Shouting into the void

Controversial topic ahead. About religion. You have been warned.

Okay, so, I’ve been reading some fantasy from Christian authors. I used to read Christian fantasy all the time as a teen, simply because that’s all I knew how to find. Our library didn’t have a lot in the way of juvenile science fiction and fantasy in the early 90s. (Boy, it sure does now!)

Anyway, once I started reading adult fantasy/sci-fi, I stopped reading the Christian stuff. I especially got into urban fantasy, where gods and monsters ride motorcycles and eat greasy Chinese food on the weekends. In this brand of fantasy, if you need to interact with God, you do it very respectfully, usually through an angel. All the other gods and monsters dislike messing with Heaven, because God is the Big Boss.

the_angel_by_therafa-dagah2h
The angel, by The Rafa

So I’ve been reading some Christian fantasy, and I’ve run into something that bothers me. These characters pray all the time, and I do mean all the time. They attribute everything that happens to God’s will. When bad things happen, they spout platitudes about God’s mysterious ways.

But they’re shouting into a void. God never answers. There might be a coincidence now and then that is attributed to God, but God himself is absent.

After spending so much time in other branches of fantasy, where the gods not only intervene in daily affairs, they all bow to the high God, who also intervenes on behalf of his worshipers … this leaves me scratching my head. A lot of these books are written by non-Christians, as far as I know. So why are the Christians the ones the most distant from their own God? God talks to people all the time in the Bible. He’s talked to me quite clearly in my own life.

Even Cthulhu will answer if called to long enough and hard enough.

So why is God silent in Christian fantasy?

 

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20 thoughts on “Shouting into the void

  1. Speaking as someone who’s attempted to put an active God in a fantasy story, I have to say it’s pretty intimidating. You’re either completely ripping off Biblical God (which is boring) or creating God (which is terrifying). It might be easier for nonChristians to write God because they don’t have the “What if this is blasphemy?” “What if I misportray God and hinder someone’s faith?” “Am I going to Hell for this?”
    I can see why people would avoid it.

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    1. I just find it interesting that Mormon writers can write holy gods with a reverence that Christians can’t touch (Dragonlance). But why? Are we so afraid of him? Or are we afraid of what other Christians might say?

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  2. Karen Hancock’s hero in Legend of the Guardian-King (an adult series) talks to God and God talks back.
    Likewise in Jill Williamson’s Blood of Kings series, which is YA.

    And my book that comes out in September is about a prophet who converses with God.

    Books like this may be few and far between, but they are not nonexistent.

    If most Christian writers shy away from this kind of thing, I think it stems from either not wanting to put words in God’s mouth, or not wanting to be accused of Deus ex Machina. Or both.

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  3. I think it is absolutely the problem that Christians actually believe God is real, whereas a lot of non-Christian fantasy writers probably don’t. It is a huge, huge responsibility to attempt to portray God, portray his words, and I’m not at all surprised few Christian writers do it, probably for a multitude of reasons. Personally, I would never write a scene between a protag and God of the Bible because who am I to posit what God would say? It just doesn’t seem…right. And should we not be afraid of God? The english language is not very helpful, because fear can mean a lot of things, but we are told in Proverbs that the root of all wisdom is the fear of the Lord. That kind of fear is why I wouldn’t want to try and write God saying anything. Now, there is a caveat to that. It is a different story to quote scripture, or closely paraphrase scripture as God’s dialog coming either directly or through an intermediary. I do it myself. There is a very good reason God (the Father) doesn’t just appear in our living room to have a chat like fantasy gods do: He is holy and we would be literally blinded and struck dumb by his presence, among other things. That’s why he speaks to us through His Spirit, and through His Son, which we have recorded in the Bible.

    So, yes, I think it would be great if Christian fantasy literature had more interaction with God, but I don’t think we should try and make him like other gods. There is a very good reason why he is THE God, and not just a god.

    Anyway, my two cents. Great post, got me thinking :).

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  4. Christian authors tend to be very literal either about who God is our the experience of prayer. Others tend to take the Greek mythology route of reducing God into human(s) with more power, which is easier for story-telling.

    Although, Jesus is God, and Christians do a good job of putting Him in stories.

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  5. Possibly because this is a common area where God would like to get the writer’s attention, and the best way to do that is for the writer to actually write his/her problem into the story.

    Many of the speculative fiction writers I run into who are Christians are drawn to the genres because they heard something that spoke to them in the genre. Perhaps even something they attributed to God. And the fantastical worlds they read others created or endeavored to create themselves are powerfully absorbing. Calling that relationship with creativity “worship” is going a little far for some, but “reverence” definitely applies. So they reverence the creativity of a writer who made a world in which they feel alive, and wish to emulate that. But now that they’re writing, the writing unconsciously reflects parts of their own realities. They serve a God to whom they do not listen, and so the characters in their stories are similarly trapped.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love my Tolkein and my Lewis. But these writers are not the voice of God. The voice of God is as close as my willingness to shut up and commune with Him. If I’m going to write for His glory, then He should have an active role in the story. Not just lip service. Not just the safe “God speak” I’ve seen other authors use.

    But that’s not for everyone. I think, in part, because a lot of authors don’t want to confront their own relationship with God. If they did, it would change their writing. And people might ask, “Who do you think you are, to write a God who actually interacts with His people? That’s not my reality.”

    But for a Christian, shouldn’t that be our continually evolving reality? To know Him and be known. Without shame.

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  6. This is really interesting, and coming from reader who hardly reads anything outside of Christian fantasy, I hadn’t thought of that before. Julie Hall’s Life After Series was the first series I read where the Holy Spirit is a real person that the character (Audrey) interacts with on a day-to-day basis (though she hardly knows it until later and when she does, she never changes who she is. Made her one of the most relatable characters I have read.). Not only that, but she has a conversation with God and Jesus. Was an interesting series, but totally one I’m fond of.

    Also, I have no idea if this actually accurate since I’m writing nonfiction, but if a character is crying out to the void so to speak, but believes in God and doesn’t hear Him, doesn’t that add more tension to a story? Would that be why more stories reflect a God who is silent? In some of the gods/monsters you have read about in other branches of fantasy, are they like Greek gods? Moods that constantly are swinging and selfish just as man? That creates a whole set of others issues in a story too right? I don’t know, but that got me to thinking too.

    Really good question.

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    1. But if you read the Bible for more than a chapter, God isn’t silent. He’s the main character and he’s downright chatty. He’s also more majestic than most modern writers understand. We American Protestants have thrown out the notions of holiness and consecration (who fears to tread in a Protestant church? They don’t demand respect like the huge old cathedrals do). I think that’s one thing the Mormon writers have on us. They have a better grasp of the sacred than us WWJD Jesus is my homie crowd.

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      1. I agree! He definitely reveals Himself in His Word and I know with stories I have wanted to write, there is sometimes a physical battle between man and Spirit (because that reflects my own personal struggles). I am curious why you feel that the notions of holiness and consecration have been thrown out though. Do you mean in writing? I guess I have never thought of it that way. Granted, I am only now starting to read books that are not considered Christian even if it’s written by a Christian, so I have no experience in the differences here. :p

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  7. In my trilogy God is involved and for most of the book speaks without words. The characters know it’s HIs presence even if they don’t hear a voice. He will make an appearance though in a more physical way. Sort of. Hard to explain without giving away things. But it was hard to write because I wanted to do it well. So I agree with what everyone has been saying about not wanting to mess up or mess with God. But if I’m really honest I think the fear was less about messing up God and God being upset but more about Christian readers getting upset. I want to treat God with reverence always and as I wrote those scenes I spent a lot of time praying and asking His opinion. I feel like He looks on our heart and would be full of grace at our imperfect human views of his greatness etc. however, I think other humans are less gracious with any creative license or an authors important reflect humanity creeping in to stories so the fear is being vilified in reviews if we fall short.

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  8. Great post! I think it also depends on the story, and the way those characters interact with God in it. My first novel (unpublished) featured a vampire hunter who prayed to God and heard God’s replies in his mind, and those replies are written into the story. However, not all Christians interact with God that way. Some hear God through emotions or impressions of a situation (like a conscience or a “gut feeling”), or through the Bible’s instructions and/or wise advice from other Christians, dreams, etc. In most of my writing, having God speak as a “character” seems awkward and contrived. And that’s how it feels to me, to say nothing of how billions of other Christians would view it. I find it more natural and genuine to allow God to speak through nature and consequences. As in the Bible book of Jonah, when Jonah disobeys God and gets caught in a deadly storm and then swallowed up by a giant fish. It’s obvious- especially to Jonah – that God is speaking through actions. (Plus, that’s showing, not telling.) (:^D

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