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Fiction Christians From Another Planet! III: Voices From Beyond

You want a Christian-fiction notion that makes pagan readers cackle and other Christians cringe? Then exalt voices-from-beyond as the only way God daily guides His people.

In real life, Christians have different views on how God communicates to people. Most of them believe that Scripture is God’s Word, I’m glad to say, with any errors arising in our own heads, or perhaps translation glitches. Others also believe the truth that Scripture is sufficient, that it is all we need for faith and practice (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Yet other Christians also think God may “speak to” or “nudge” people here and there, besides the finished Word.

starwars_lukeskywalkerpilotWhile I may discuss more in the comments, here I’ll give no objection to that view. Rather, I’m hauling out my raygun to train on the invading extraterrestrial characters from certain Christian novels (not all of them) who imply or even overtly babble alien dialogue like this:

Rachael-Lynne was confused. “You mean, you hear from God personally?”

Wise old Aunt Mathilda smiled as she knit. “Someday you’ll know, dear, when you’re wise and old and can knit like me. That’s how I met your Uncle Jerome. That still, small voice told him to ask me out, and now we’ve been married for 78 years.”

Do you want a Christian-fiction notion that makes pagan readers cackle and other Christians cringe? Then exalt voices-from-beyond. To critics, this means professional sane adults urge readers to ignore Scripture and logic and follow only “whatever the voices in my head say.”

Again, if for now we ignore the issue of whether God ever “speaks” to people beyond the Bible today, this is a hallmark of Christian-fiction characters who don’t behave like they came from planet Earth. In certain novels, all the Christian characters advocate voice-listening. In the worst novels (I am trying not to be mean), non-Christian characters only convert to faith after God in some extra-Biblical way — ranging from Touched By An Angel smarmy to Raiders of the Lost Ark spectacular — reveals Himself personally and/or speaks to them.

Is that the only way God works among people of this planet (Earth)?

If not, why all these Christian characters who only croon, “Use the voice, Luke. Let go!?

I believed because this lady glowed for me.

I believed because of this lady.

Some readers may still be in defense mode. (Something similar happened when I tried to question the “God told me to be a novelist” line.) Of them I’d only ask: if you’re a Christian, how did you first believe? Was it solely from an impulse or even “voice” from God? Or were you first captivated by His written Story in Scripture of Christ and His salvation, with any other help from Christian friends or spiritual “nudges” only supporting that?

In some novels I’ve read, the “nudges” aren’t merely supportive. They’re all a character has. Which again leaves me to ask why, and revisit some of my answers from last week:

1. It blocks controversy.

“God told me personally …” sounds very spiritual. So does “let go and let God.” So does “God helps those who help themselves.” Hmm, so maybe “it sounds spiritual” isn’t good criteria.

2. You can’t touch it.

“The Holy Spirit ‘nudged’ me to ask her out, and now we’ve been married for 78 years.” Who wants to argue with a statement like that? Well, I might. But not with hostility. Instead I would ask: what happens to someone who believes he’s been “nudged,” asks her out, then gets a flat no, then goes on to marry someone else? Will he publicly recount that incident? Not likely. Thus only the successful God-told-me anecdotes tend to rise to the top.

3. Authors just don’t know Christians who disagree with hearing-God’s-voice.

In that case the riposte is simple: Christian authors should get out more, then Celebrate Faith Diversity. Many genuine Christians and even whole churches believe that God doesn’t “nudge” or speak personally as clearly as He’s spoken in Scripture. Maybe we don’t need to get detailed sermons about that view in fiction, but we should at least meet those people.

4. Authors don’t believe God does guide people in “common” ways.

Suddenly every conversion to faith must be like those at Pentecost (Acts 2) or the Apostle Paul’s dramatic account. (Of course, even before that comes the first assumption that every novel must focus solely on conversion.) Or for Christian characters, it’s not cool for them to exercise free will, ask probing questions, do their best Biblical research, consult with wise friends, and finally make risky choices that could have consequences. Instead characters must first get Divine Vocal Intervention, then decide. (Interestingly, this view is often held by folks who thought they threw out fatalism a long time ago along with that “Calvinism.”)

5. Authors simply aren’t creative.

serieslogo_fictionchristiansfromanotherplanetIt starts by rehashing a “conversion story” at all, and gets worse by rehashing the same old conversion story: hero has tragic past, hero doubts God, hero meets Fiction Christians from Another Planet(!), said Christians sponsor “blind faith” and “listen to God’s voice,” hero does so and — surprise — finally hears God’s voice himself and gets saved. Borrrr-ing. How does this affect readers? Worse, what does it say of God, Who lovingly put in Scripture all we really need to know, and assured us He’s more creative than to guide people the same way twice?

Simple solution

No, let’s not “ban” “I myself heard from God and He said X” characters from Christian fiction. But let’s not also pretend they’re the only culture on this planet. Let’s “meet” Christians who believe differently, and hear their stories and their voices.

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Kessie Carroll
Member

If a Christian stays in touch with God, God will communicate with them in all kinds of ways. I’ve personally had word from him through the Bible, through the verse of a song, through something said on the radio. I know it’s from God when I hear the same thing several times in disparate places, like “forgive your spouse”.
 
My mom bumped into one of her friends from years ago. He’d gotten saved, when he’d been a complete pagan. Seemed he’d been sitting at a red light and a big truck filled with carrots pulled up beside him and its trailer started to tip over on his car. He was driving an open convertible. He said that, clear as a bell, a voice said in his ear, “Duck!” And he ducked. And if he hadn’t, the way the truck fell would have decapitated him. He accepted Christ shortly afterward.
 
So, I know God talks to people in all kinds of ways. But in my experience, when God wants to explain something in many words, He talks in Bible verses. Anything beyond that gets into the fun territory of deceiving spirits. There’s a reason Paul said to test the spirits, after all.

Austin Gunderson
Member

I believe God speaks to me.  After all, I am a temple of His Holy Spirit.

But the problem with relying exclusively or even primarily on personal revelation is that God’s is not the only outside voice to cut through the incessant babble of my internal dialog.  To pretend that all spiritual influence is good influence is naiveté in the extreme.  And if I dare to think I’ll “just know” which voice to trust without reference to the authority of scripture, I’m setting myself up as a judge over the Almighty, deciding for myself “what God really said.”  There’s no checks or balances, and no one left to question what it is I think I heard.  Yes, Christ’s sheep know His voice, but Satan isn’t an idiot.  He masquerades as an angel of light.

So many people seem to think that, when the devil appears to them, he’ll arrive in a cloud of sulfur and a blast of toxic stench.  Nothing could be further from reality.  Satan wants to be God, so God is Who he’ll act like.  And if I don’t use God’s direct scriptural revelation to evaluate Satan’s voice in my head, I’ll miss the real darkness behind the false light.

Of course, the wonderful aspect to this is that spiritual deception is red meat for storytellers.  Or should be.  Why don’t we see more of it from Christian authors, I wonder?  The world is far more complex and dangerous than it would be comfortable to suppose.

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

Way to stir the pot with this post!  😉
My mom was the first in her family to come to the Lord, and it started when she thought she heard Him speaking to her one day.  However, today she is a Presbyterian and does not believe God actually speaks to people, but she does believe God works in a number of mysterious ways.  🙂  I’m with her on that one.  I know people can hear a voice, however that happens, and it can lead them to seek out the Lord, but I don’t believe God gives us further real revelation beyond the Scriptures, which are completed.
I love what Kessie said about God speaking to us in many ways.  I have definitely experienced that lately.  I’ll come across an encouraging blog post or devotional at just the right time, or lyrics to a specific hymn will come to mind at the perfect moment when I need that encouragement, and it’s so clear to me that God brought that tidbit my way.  He is good!

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Loving the discussion so far. A few additions here, mainly on the “nonfiction” side.

I believe that in my previous attempts to raise this issue I’ve come about it the wrong way. And other sufficiency-of-Scripture-repeating critics have made things worse. They sound like they’re enforcing rules Scripture itself never said.

I fondly recall one radio host I heard who was critiquing a Christian dance-supplies magazine, and veered away from legitimate questions into an absurd line of criticism. We don’t need this stuff; all we need is the Bible! he said, and went on: We don’t need all this crazy stuff in church, Christian rock concerts, Christian dance, Christian radio — and then he stopped. Laughing, he explained that he had meant Christian rodeos. Not radio. That would mean his program isn’t needed. Ha ha!

Of course I stopped there and asked: Wait, why not Christian radio? Why do you say your radio program is needed if “Scripture is sufficient”? Why not throw it out along with those supposedly useless activities such as dance and concerts and even rodeos? Why should you be the exception? Is it that the Christian dances, etc., could be also saying “Scripture is sufficient”? Would they then be touching “base”?

Clearly we here at Speculative Faith manage to walk and chew gum at the same time: we believe Scripture is God’s Word, is sufficient, and that God uses other things and gifts — such as God-exalting stories — to reinforce that truth. Scripture itself, the sufficient word, calls such things gifts of God, common grace. Romans 1 says that creation echoes certain truths about God, truths made plain to them,” enough to condemn people even if they never once heard a Bible verse. Few would say “the testimony of creation is sufficient!” but that’s exactly what the Word says!

Of course, such testimony isn’t sufficient to give us what we need to know to repent from sin to restore relationship with God. For that we need the Bible.

Yet that doesn’t mean God won’t shout “DUCK!” and drive someone to His Word, as Kessie recounted from her mother’s formerly pagan friend. That reminds me also of the testimonies, some of them from Middle-eastern nations, of Muslims who dream of Isa (Jesus) coming to them, and saying they should read the Christian Bible. Such people later do, then based on that written Word, get saved. Who wants to yell “but Scripture is sufficient!” there? I don’t; in fact, I would yell back, “Hello, would the Devil disguise as Jesus in a dream and then tell a Muslim to read the Bible?” Notice where the better accounts of God “breaking in” to echo His Word drive a person: to Scripture, to His sufficient self-revealing Story, to true worship of Himself.

So if a Christian novel, Christian dance, Christian concert, or Christian rodeo/radio aren’t doing that, the problem is with content, not the Thing itself.

That, however, is a far cry from the more-superstitious kind of belief that expects to hear daily predictions or impulses or “nudges” from God and have them be reliable all the time — that is, if you can properly adjust your “tuner.” I may tip my hand here, but nothing in Scripture ever endorses this idea. If God wants to “echo” something to someone, Christian or otherwise, He will make Himself heard.

However, today she is a Presbyterian and does not believe God actually speaks to people, but she does believe God works in a number of mysterious ways.  🙂  I’m with her on that one.

As am I, though I’m not a Presbyterian. Denying the expectation of regular, habitual, in-effect-non-miraculous breaking-news from God’s voice is not the same as denying that He can break in, or will when we least expect it, or is still doing miracles today. Most of the time we look back and see how He was moving or even “communicating” or working all things for His good plan. We “hear” in retrospect.

So where are the Presbyterian-like characters in Christian speculative fiction (the kind that could have Presbyterians) who believe things like this? I don’t see them. But that may not be the industry’s fault. It could be the Presbyterians’. After all, I don’t know many Presbyterian Christian-spec novelists. They seem to be content with studying the Classics and things like that rather than writing about members of their own denomination aboard, say, intergalactic star-liners. Presbyterians in star-liners. With organs. And weapons called “fatalizers.” That would be a fun novel.

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

Hahahaha.  Well – I am a Presbyterian!  And actually one of my current works-in-progress is about Presbyterians…in starliners.  (And other denominations are present, too, but the main characters are Presbyterian.)  No organs, though.  Maybe I should add those.  😀

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

(But actually, I hate organs and organ-music.) 😛

Paul Lee
Member

To some degree, speculative fiction deals with idealizations, with the joy and wonder that must be true for several reasons but is not experienced in our lives in the mundane level.  In that regard, I think characters having a direct sense of God can serve as a good fantastic device, when used with great caution and without preaching or emotional wrangling.
 
I agree with what has been said here.  But I also believe that the “Word of God” has other meanings besides the Bible, or that it rightfully can.  One of them is creation as the general revelation. (This quote is relevant.)  That’s why communion with nature is a staple of fantasy.  It doesn’t have to be pantheism.  Nature is part of the story, not part of the Author.  The ultimate, final Word is Christ.
 
My point is that even though the Bible is all-sufficient for living, this life is not sufficient.  We need wonders beyond our normal human experience.  We need to hear God’s voice more clearly than we can in this life.  I don’t think fantasizing about that is wrong.

Alassiel
Guest
Alassiel

I love this post. In my own writing, this issue recently came up. My main character expects God to speak to him in obvious, impressive ways: clouds parting with streams of light and a deep heavenly voice. In my experience, when God wants to communicate with me, he does it through a multitude of little things: the books I read, the conversations I have, the music I listen to. I have to pay attention and really listen, and I’m rarely 100% certain that God is speaking.  I’m trying to incorporate that into my character’s life.

In fact, it makes me a little mad when I read a book in which the characters all seem to be in perfect, clear communication with God all the time. God isn’t hovering over my shoulder whispering directions in my ear at every moment. If he was, there would be no need for me to read and memorize His Word and figure out how to apply it in my own life.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

Well, it depends. With fantasy, you really aren’t dealing with the modern Christian’s relation to the events of the Bible as history, so you have more licence to show God’s direct action. I think you can do the ways of relating to God you show in this article, and do them well, but it’s a dramatically different tone, and it can have its own pitfalls. You’d have to justify why on the good side God only communicates through scriptures and events while Evil Sorcerer A is using necromancy to conjure up an army of liches to take over Narniopolis.
There’s also issues that you aren’t covering, like the formation of your psuedo-Christianity’s canon, heresies that rise up in conjunction with the faith, and other realistic pitfalls that the lack of a easy “voice” can bring. These aren’t downsides, but opportunities to make really rich novels. 
With science fiction, this makes far more sense, but a lot of SF likes the whole “lost gospel” idea, and to use non-“voice” ways of knowing God actually presupposes a safe culture where the Scriptures or faith is knowable to all and not persecuted. It’s harder to come to God through a timely verse in the Bible when all you have is four verses from Philemon.
I guess I’m saying that yeah, reliance on a Forcelike inner voice can be cliched, but not every novel is going to have a society that interacts with God in the way us modern Christians do, and making it too close of an analogue to real-life Christianity has its own problems.

Paul
Guest
Paul

This is a great post. It causes me to think about my characters critically. In writing mainly fantasy, I try to emphasize the mystic traditions – say from the Orthodox church where theosis is emphasized.
I think it is important to portray “Christian” characters with faults, struggles and especially mistake-prone – “I heard/understood God incorrectly?” Too many Christian novelist as so vanilla in this respect as if the infallibility of scripture makes there characters infallible. Getting it wrong makes for good fiction. I have protagonist who is actually nominal in faith and a mystic that hears from God very well but they still stumble over each other and have a massive misunderstanding. The mystic has a broad perspective mission and misses out on the protagonist’s doubts. The protagonist just thinks the mystic is a nosy know-it-all who believing herself infallible. It makes for good tension.
Keep pointing out our flaws like this and our collective writing will improve!

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[…] only know your true love after God fatalistically guides you to him/her” school. (See also: Voices From Beyond.) This is often mixed with the “true love waits” ideal. Many, perhaps wrongly, assume that […]

Nomadic
Guest
Nomadic

This might be relevant: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/15/opinion/luhrmann-conjuring-up-our-own-gods.html
Long story short, don’t rely on the voices in your head for your faith.