A dear friend of mine, also a writer, sent me a flurry of texts the other day. Our brief conversation went as follows:
Friend: I think authors are given an incredibly unique perspective into God’s relationship with us. Especially in understanding how things can end when life is dark and oppressive.
Me: Oh, yes. I think it’s partly because for writers it’s never as it seems. To the characters it may look like abandonment, rejection, or cruelty, but to us there’s always a point, and we’re oft more emotionally affected than they are.
Friend: [Just think about everything my character goes through, all of it. ] And she’s grown and learned so much. That’s how God sees our lives, and it’s amazing to think about. Because I know how incredible my ending for [her] feels; just imagine how many times more incredible God’s ending is! But in the end, she [has all she wanted & fought for and more].
Me: Right. More happened…because more had to happen. And yeah, it’s mind boggling.hah. Yeah. But it makes you think, too, how often we joke about characters hating us. Truth is, we love them deeply, and if they could we’d want their love in return.
Friend: I think that’s the beautiful thing about being a Christian author.
God talks to me in story-form, in the slow unveiling of revelation or a simple image from a book or movie rising in my head. Sometimes our relationship is a bit long-distance, other times it’s a quiet, mutual company-keeping. Sometimes I’ve awoken wide awake to the sound of my own name, and I swear it was him. Sometimes I feel his invisible, strong embrace; most often I hear his laughter. I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten more than one eyebrow-raise, you know, with his arms crossed as he gives me a look only a parent or a really good friend can give. He’s sat and watched me rant; seen me throw the car keys and kick a tree or brick wall, watched me worry myself to sleep and helped me struggle through a bout of insomnia. If I decide to go it alone, he follows behind with his hand on his sword, waiting for that moment where I’ve finally backed myself into a corner surrounded by enemies–and that’s when he rolls his eyes, draws his sword, and gets me out of trouble. Again.
As a reader, I’ve learned to trust the author. I enjoy the suspense as much as the grand finale, just like I enjoy waiting for Christmas as much as the actual event. I like being led by the nose, and I really don’t want to try to figure it out. If I do, so be it–knowing what happens isn’t the same as knowing how it happens, anyway. But don’t spoil it; I like to watch the author work, watch him spin his magic and tease me, baffle me, and play me. I’m not just a bystander, you see. I’m one of the pawns in play, and I can only see the squares immediately around me.
This sounds ridiculous, but I really don’t question God anymore than I would an author. Matter of fact, the minute the trust is broken between reader and author, it’s incredibly difficult to gain it back. Sometimes it’s impossible. For one thing, I’ve been severely blessed, so it’s very difficult to get too upset with him when the hole’s generally my fault and I’ve only to turn around to find someone worse off than me. I am the church brat of all church brats, and the older I get the more terrified I am to realize that, not only do I understand Paul’s “boastings” about his “pedigree,” I probably have more in common with Saul of Tarsus than I’m really comfortable with. And I think I’ve been mad at him once, but it simmered almost as fast as it began.
I know there’s hard questions out there, and I can give you a list that’s tragically long of people who faced severe trials and asked legitimate–well, logical/understandable–questions of him. For them, that trust was completely shattered, be it reality or perception.
But that goes back to what my friend was saying. We joke about characters hating us if they were real, and for several, that’s probably right. But authors are the gods of their storyworlds, and the bizarre truth is that our feelings toward them are, in reality, far from sadistic. We cry over them, plan their vindication, plot revenge against bad guys, and execute justice with cold pleasure. We sympathize with the misguided and destroy those who won’t accept a saving hand.
I wrote as an exercise a dialogue between the God figure of a story and a beloved character a few years ago, the same way I sometimes write my dialogue-prayers with God. The character doesn’t really have the capacity for such abstract questions and concepts, but I gave him full rein and vent to all the fear and doubt in his heart. You see, of all the characters I’ve created, this one is the most innocent. He’s a pure spirit, innocent and childlike, gentle and humble. And he’s probably been through all the levels of Hell two or three times over by the time he’s twenty-four.
So I wrote God and Man and let him ask what he willed.
He never questioned the figure’s existence, but he asked why all these things had been done to him, why he feared for his life every day and feared losing his own soul. He asked me what he’d done that needed penance and begged me to heal his broken mind and body. He wanted me to take away his weakness and make him strong, and he wanted to know why he’d learned to love only to be betrayed again. The questions came, unending, and he didn’t stop with himself. He asked me about his friends, one by one, even the ones turned traitor. He even asked me about his enemies, why they hated him so and what he’d done to deserve their loathing. He continued down the list, naming every wound I’d inflicted with tears in his eyes.
Then he finished. We were quiet for awhile. The God figure called him by name and asked, “What else happened?”
He looked away for a minute, knowing the answer and stubbornly refusing to give it. We waited; he’s stubborn, but he gets it from me, and in the end his nature is not to try to dominate.
Time after time he’d been rescued; time after time he’d been given new friends. He learned how to love–something no one thought him capable of–and gained a family. He earned respect and sonship; he became the champion of his entire region. He became gentle and meek, learning how to use his strength to protect instead of oppress. He learned good from evil and didn’t become what his enemies tried to make him to be. He learned who and what he really is, and, in the end, got something greater than he could have dreamed had none of those things ever happened. And he never would have met his Maker. Who, in the story, is not me.
He started out a small boy. He’d have had a decent life left alone, but it’d have been in hiding, at best. But I had bigger plans for him than that, and I had to equip him for it. So I sent him through Hell. Two or three times, at least.
When he finished, his Maker asked him with a sad smile, “Would you have had it any different?”
My sweet boy raised his head, offered a shy smile back, and said, “Not a moment.”
” For we are His workmanship [ his poetry, handiwork], created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
~ Ephesians 2.10