How to Find Signs of God in Many Fantastical Worlds

God has many ways of showing up in the real world, and he can show up in fantasy in just as many ways.
on Feb 14, 2020 · 7 comments

God is omnipresent, always present in all places at all times.

That doctrinal statement might seem a strange place to start an essay on finding God in fantasy. But think about it: If God were not omnipresent, why would we bother looking for Him midst the strange and surreal landscapes of other worlds that don’t exist?

However, if God is truly omnipresent (and I believe He is), we can approach fantasy with not only the hope that He might be there, but with the confident expectation that He is there. At least, I have yet to find a Bible verse that restricts God’s presence to the realistic. All usually means all, which would mean He is also present in every story and every storyworld.

Now His presence in story, like in the real world, may not be overt. And just like the real world, God may be maligned, misrepresented, ignored, or even outright denied. This is common in secular stories, which is why as Christians we must handle such stories with extra care and discernment. We do not want to accidentally absorb these wrong ideas into our way of thinking. Indeed, due to the metaphorical nature of the genre, we must walk very carefully to compare all we see to the biblical standard, no matter the source of the story, though Christian fantasy tends to be more intentional in its inclusion of God and therefore more accurate in its portrayal. Nonetheless, God will be present somewhere within the story, even if only in the representation of His attributes, such as His sovereignty, love, justice, and mercy.

So how do we go about finding God in these fantastical worlds? Just as He has many ways of showing up in the real world, so He can show up in fantasy in a multitude of ways. But here are five of the most common ways I’ve seen God manifest Himself:

Exact representation

Sometimes God shows up simply as Himself. He is called by the names used in the Bible. He has performed the same acts as those recorded in Scripture. His interactions with the world are the same ones we see in our everyday lives. There is nothing metaphorical or allegorical here. The God presented in the story is the God of the Bible.

This manifestation of God is most common in fantasies with a real-world or pseudo-real world setting, whether contemporary or historical. So you might see God as Himself in urban fantasy, magical realism, high seas adventures, vampire stories, the real world part of portal fantasy, and superhero stories. This is also the most common way for God to show up in fantasy’s speculative counterpart, science fiction. Both John Otte’s Failstate series and my novel, The Vault Between Spaces, includes God in this way.

Direct parallel

God can also show up in a mirror reflection of Himself. That is, the author creates a “clone” of God, as much as is humanly possible. All of God’s revealed character, standards, and will are left intact, but often He will appear under another name, and His interactions with the fantasy world may look a bit different than in the real world (though not in a way that violates the essence of who He is).

This is probably the most common method employed by Christian fantasy writers today, especially in subgenres set in completely alternate worlds (e.g. traditional high fantasy or the alternate universes of portal fantasy). Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia is probably the best-beloved example of this manifestation, though both Sharon Hinck’s Sword of Lyric series and Jill Williamson’s Blood of Kings have wonderful examples of this as well.

Metaphorical type

This third example is closely related to direct parallel and often is mistaken for it. But whereas a direct parallel claims the character to be God, just by another name, a metaphorical type creates a character with a strong resemblance to God. Many of the attributes of God are embodied in this character and thus points to God, but it is done without intending to perfectly represent God. Indeed, to turn a metaphorical type into a direct parallel will often result in wrong theology and a misrepresentation of God.

This version of God’s presence is a bit rarer than the first two manifestations, but it can be commonly found in parables, allegories, and stories with extended metaphors. My own novel, Beast, applies this manifestation to the character of Majesty.

Invisible orchestrator

As I mentioned before, sometimes God will hardly be recognized at all in a story. Rather, He is the person behind the scenes, weaving together the events, directing the characters in the way they should go, all to bring about a desired end, whether that be fulfilled prophesy or the defeat of a great evil. Often God is never recognized by name in these stories, and His sovereignty over the events may be barely acknowledged by the characters. Or, as is common in secular fiction, His behind-the-scenes work may be wrongly attributed to fate, another god, or even the writer himself. But the sense will often linger of something bigger at work. Indeed, the events often unfold in ways that would seem too coincidental, even laughable, if it were not for this sense of something more.

This style of representing God is also common in Christian fantasy, especially in those stories where the Christian worldview is underlying rather than those where a Christian theme drives the plot. Lord of the Rings is a prime example of this, as are the more modern works of R.J. Anderson.

Signposts of truth

This final form of God’s presence is probably the least common and is largely restricted to secular fiction. This is because theologically grounded Christians understand that God exists, is sovereign, and is at work in the world. So to write a story where God is not at least present as an invisible orchestrator would be to create a story that denies the existence of God and create a plot rooted in chaos—which directly contradicts a Christian worldview.

Indeed, this is why this manifestation is rare, for even most secular writers instinctively create according to a sense of order, rules, and structure—which points to an orderer, rule-maker, and builder behind the scenes. That is, an invisible orchestrator. But a few stories push even that so far to the background or so distort the source of that orchestration that God’s presence is relegated to His attributes and the truths that point to Him. For there are some spiritual truths so written into the universe that to write in opposition to them will cause a story to ring untrue to readers. For example, the triumph of good over evil, the power of love, and the work of redemption can all point back to God, albeit in an often misshapen way.

Obviously, these are not the only five ways God manifests Himself in story. And deviations within these five, as well as combinations thereof, can also occur. But within each and every story God will be there. Let’s see if we can spot Him!

Chawna Schroeder is a Minnesotan writer who enjoys snow, chai tea, and playing “what if?”—even if that game occasionally gets her into trouble. She also loves stretching both her imagination and her faith to their limits and helping others to do the same. Chawna's novels include Beast (a coming-of-age fairytale) and The Vault Between Spaces (a Cold-War styled fantasy).You can connect with Chawna at or through Facebook.
  1. Very interesting post. Thanks, Chawna!

  2. Travis Perry says:

    Hi Chawna. I don’t know if you’re familiar with me from articles I’ve written for Speculative Faith previously. I think is my first time seeing anything you’ve written.

    I like the overall tenor of the article but there are a couple of points that might require a bit of clarification. Starting with omnipresence–yes, God is everywhere and the Bible declares it. But that means God is present where evil is taking place as well, where there’s great evil even. Death camps, human trafficking, torture, mass rapes, etc. God being there therefore isn’t the same as “there” being good.

    Anything generated by human beings (as opposed to nature untouched by humans) can have the purposeful intent of being anti-Christian or anti-God. Such as Robert A. Heinlein (a sci fi writer I eagerly read as a teen) portraying religious fundamentalists taking over America, with the intent of showing belief in God that Christians have is dangerous (The Handmaid’s Tale is a more better-known example of the same thing). Or stories can use God’s name exclusively as a curse word, or can portray beings who are clearly not God as false or substitute gods. Or stories can glorify or normalize sin, which of course, God doesn’t favor. A list of five ways to corruptly or falsely portray God in stories or to attempt to eliminate God from stories could just as easily be generated as a list of five positive ways to find God in stories.

    Can we find elements that point to God even if those works of literature that go out of their way to be anti-God? I would say that yes, we can. Even the Satanic Bible, by saying “Thou shalt commit adultery!” is bearing unwilling witness to the fact that the Bible says the opposite. (But that doesn’t make the Satanic Bible inherently good…)

    But such a process of truly finding God requires us to become critical, to at least at times suppress enjoyment of a tale and take an honest look at what it’s really saying. As per the story Jesus told with a purpose in Matthew 13:26-30, there are “tares” (or weeds that resemble wheat) planted in with the wheat (planted by an “enemy,” who Jesus said in verse 39 represents a specific dark spiritual power). The weeds or tares are false believers in that parable but the same thing applies to false beliefs–since false, poisonous beliefs do exist, we therefore are required to sort out the two things as best we can. Though the ultimate sorting of people is done by God in judgment at the end of the world.

    In relation to that sorting process, if a particular message or story is poisonous for us in a way that we are for whatever particular reason vulnerable to personally, we may do better to chose to avoid it altogether. Rather than engage in a sorting process that may do us harm. And we should be bold in admitting that some kinds of things are a problem for us, since proclivities to sin really do exist among God’s people (though I do recognize most people aren’t inclined to admit their own shortcomings–but if you wanna hear about some of mine, I’ll tell you 🙂 ).

    But other than me feeling the need to point out in clear terms there is Evil as well as Good in stories and making it clear that we need to actively identify and minimize evil things, I am fully in agreement with the idea of looking for what is good as well. Yes, looking for where God can be found is half of a necessary process that we ought to engage in as we read or otherwise consume entertainment.

    You of course did reference dealing with some stories with “extra care and discernment” but I felt it necessary to point out that the sorting process applies to all literature and that looking for potential harm is as important as looking for good.

    So thank you for some specific suggestions on how to look for and find God in stories. Taken with a grain of salt, what you said was very good!

  3. Love this, Chawna, and thanks for the shout-out!

    I’d also add George MacDonald to the list of authors who’ve used metaphorical types in their fantasy, as that seems to have been his favourite approach — and interestingly, all of his are female: the Wise Woman in THE LOST PRINCESS, the Queen Irene in the CURDIE books, and the North Wind in AT THE BACK OF THE NORTH WIND. If readers take these types as exact or allegorical, it would indeed lead to some strange ideas about God, but read metaphorically they’re perfectly orthodox*, and full of beautiful truth. It’s one of the things that emboldened me to write a similar metaphorical type character (Valerian) in my faery books, in addition to the allusions to direct God- and Christ-parallels like the Great Gardener and Rhys the Deep.

    * Which is not to say that MacDonald himself was perfectly orthodox, since he believed in universal salvation. But that’s not really touched on in any of his children’s fantasy, at least not as far as I recall.

What do you think?