God rarely figures in modern fiction. Once disproved by Enlightenment philosophers, spiritual dimensions have gradually receded from our imaginations.
But writers can still incorporate God into fiction in meaningful ways, by employing His presence with wisdom. Here are a few strategies for weaving Him into their narrative worlds.
Table of Contents
1. Characters See or Hear God
When your characters interact with God in your story, it’s crucial that you decide whether they’re seeing or hearing Him. Direct or indirect theophany will depend on your goals and how deeply readers should become immersed into your world. Both may pose the danger of inadvertently offending someone; either may add depth and dimension.
Direct theophany can give readers a clear image of God and help them form relationships with Him, but for younger readers this might be difficult and should only be employed sparingly and with care.
Indirect theophany is more subtly done and allows more creative freedom in terms of setting. This could involve anything from a god’s presence and power in your character’s life to their actions or even reputation for things like anger or cruelty.
No matter how you depict God and the interaction of your character with him or her, it’s essential that they follow the biblical definition of gods. An ancient word for “god” was *gheu-tos, meaning to invoke or pour out by pouring out an offering or libation.
One common misperception about gods is that they must always appear as vindictive figures, leading to stories that only show one side of a complex issue. While there may be examples of this in Scripture, this does not have to be their sole portrayal.
Realistic portrayals of God demonstrate his kindness and generosity towards all living beings. For your characters to form relationships with Him, they may need to work through pain and hardship before understanding His work in their world – which makes for powerful storytelling! When this occurs, stories become truly transformative experiences worth telling and telling!
2. God Becomes the Conduit
An effective conduit allows something to pass from one source to another, and using God as such a conduit in fiction allows something to flow in both directions. Placing Him at the core of your plot and theme avoids imparting objective truths circuitously while decreasing preachy stories while creating an image of Him that resonates with readers while leaving him out altogether.
Ancient Hebrew prophets were conduits of Divine Glory operating with and through them, yet still showed many human traits such as being grumpy, jealous or anger. Furthermore, such hindrances as pride or laziness could obstruct their power flow and even prevent its free flow altogether.
As recent examples demonstrate, contemporary atheist novelists — like Thomas Bunting from Ian McEwan’s The End of the World — can still depict God as essential and create compelling narratives around spiritual obstacles faced by their characters, without falling into intellectual narrowness and reductionism as found among some New Atheist volumes of nonfiction writing.
Fiction provides an ideal platform for exploring God’s role in our lives as it filters reality through fictional lenses and shadows that prompt us to reconsider our perceptions. Therefore, an engaging fictional tale about His presence can challenge readers’ assumptions while drawing them closer to Jesus Christ.
Do not mistake presenting biblical images of God as an attempt to lure readers into your church. Although incorporating God into fiction can be important, you should avoid creating any sense that they belong together too closely – I suggest reading Kenneth Padgett and Shay Gregorio’s The Story of God with Us for inspiration when considering how best to incorporate His image in your writing. It offers insight into His relentless desire for connection with humanity while inspiring creative writing practice. It is beautifully written book and will offer plenty of food for thought when trying to incorporate God into fiction writing.
3. God is an Image of Virtue
One way that God can be depicted in fiction is as an embodiment of virtue. By serving as an example for moral excellence and providing strength to those struggling to meet his standards, he becomes an invaluable ally.
As a Christian, I have found novels depicting Christianity’s God can be very moving. Biblical depictions often portray him as loving and compassionate, which helps reassure readers that he cares for us and will guide us down the right path. Furthermore, biblical characters typically display virtues such as courage, kindness, and self-control – qualities Christians strive to embody themselves, so these characters naturally appeal to readers.
Novels that feature Christian God can encourage readers to seek him in their daily lives. According to Scripture, we were created not only in God’s image, but also after his likeness; therefore we are called to mirror him through acts of service or striving toward holiness in our own lives.
Thomas Bunting from Michael Wood’s novel The Nature of Virtue serves as an exemplary character who strives to emulate his creator. When faced with hardship, he prays to God for help and guidance – an act which shows even staunch nonbelievers can still be moved by an appeal for help and an intention to serve.
This concept of God differs significantly from that presented by many New Atheists, who associate sin and judgment directly. Unfortunately, they may have gone too far in their attacks against dogma by romanticizing an image of an all-seeing, all-judging God who awaits our next moral transgression – novels which incorporate this notion can inspire moments of doubt among both believers and nonbelievers alike.
4. God is a Symbol of Hope
God shines bright in a world beset with darkness. Christianity’s God is one who intervenes directly into history – from creation, where He gives man an exclusive role over His creation, through to Adam’s Fall and Abraham’s covenant, then finally sending a global flood to save one righteous family from drowning – right up until today, where His followers enjoy miracles and spiritual gifts from Him on a daily basis.
Novelists who venture to show God in such a vivid way can inspire readers to long for His personal involvement in their own lives, especially at times of uncertainty and despair. Novels which show life with Him at its center can make an indelible mark in readers’ lives and bring comfort and hopefulness in turn.
Fiction can provide a profound way of exploring God through different lenses of literary representations of reality, inspiring readers to rethink their perceptions of themselves, others and God – regardless of genre (from fantasy through fable to science fiction). Two authors in particular excel at depicting an active, real God who plays an intricate part in human affairs: Mary Oliver and J. K. Rowling are masterful at depicting these characteristics of an ever-present god who intervenes directly with human affairs.
C. S. Lewis has given his characters Aslan and Christ an intimate depiction of Christianity through The Chronicles of Narnia, using both traditional Christian imagery as well as mythological symbolism to demonstrate God’s power through His word.
Other writers have shown the ability to depict God without resorting to mawkish sentimentality or overstating His power; giving readers hope and comfort during times of darkness.
Ted Chaing stands out as an author with extraordinary grace and an understanding of faith’s centrality to our lives. His playful humor and talent for depicting how God interconnects with daily events inspire his readers to examine their own relationship with the almighty; novels such as Brideshead Revisited and A Handful of Dust offer excellent places to begin this exploration.