On Sunday, I noticed more than ever that when we sing about God, we mostly sing romantic songs.
Old hymns weren’t like this, so much, but modern praise music is. We worship our loving, gentle, intimate, beautiful, wooing, dancing, serenading God.
Last Sunday in my church, that sort of praise music–with all that is good and right about it–was followed by a hard-hitting sermon on the jealousy and wrath of God.
That juxtaposition put the powerful paradoxes of God on display in a very good way. But it also made me wonder if God wouldn’t like us to sing about His other qualities sometimes. If we couldn’t more accurately celebrate His whole nature; if we couldn’t more effectively worship everything He is.
Recently I’ve been reading a lot of CBA historical fiction, which, the market being what it is, means I’ve been reading a lot of Christian romance. While the times and places of these stories influence the action, the action isn’t about those times and places–it’s about women and men and falling in love, attendant with lots of blushes and stomach quiverings.
And I can’t help wondering if the supremacy of romantic women’s fiction in the CBA is a symptom of our romantic view of God.
A church that views God primarily as a patient (if sometimes boyishly irascible) Lover, one who comes to gratify our desires, bestow worth upon us, make our insides quiver, and woo us into a close personal relationship with Him, has no better genre to give image to its understanding.
A romantic view of God can tell us true things. God is, in fact, a lover. He does bestow worth upon us, He gratifies our holiest desires, He woos us into relationship with Him–though we do nothing to deserve it. And no man has ever made my insides quiver like God has!
But that’s not all He is. And if those are the only images we create, the only terms in which we couch our faith, we will worship a lopsided view of God and not God as He really is. We need to do what my pastor did as well: move beyond the love songs and deal with God’s wrath and justice and jealousy and frightening holiness.
Here is where I think speculative fiction is positioned especially well. Romantic fiction tends to stay within the sphere of “personal relationship,” while speculative fiction has the power (or perhaps just the newness) to range much farther afield.
In speculative fiction, Christian authors wrestle with suffering, mercy, and justice (Polivka’s Blaggard’s Moon), the relationship between art, beauty, and truth (Overstreet’s Auralia Thread), the presence of God in whole nations and cultures (Summa Elvetica, The Lord of the Rings), atonement (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), the gospel in the darkness of human nature (Schooley’s The Dark Man; Hancock’s The Enclave).
Fantasy especially can give voice to a whole raft of biblical concepts we’ve almost lost in our modern American culture: kingship, holiness, the power of the sword. When I read of Christ our coming King, who will sit on the Throne of David to judge the nations, I know that my concepts of my King are at least partially shaped by authors like Tolkien and Lewis; Stephen Lawhead and George MacDonald.
One of the things storytellers do is use images and characters and unforgettable plots to give form to the things we believe–and to shape the things we believe. Jesus did this with parables. I don’t think a nonfiction work of theology could do in seven hundred pages what Jesus did in a few minutes with the parable of the prodigal son, for example.
As writers, then, we can and should take opportunity to explore the whole nature and character of God in our stories.
And as readers, we should pay attention to what stories we are using to understand and shape our own faith.