God is an Author. This world is his story. We are his characters.
I first heard of the analogy sitting in a college philosophy class, and I’ve used it ever since. I find it personally fruitful and pastorally helpful in addressing everything from God’s sovereignty and human freedom to the two wills of God to the problem of evil. It’s what you might call a potent metaphor.
And a biblically faithful one. God speaks the world into existence (Genesis 1). He upholds it by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). All the days ordained for us were written in a book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16).
The Causer of All Things
A couple of years ago one of my colleagues at Bethlehem College and Seminary (a Hebrew scholar) gave me more biblical evidence for the Author-story analogy. He told me that Yahweh, the name that God revealed to Moses in Exodus 3, is likely the causative form of the Hebrew verb hayah, “to be.”
You see, in Hebrew, if you want to emphasize that one thing causes another thing to happen, you put it in the causative form (technically it’s called the hiphil form). So if you want to say “I smash,” you take the verb “to break” and put it into the causative form and you wind up with, “I cause to break” (or “I smash”). So the verb “to be” in the causative form would be translated “I cause to exist.”
If my colleague is right, then Yahweh could perhaps best be translated as “The Causer of All Things.” God first reveals himself to Moses as “I Am Who I Am” (Exodus 3:13–14). He is not defined by anything outside of himself. He is self-sufficient, independent, and autonomous. And then, in relation to the world that he speaks into existence from nothing, he is Yahweh, the Causer of All Things.
Now what do you call a being who stands completely outside and independent of his creation, yet causes every aspect of it to exist? Oh, and the creation is a temporal sequence of events with a beginning, middle, and an end? You call him “the Author.”
C. S. Lewis has existence apart from Narnia. Even if the Narnian Chronicles were never written, C. S. Lewis would still exist. Thus, C. S. Lewis simply is who he is, apart from Narnia. However, in relation to Narnia, he is also the causer of all things that are. Narnia has no existence apart from him; therefore, were he to reveal himself in Narnia, Narnians could call him the Causer of All Things. So too with God. Apart from creation, he is God, I Am Who I Am, the Self-Existent One. But in relation to creation, he is Yahweh, the Causer of All Things. Thus, “I Am” emphasizes God-as-God; Yahweh emphasizes God-as-Author.
God As Author
For those reasons (and more), I’ve grown accustomed to using the Author-story analogy in all kinds of settings: teaching, preaching, counseling. However, in the past year, another dimension of the analogy started to come through, one that should have been obvious, but I somehow missed.
You see, how is it that we come to know that God is God and God is Author? Answer: God reveals these aspects of his identity to Moses in a burning bush, at a particular time, in a particular place. In other words, we come to know that God is self-existent and that he is the Author because God reveals himself as a character within the story. God is not merely the one in whom we live and move and have our being. He is also the one who speaks to Abraham at Mt. Moriah, who leads Israel through the wilderness as a pillar of cloud and fire, and who makes his presence to dwell in the temple in Jerusalem.
God-as-Author and God-as-Character means that we can view God’s relationship to the world in two complementary ways. On the one hand, he is transcendent and high and lifted up, looking far down upon the children of man. He is the Alpha and Omega, relating to creation atemporally, outside of time. If history is a great river, he views the entire sweep of it and all the twists and turns in one all-sufficing glance from his heavenly mountain.
On the other hand, he enters into his story as a character, walking with his creatures and engaging with them as fellow-characters, celebrating with their successes and grieving over their losses. He enters the river and rides the rapids with us, hands waving wildly in the air. This is the God who weeps, the God who repents, the God who changes his mind. This is the God who, though unchanging, becomes flesh and dwells among us.
He Came Here
Which brings us to Christmas. This is what the Incarnation is all about: the Author of the story becoming not just a character, but a human character. God is the Story-teller and the main character. He is the Bard and the hero. He authors the fairy tale and then comes to kill the dragon and get the girl.
The Incarnation is God’s definitive answer to the emotional problem of evil. The living God is not a detached observer or absentee landlord. He doesn’t stand aloof from the suffering and pain and evil that forms the central tension of his epic. The God who is born is also the God who bleeds, the God who dies, the God who identifies with our sorrows by becoming the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.
God comes down, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and draws to himself all of the sin and the shame, the rebellion and the hate, the sickness and the death, and swallows it whole. And he swallows it by letting it swallow him. The Dragon is crushed in the crushing of the Prince of Peace. The triumphant hour of darkness and evil occurs on the day we know as Good Friday.
Because in the story God is telling, evil does not have the last word. Three days later, he bursts from the spiced tomb, commissions his disciples, and ascends to his throne, where he sits until all of his enemies are subdued under his feet, including and especially Evil.
This then is the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Christian answer to the problem(s) of evil. It is the confession of Christ, the divine author who never himself does evil, but instead conquers all evil by enduring the greatest evil, and thereby delivering all those enslaved and oppressed by evil who put their hope in him.
O Come, O Come, Immanuel.
Read Joe Rigney's article, "Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil."