Wednesday, August 18, 2010

God is Edgy

As 2009 wound down, a friend raved about reading her new Bible from beginning to end. I thought I'd done that, but I hadn't. Who knew Job was written before Genesis, that Ezekiel and Jeremiah do-si-doed? (No, I didn't go to Bible school.) I was very intrigued. My husband saw my interest and ordered a chronological Bible for my birthday. Wow.

It's been a very interesting year. The story seems bigger, more personal.

In my reading, however, I've thought more than once: Uh, God, have you seen the writing guidelines for Christians?

In short, God isn't always nice, nor does he use polite language. We make a mistake if we try to fit him into our 1950s sensibilities, probably the last decade being His follower felt comfortable. In my Bible reading yesterday, God speaks to Israel through Ezekiel like harlots with lusts for very large (Ezekial 23), only He spoke in more earthy language. In the next chapter, Ezekiel's wife dies. God tells him not to mourn to demonstrate His lack of pity on His adulterous children. That's not nice, either.

God is so surprising.

He is not "nice" as defined in western culture. In fact, "He's not a tame lion," as C.S. Lewis proclaims in his Chronicles of Narnia. His jaws ensnare us; his teeth rip flesh; we are devoured by His greatness.

He's God.

His justice is harsh. His love is crushing, comforting, confounding. His truth immutable. When we expect Him to zig, He zags. He subdues His power and begs us to come closer. His will comes to us as a finger writing in stone and by a child's breathy whisper. He is a passionate lover. His desire is for us, and His love outpaced His judgment when He took the nails on Calvary.

Who can figure Him out?

And yet, books are written--fiction and nonfiction--pretending to knowing the secret formula for taming Him, like if we do x, he will y. Riiight.

All of this is to say (thanks for being patient) True edgy fiction isn't pushing the envelope on topics of sex and language, although I agree with Sharon's conclusions yesterday.

Edgy fiction lets God be God.

We need some good examples, don't we? What have you read lately that portrays God as God? Lisa Samson's The Passion of Mary-Margaret and Embrace Me come to mind. And you?


Nicole said...

Yes, Patti. Truth.

I write passion. The wonder of the attractions between men and women and God to his people. Contrast the world's views of sex, love, romance to God's view. Real. Not soft. Not dainty. Not explicit or graphic but honest from both perspectives. Portray the lost without judgment. Without glorification.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Edgy fiction lets God be God. Amen!

Going to check out Samson's books.

I think we are wise to be thankful for the mystery. Some of what we don't know could quite possibly kill us. (Makes me think about how no one can look upon the face of God and live.)
~ Wendy

Latayne C Scott said...

When I read through the Narrated Bible aloud with my teenage son, we came to places where I had to stop and explain some (gulp) touchy subjects.

But -- he went into adulthood knowing that the Bible deals with all of life -- not just with "peace joy and love" Christianity. Now he's a children's minister. He is taking our congregation's kids through the Bible. Of course he's not mentioning EVERYTHING to grade school kids -- but some concepts, like circumcision, he has explained in detail to the boys with respect and clarification.

I just love, love, love the Bible. I pray I can in a small way reflect in my writing those things that God felt were important to talk about.

Sara said...


We so want God to be safe. We so want to be in control . . . but God has something better than that for us. To grow us beyond ourselves in ways that we can't even imagine. Terrifying, Wonder-full stuff. Hope I'm brave enough for it.

Patti Hill said...

Nicole: Well said! We should be the realist in the world. We have the advantage knowing the end of the story.

Wendy: Yes, we must be thankful for the mystery. I just got back from a meeting with my mother's radiologist. The quick and easy treatment they'd planned won't work. But God is still on his throne. He's love is undiminished. His purposes are higher. Let's see what he will do.

Latayne: Once the world gets to read A Conspiracy of Breath, we'll all have a tough act to follow.

Sara: Terrifying and wonder-full sums it up pretty well. Thanks!

Niki Turner said...

Excellent post, Patti. God IS edgy, and radical, too! I love what Nicole said, it IS time for believers to be the realists. Real answers for real people with real problems.

Nikole Hahn said...

Life In Defiance by Mary De Muth. Darn good book!

Bonnie Grove said...

I love this post, Patti. It helps us take the gloves off. Reminds us that if we begin to be completely honest with ourselves and our condition and our identity in God, we are going to be abel to produce something amazing.

Let me say this about Samson's work, mentioned in your post - it is well written, and it is a good story. I will not recommend it, however, because in the book, Samson makes light of the issue of priests sexually abusing children (she does this at least twice in the story that I can recall). She has her character basically say, "oh, a few bad apples, who doesn't have them?" After I read that, I tossed the book.
Here in Canada we have just finished a 15 year inquiry into residential schools run by the Catholic church. They uncovered decades of systematic emotional, physical, and sexual abuse by priests and nuns perpetrated on children in the school. I won't say more, because my hands are shaking as I type - I found it profoundly horrible that a Christian author would make a social statement that further victimizes the victims of these horrible crimes by suggesting we all simply look the other way because it's not a big deal. It IS a big deal.
Edgy is one thing. Socially responsible is another.

Gossip Cowgirl said...

I just read a phenomenal book by Jenette Green called "The Reluctant Bodyguard" that does exactly this. It treats the sensuality and passion of relationships with reality, and also manages to make God and morality a real and important part of the story as well.

Too often, I think I see Christian fiction doing one or the other. Either the books are sensual, or God is present.

I hope I do both in my own writing. I think Jennette Green does both. I look forward to seeing more in the future.

In my opinion, we have to be careful not to sanitize passionate love. I know that, especially as I get older, my physical desires get more pronounced. And although I am not yet married, I have no doubt that when I do find the person that I want to spend my life with, God fully intends for those desires to be unleashed. I don't think that "waiting until marriage" means that you don't experience desire, or that you don't have to struggle with boundaries. When we write Christian books that don't address this, we immediately make ourselves irrelevant to most of the population. Especially to the young population.

Even some of us who do read those sanitized books still can't really relate to them. I know I can't. I read them because I like a good love story. But I can't relate to them at all.

Cherry Odelberg said...

Well said! Thank you!

Patti Hill said...

Niki: Thanks for stopping by! And I agree, Nicole distilled the topic down beautifully.

Nikole: All of Mary's books do this well. Thanks for the reminder.

Rebecca: Passionate love is God's plan for us and our desires were part of his plan. The drama comes from living out his plan--well or not. Thanks for another recommendation. Oh boy, my TBR pile is about to topple.

Cherry: Glad you chimed in.

Nicole said...

Bonnie, I understand your anger.

What I would offer not as an excuse for what you construed as flippant rhetoric regarding such a serious travesty is this but as a reason: the protagonist is a Catholic Sister, raised by nuns, entrenched in the system, devoted to her religion, and concerned only with what God has shown her in her life by her visits with Jesus.

Obviously, this particular admission in the novel hit a nerve for you and gave you reason not to embrace the story.

Samantha Bennett said...

This post rang so true. The Bible shocks me some times. And I'm learning to love that. :)

Anonymous said...

Just a word of caution...I had just read Ezekiel 23 a few days ago so did a double take when I read what you wrote. There wasn't anything about "genitalia" that I'd remembered. I went back and looked...the KJV translaters have the word "flesh" there. I looked it up in a Strong's Concordance and the word is simply flesh. The NIV translators didn't always translate the words word for word as they should. So the translators might be edgier where God wasn't.

Latayne C Scott said...

Lynn, I think it's great that you are studying the Bible in depth. I so wish more Christians would ask questions and investigate things that puzzle them like you do.

One thing that's going on the the Ezekiel passage is the King James' translators reticence to refer openly to sexual matters when it could be stated another way. The word flesh is used throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament, to mean something other than just our skin and tissues.

In this case, we have two clues that it means more than just bodily tissue. One clue is in the fact that Hebrew writing loves parallelism, and the "flesh" is paralleled to issue, which means seminal issue. The second thing is that Strong's didn't give you the full picture (I have a Strong's -- and if it did, it would weigh 500 pounds!)

Here's a link that will show you that more translators than the NIV translation committee believed it referred to genitalia. Remember that each of these Bibles was translated by a group of scholars who had to come to agreement on how they stated things:

Be sure and click on the word flesh so see an expanded explanation.

Happy reading!