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?
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?