representation of God. But what can we do? It is a story.
In my WIP, as in my life, God does not appear fair. He appears to have a favourite and very blatantly too. If I followed Jesus because I thought life would be a bowl of cherries, I’d be in for a big let-down.
As Steven Curtis Chapman sings, “God is God and I am not.” In my WIP, a priest says to a 20 year victim of extreme abuse, “we cannot understand His ways, because God’s ways are audacious, we cannot understand them because we do not have the mind of God”.
I write because I want people to understand that no matter where we go, we cannot escape or be lost from the hand of God. I have a father who still dreams of a child-hood in a war zone. He saw things as a 6 year old that would destroy a grown man. His faith has carried him through all kinds of prejudice and judgement simply because of his colour and ethnicity. He is, without a doubt, the strongest Christian I know.
If I can tell anyone anything, it would be that God does not walk away from us when our life gets hard, He gives us what it takes to get through the bombs, the guns and the hate.
The more I think about it, my WIP is an allegory of my parent’s story. And of how God has brought them through the darkness.
Well put! We need more posts like this for sure..
I have been pondering this very struggle myself lately. Thank you for this well-written post.
Beautiful truth, Karen. So many times, we try to “explain” why God does what He does. But a lot of times, we’ll never know. That’s where trust comes in. Not a blind trust, but one rooted in the knowledge that He IS good and He wants our best. If we hold onto that, then we can weather whatever life throws our way.
Great post. Thanks!
Your post reminded me of something I read in Crazy Love by Francis Chan. I’ve quoted it below:
“If my mind is the size of a soda can and God is the same size as all the oceans, it would be stupid for me to say He is only the small amount of water I can scoop into my little can.”
Francis Chan (via martelthechristianrapper )
(Source: thensings-mysoul , via heynikkie )
God never promised fairness–praise Him for that. If he were fair, we’d all get what we deserve. God did promise to be just, but even then we will not always see His justice, and aren’t we happy his justice is tempered by his mercy?
We cannot sanitize God for unbelievers. They won’t buy it, and they won’t trust us if we try it.
Awesome post, Karen. Great truth to ponder this morning.
Perfect timing, this is something I’ve been struggling with too.
I love that verse in the Bible where God says, “I am Who am.” Not even a “I am who I am.” Somehow leaving out that extra “I” says it all to me. He’s it, folks. The big dude. The whole enchilada. Take it or leave it … I’d suggest taking it :o). And you are right on when you say this is what gives the Bible its authenticity. No tied up bows at the end. A recounting of real lives with real people and a real God. Sometimes the recountings are like short stories that end well because the person did what God asked. Other times they read like epics where His will becomes more evident at the passing of several generations. We need to trust that. His story is not over. He has it all in the palm of His hands.
Pat Trainum aka P. T. Bradley
When we make God out to be this kindly grandfather (as many people do), we allow people to believe He will grant our every request if we but catch Him on the right day. Like you said, God is God and He gives us what He knows we need, not what we want. Thank goodness.
Amen to that, Pat!
Rebecca Barlow Jordan
Karen, I love your post. One of my passions has always been, as A.W. Tozer says, not to “make” God bigger, but to help others “see” God bigger. He truly cannot be put in a box. You said it so well, especially as it applies to our writing–non-fiction or fiction.
This made me cry Karen. And then, although I probably shouldn’t admit this, it made me angry.
Lately, I’ve been struggling very hard with the ideals I’m told the CBA seems to embrace. Is it true that they want a, as you said, “spit-shined” God? If so, I’m not sure I can write that.
At Lifechurch.tv, where I attend, we have a saying “God is good all the time-and all the time–God is good”. Yet I have an 18 year old daughter with MS. Yet sex-trafficking of children is alive and well in our cities. Yet people in Africa are starving while we throw away enough food and money to save the whole continent in one single day in America.
Yet…God is good. And, He is. He IS. But when we take away the bad in the world, the ugly, both inside-and outside- ourselves, what is it that God is saving us from exactly?? Someone please explain to me.
I know there are things that will not fly with a Christian publisher, and I get that. But if we write about–and to–the people God wants (and needs!!!) to change in a way that makes them look less than real, who will buy that? It’s not authentic. It’s a lie. God does not save perfect people. And the people He does save do not become instantly perfect! Saved and redeemed, blameless before God, yes. But perfect? Here on earth? Not by a long shot.
So tell me how to write that Karen. How do I write the truth that reaches the world and changes it for Christ with out watering down our sinfulness,or shrinking Gods awesome power and Mercy when He finds us in it.
The only thing God asks us to be perfect in is love.
Thanks for your post! I needed to read this today.
God does not need, nor does He want us to try and redefine Him in order to make Him more pleasant to the masses. He is who He is and we must worship Him in Spirit as well as in TRUTH. Rich Mullins once said that we must live in the “reckless, raging fury that is called the love of God.”
Thank you for this post. It is much needed… and I pray, well heeded.
God bless. 🙂
Great post, Karen!!
I’m reading Jolt of Joy devotional in my YouVersion Bible. And it’s inspiring me to believe He can and will do exceeding above all we ask or think.
Can we take our writing a step further? Instead of writing about the “dark” side of God, why not write about the “dark” side of humanity and how God loves us, redeems us anyway. 🙂
Psalm 113 says God “humbles Himself to behold the things in heaven and earth.” To raise the poor from the dust, the needy from the ashes. In other words, He looks into and tend our hearts.
Instead of getting mad at Him, why not lean into Him and pray? Press in. Seek. Ask. Don’t accept pain, sickness, death, crime, crisis, depression, etc. Ask Him to bring truth and justice. As we partner with Him in prayer, He will do what we ask (John 15) to bring Glory to His name. If He doesn’t, then He will speak to our hearts. We are valid, legitimate partners through the Cross.
More and more, I weary of seeing stories where the protagonist thinks God doesn’t love them, is mad at them, or the hero is angry at God. I see it enough as I mentor new writers I’m starting to think it’s a common belief among Christians.
Why not write about how we have JOY in the midst of sorrow? Why not write about how He changed our hearts even if He didn’t change our circumstances? We can move mountains with our prayers… if only we’d pray.
I love stories where God breaks in because it encourages my own heart and faith. “Yeah, He loves us, Oh how He loves us.” 🙂
My 2 cents,
I have to agree, there do seem to be a lot of stories about someone who is angry at God. I’m like the writer of Hebrews and ready to “leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ” and move on to other things. I wonder if these angry at God stories aren’t a result of people being too focused on developing that initial relationship with God and failing to give much attention to “the race that is set before us.”
Oh, Karen, what a timely and beautiful post.
I have major issues with people who try to write a sanitized version of God or Christianity, or try to make things fair. Life isn’t fair, and God isn’t fair. Justice and mercy are inherently unfair.
My current novel project surprised me with my hero exploring some of these very things as he grapples with the changing purpose of his life. He’s in a very unfair, very bad situation and he’s not happy about it. But it’s something every single Christian can relate to, whether they want to acknowledge it or not.
Tough ideas, tenderly written. Thank you, Karen. May I add another aspect to the mix?
That believers are intellectual children, brain-washed zombies. Simpletons. Not too bright because they believe and don’t question this collection of ‘myths’ or ‘fairytales.’ Let’s refute that by creating smart, tough-minded believers who are always questioning, seeking, learning.
When I am honest with people that I frequently don’t understand God’s reason, or answer a question with, ‘I don’t know why He allows (name a controversial subject). But I do trust Him, because He is God. And I know He is good,’ I often get the pitying head-shake in reply. The one that says, ‘Poor woman, she checked her brains at church door. Just mouthing what people tell her to say.’
But I know that God is also the God of mind, of tough intellect, of hard questions. I find my relationship with Him to be intensely satisfying on, yes, an intellectual level. There’s always more to Him, more to learn, and He encourages me, us, to continue to challenge Him–and come to Him–with our minds as well as our hearts.
And He has a fabulous sense of humor, too, but that’s another discussion:D
I like what Tim said above. It’s always a problem with my understanding, not with God’s actions. Despite the cruel things that have touched my family since January (well, since 9 years ago), I WILL trust God. Not only that, but I WILL love Him.
Beautifully said, Karen!
Wow, and thanks! I have struggled with those same questions!
For the first time I’ve seen someone actually agree with me that we Should let God speak for Himself, and we shouldn’t try to sugarcoat Scripture, but trust that God will do His work!
Thank you Karen for this post!
I’m presently writing a book and the story’s about a character with an unpretty experience, despite being a Christian. I decided to trust that her story will tell the truth of God’s love and faithfulness. I’m so glad you wrote this! It’s a booster.
This post is a keeper. I love how God is never predictable. He don’t want us to figure Him out or that would make Him too small and us too big. He just wants us to trust Him. Sometimes that means doing a lot of crazy interventions to get our attention. But if it results in a deeper, more meaningful walk with God, so be it, right?
Rebecca Barlow Jordan
Karen, it would appear that the answer to your post question of “Does God Need a Makeover?” is “No.” We are the ones who need the makeover. Imagine that! :>) I apppreciate hearing all the thoughts posted.
Karen – I’m reading your Breaking Point book right now. A great reminder of what happens when we try to fit God into a box….
Thank you for this post – and for your very personal book. I’m very blessed by both today.
Christina Suzann Nelson
I’d like to echo Heidi’s “AMEN!”
The power and enormity of God is way beyond my comprehension. He is big enough to create all things yet still able to care about our smallest needs. AWESOME!
Thanks for all the thoughtful responses. You folks make my heart smile.
Pam Black, I hear your frustration. But I don’t agree that CBA readers want stories with the sanitized, spit-polished God. Not at all. That was the point of what I wrote. That our readers are looking for honesty and authenticity in our books, for the real struggles (and joys) of what it means to follow a God who is not tame or predictable. But who is, without a shadow of a doubt, good and trustworthy.
So how do we “write the truth that reaches the world and changes it for Christ without watering down our sinfulness,or shrinking Gods awesome power and Mercy when He finds us in it”? We do it with honesty. We show all the facets of life, but we do so with writing that is evocative, not explicit. Because we all know about evil and darkness and man’s inhumanity. We all know about those sold out to the enemy of our souls. We’ve all, at some point, experienced violence in actions or speech. And we’ve seen the brutalization visited upon so many, sometimes even in God’s name. We know it’s out there. And what we do no want or need in the books we read is more of the same. Blow-by-blows of the abuse and degradation. Vile language–be it obscenities or explicit sex or violence–only further degrades us.
But HONEST language–language that tells the truth about all these things you’ve mentioned, doing so in a way that evokes the realities without dragging us through the muck–that kind of writing not only enlightens and informs, it changes us.
Read Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Powerful, evocative truth about many of the awful things you mentioned. Equally powerful, evocative truth about God’s presence with us in those things, and His powerful love that redeems us in the face of such evil.
Authentic books don’t leave you feeling shamed or violated. Rather, they leave you with the powerful awareness of both our own failings AND God’s amazing grace and mercy. They leave us…thankful.
You’re right, on all counts. I’d love to say something more profound, but my words are hiding from me right now.
By the time I hit the end of your post, I was blinking away tears. I’ve shared this entry to my facebook friends, as well. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at God and said “Really? You’re kidding, right?” And he’s always serious about whatever the new challenge is, and he always comes through, and gives me what I need to meet the new challenge.
He is most definitely not a tame lion, but I’ll curl up next to this lion for safety any chance I get.
Thank you for this post, Karen.
No, God does not need a makeover. Our understanding of the power of His absolute love and the power of what Christ accomplished on the cross is what needs a makeover. Jeremiah 9:23-24 tells us that, if we’re going to boast, let us boast that we understand and know God. For us to think that God has anything to do with the evil that is raging in our world is for us to misread and misunderstand the main themes of the Bible. James 1 specifically tells us that God has nothing to do with evil–the greatest error we make is to believe that God causes or allows evil to happen. Christ died on the cross not so that we can go to heaven when we die, but so that we can cleave to God and receive the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom we need in order to overcome and completely defeat the kingdom of evil. We are selling God, Christ, and ourselves so short in what God and Christ accomplished on the cross and in what we are empowered to accomplish as we become and take our places as the sons of God.