Writing Tips

Christian Fiction: Should I have an Allegorical God?

Should I have an Allegorical God

For many of us, our first introduction to Christian fiction was The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis chose to create a wonderful allegory for God through a lion named Aslan, and this was a genuinely touching introduction to allegorical Christian fiction. But after our first journey with Aslan, we read many other Christian allegories with less meaningful themes and God-characters that either fall flat or bordered on heresy. The problem with these allegories is that God-characters are difficult to write and often are not the best way to get themes and Christian messages across.

This is a struggle for Christian writers, and we should not lightly undertake writing an allegorical character for God.

God is unfathomably complex, so how do you simplify Him enough for a story while still communicating His specific attributes? And how do you convey the unfathomable nature of God while making the allegorical character personal? Then there is the terrifying point when you realize that you have to put words into the mouth of your God-character. (Yikes!) So we often end up flippantly regurgitating Bible stories and turning them into cliches or tweaking them a bit too much and ending up with heresy. Many characters supposed to be allegorical for God end up looking more like Puzzle’s lion, from The Last Battle, rather than Aslan, and very few writers succeed in writing an allegorical character for God. So how do you know if writing an allegorical God-character is best for your story?

Writing Christian Fiction, Should I have an Allegorical God

Today, I am not going to offer tips on writing an allegorical God-character,  though there are ways to avoid the aforementioned problems (such as using scripture as the basis for dialogue). Instead, I want to help you figure out if having a God-character is best for your story.

In general, the reason why we initially decide to have a God-character is because we want to have a Christian theme. However, a Christian theme does not always require a God character. So ask yourself the question:

Would my themes be more powerful if this character was a normal person and not an allegory for God?

Sometimes substituting in a well-rounded human character for your God-character actually makes a theme more powerful. After all flawed, vulnerable and very human followers of Christ are called to act like Christ to others:

“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” Ephesians 5:1-2

“My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you…” Galatians 4:19

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” Galatians 5:27

“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us,leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps…” 1 Peter 2:21

By using a human character, we can offer our readers a better sense of sacrifice and love– not that our love is greater than God’s (it most certainly is not), but that the stories we construct often don’t properly show and depict God-level love, and the message become more powerful when a weak, flawed human is able to act as Christ to another through the power of God.

Having a human character also gives us more freedom to develop personality and make the story more realistic– after all, we can hardly know what or why God does what He does, but we can find realistic motivation for human character. Also this strategy allows the reader able to connect better with a complex character rather than a simplified representation of God. Finally, this ups the stakes of your story. With a human character, your readers will worry about them dying or making the wrong choice whereas if you have an allegorical God, then most readers will recognize that He can neither die nor chose wrong.

However, some stories require an allegorical God. I cannot imagine Narnia without Aslan. Just be careful with characters who are allegories for God. Ask yourself if you really even need an allegorical God before you start messing with something that might be beyond you (for now, anyways.) There is no shame in admitting that you are not ready to write an allegorical God. Personally, I have just realized that I am not ready, and that is okay. My story will be better now that I have admitted as much and plan to use a human character to show Christ to others.

So have you ever written a story with an allegorical God? What are your thoughts on these type of strong allegories?

God bless,

Gabrielle

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16 thoughts on “Christian Fiction: Should I have an Allegorical God?”

  1. I have never read any story with an allegorical God which I did not want to throw into the fire at some point, whereas Christian fiction without one is about 50/50 whether I like it or not. Maybe it works for some readers. Maybe I’ll come across one of these characters that I don’t hate at some point. However, because I have that association (allegorical God character = bad story), I can’t even consider attempting it. Same reason I can’t attempt love triangles and superior races.
    Aaaand I think I’ve made my feelings on strong allegories clear previously (sheepish grin). I still found this interesting to read, though.
    God bless you too!

    http://fransthinkings.blogspot.co.uk

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    1. Have you ever read Narnia? That might change your mind, though I understand if your preconception gets in the way (that sounds like I am criticizing you– I am not, we all have preconceptions about different things.)

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      1. I have read Narnia. It’s actually where my dislike of allegory comes from. My parents read it to me first when I was quite young, and I got annoyed because I could kind of tell it wasn’t just a story and I thought several things were “unfair”. When I read it again when I was a bit older, I felt the same way: I disagree with some of the opinions in the stories, but I can’t argue with it because it’s a book, and I can’t ignore the messages and just read the story because the whole point of the story is the messages. Since then, other allegories I’ve read have just built on that.

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  2. I agree, we have to be careful when trying to come up with an allegorical God – and I think we overwhelm ourselves when we try to capture all of His attributes into one character. I think we need to focus on the point of our story and how that character fits into it, then focus on what attributes of God we need to display in this microcosm of a story. If we try not to encapsulate all of God into this small story, we do better at being true. Not even Aslan captured all of God, nor did Lewis want to capture all of Him. He focused on Christ’s sacrifice, resurrection, and majesty foremost. A lot more came along the way, too.

    I have a character called the World Maker, who really isn’t an allegory for God, but God, just known by another name in another world. He isn’t a real player in the book, but His influence is felt throughout. Creation, grace, wisdom, etc. The whole we can see His hand working without actually seeing Him, often only after the events are finished.

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    1. Interesting points, Russell. I agree that we should focus on one or two aspects of God in our story, though I am not totally convinced that we have to come up with a theme for our story and then “fit” a God- character in. I think we can also start with an aspect of God, but in any case, having a God-character is very difficult to write (as I mentioned in the post, I now know that I am not ready to write one.)
      Your World Maker sounds a lot like Tolkien’s Eru. Have you ever read the Silmarillion? It is a relatively hard read, but you might find it interesting to see how Tolkien actually works a God-character into his world.

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      1. I’ve not read it, yet. Will have to soon. And, yes it is difficult. I think it’s generally a bad idea to fit a character, any character, into a story. Might be a good warning light to rethink things if you have to force it to work. 🙂

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  3. I agree with Russell — God characters are probably best when the author chooses one attribute to focus on. Of course, then you run the risk of making God seem TOO narrow. Thankfully, God’s existence doesn’t depend on us portraying Him correctly. 🙂

    I think one of the major problems with God characters is that they’ve become a cliche. A wise, stern yet kind, all-knowing King in a castle somewhere who only communicates through metaphors and life lessons. I think this kind of God character is more likely to drive people away from God than illuminate His glory. For one thing, it’s sexist, something that has sadly driven many people away from religion. I also feel like it’s easy for it to seem like characters can run afoul of this God without even knowing what they did — all while he’s smiling sadly as they go to their doom, of course.

    Americans really don’t like having to “take someone’s word for it” (even though we do it all the time) and the thought of putting trust in Someone you can’t understand is hard enough in real life. When authors handle this sloppily and the characters seem willing to risk their lives with little or no reason to believe they should trust this person, it’s even more of a turn-off.

    I’ve been thinking about this a little, since I’m considering trying my hand at fantasy, and personally I think it’d be nice to see a God character written by someone who’s really struggling with something about Him. Put THAT aspect into the story. Don’t be afraid to let people see sometimes you really don’t know. Wrestle with it. So many times Christian stories are nothing more than cliches, because the writers don’t want to take the risk of admitting they don’t know something about God.

    One of the best-done “God-characters” is actually Kira from Death Note, NOT because he’s supposed to be like God — more like the Devil — but because he made me stop and think about what God is really supposed to be. Is God a God of judgement? A God of fear? There were a lot of Old Testament parallels in that show, even though it’s a secular program, and although it really freaked me out and caused me to struggle for a while, I ultimately thought through it and realized no, God is the opposite of that. God’s a God of love. But I wouldn’t have thought about it that deeply if Kira hadn’t been twisting God’s name into something evil. (Of course, this is probably only something to try with more mature readers. I imagine kids would get REALLY upset and confused.)

    I also think it’d be fun for an allegorical King or Queen to get more than a little frustrated with their subjects…because honestly, it can’t be all fun and games watching sheep. (Have you ever looked up real sheep behavior? They’ll run off cliffs and eat poison. They’re worse than chickens. And I own chickens.)

    Anyway, that’s my thoughts. 🙂

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    1. Great point about making God-character too narrowly focused. They are just difficult– too difficult for me anyways (as my most critical beta reader, I am sure you are happy to hear this admission 😉 )
      I don’t understand why the cliched God-king is sexist. Can you explain that?
      I completely agree that we should write about what we struggle with– especially as Christian writers and even more so if we are writing about God.
      I disagree that Kira is meant to be an allegory for God–especially considering the secular nature of the show. I think he was meant to be closer to the Nietzsche superman or any prideful human trying to “play God.” However, you make an interesting point about how he made you think about God as a God of judgement (though I think we should also realize that God must be just to be good.) By the way, I liked your Death Note post, though I disagreed that the second half was successful. Personally, I was extremely disappointing, and I know a lot of other fans were, too, so I don’t think it can be held up as an example for that.
      I actually spent the last week living on a friend’s ranch and taking care of her sheep. So yes; they are so stupid.

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      1. Good point, Russell, but Lewis did dramatically change both Bacchus and Silenus. I suppose Lewis would claim that he “untwisted” the pagan myths to show the truth. In Narnia, they were not so much gods as powerful nymphs who ruled over others.

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    1. Well, I think you have to be careful. In the world of fantasy, there is a long tradition of powerful beings representing parts of the world that are under the Divine/God. My main example would be Tolkien with the Valar and Illuvatar (if you have read the Silmarillion). However, I would caution you to be more careful with using actual deities from different religions (such as Zeus.) If you do change their characters and purposes enough so that they fit my first suggestion, then you are essentially changing the whole culture and world that goes with those gods. If you don’t and keep the God out of your story, then I think you should ask yourself why you think gods like Zeus make a better story than the God. So be careful 🙂

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  4. Great post, Gabrielle! Yes, I feel like most fantasies besides Narnia end up having a flat God-character. I like Sharon Hinck’s Sword of Lyric cycle. She creates a fantasy world, but God is still Himself in the story, but the people of her fantasy world know Him as “the One.” Paul McCusker’s Passages series used this same idea and made it work well.

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  5. I think I can honestly say that I’ve only read two books/series (one of them being Narnia) who portrayed a God/Jesus figure that I liked. Several years ago I did try to write a representation of Jesus (like Aslan) but I gave up on it. Since then I haven’t tried, I don’t really want to misrepresent God in my novel. I prefer books with human characters who show some characteristics of God, whilst still being fallible human characters.

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