"God is the author. This world is his story. We are his characters. One of the strongest biblical hints in this direction is found later in Psalm 139: “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them” (v. 16)
God is an author, and our days are his story. Combining this passage with the earlier passages on God’s creating and sustaining the world through speech, perhaps we can say this: God writes the book of history, and then reads it aloud into existence. He puts pen to paper and forms a plan for the ages, and then performs a dramatic rendering of his epic poem that is so potent that his words actually take on flesh. The analogy of an author and his story helps us to understand how God can be completely, totally, and exhaustively sovereign, and human beings can be responsible and their choices and actions can be meaningful and significant. It allows us to see layers in our understanding of causality.
Let’s push the analogy a bit by reflecting on the relationship of C. S. Lewis to Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Why was it always winter and never Christmas in Narnia? Because the White Witch enslaved the land.
Why was it always winter and never Christmas in Narnia? Because that’s the way Lewis wrote the story.
Why does Aslan have to die? Because Edmund was a traitor. Why does Aslan have to die? Because Lewis wrote the story that way.
Who killed the White Witch? Aslan did. Who killed the White Witch? C. S. Lewis did.
Every aspect of the story— from plot to characters to background details— is under the sovereign control of the divine author. And the actions of the characters are real and necessary for the resolution of the plot.
At this point, someone might object that the analogy breaks down because we are more real than characters in a fairy tale. We are more than fiction, possessing more existence (if that’s the way to put it) than Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. How helpful can this analogy be if it breaks down so readily? Now I readily grant that we are more real than the Pevensies. In relation to us, fictional characters have less existence, less reality. But I’d also insist that the same holds true for God’s relation to us. In relation to him, we are less real. And what’s more, I’d suggest that the existential distance between us and the Pevensies is far less than the distance between C. S. Lewis and God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
And it is the distance between the human authors and the divine author that makes the distance between fictional characters and real persons largely irrelevant. For therein lies the uniqueness and might of God’s creative power: when he invents a world other than himself, he makes it real and actual. Our fictional creations are phantasms, existing only in minds (or on pages or movie screens). But God’s creations have substance, really living and moving and having their being in him. As N. D. Wilson has written:
[We are made of] words. Magic words. Words spoken by the Infinite, words so potent, spoken by One so potent that they have weight and mass and flavor. They are real. They have taken on flesh and dwelt among us. They are us.
It is because of God’s infinite, reality- causing power that the author- story analogy retains its potency, despite the vast distance between God’s creations and our own. More importantly, it’s the sort of analogy that has a lot of explanatory power when applied to complex stories in the Bible.
For example, we see evidence of this type of authorial and layered causality in the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Out of jealousy, Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt, clearly intending harm to him. When Joseph finally confronts them after he has been made vice- regent of Egypt, he clearly recognizes their responsibility for their actions. “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt” (Gen. 45:4). But Joseph doesn’t stop there; he goes on to say, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (v. 5). Later he says, “So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (v. 8). Notice the juxtaposition: you sold me here, but God sent me here (see also Ps. 105:16–17). Lest we think that God’s good intentions somehow cancel out or minimize the evil of his brothers’ envy and jealousy, Joseph later speaks directly to this when he says, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Gen. 50:20).
In other words, there were layers of intention involved in the sale of Joseph into slavery. The intentions of his brothers were for evil, and they were responsible to God for them. But God’s intentions in the exact same act were for good, that the people of God might be preserved in the midst of a great famine.
We see similar layers of causation at work in the story of Job. When Satan appears before God and questions Job’s faith, God gives all that Job has into Satan’s hand (Job 1:12). Immediately, Job’s oxen are stolen by the Sabeans (v. 15), his flocks are destroyed by fire from God (v. 16), his servants are slaughtered by the Chaldeans (v. 17), and his children are killed in a tornado (v. 19). The flow of the narrative clearly indicates that we are to understand these disasters as the work of Satan. In addition, after God puts Job’s health in Satan’s hand (2:6), Satan strikes Job with sores. Thus, when asked who is responsible for Job’s misery, the answer is layered. The Sabeans and Chaldeans are responsible. Natural disasters are responsible. Satan is responsible. But Job attributes ultimate responsibility to none of these; he attributes ultimate responsibility to God.
“The LORD gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the L ORD ” (1:21). And in saying this, Job is not blaming God or charging him with wrongdoing (v. 22).
In the last chapter, I noted that I would be returning to the notion of perichoresis (mutual indwelling) throughout this book. Consider this the first application. The layers of causality that I have in mind should be understood in a perichoretic fashion. The intentions of the author and the intentions of the characters mutually indwell each other. The fact that the Father dwells in the Son and the Son dwells in the Father doesn’t abolish the personal distinctions between them. Similarly, the fact that God’s good intentions exist alongside, above, and beside the evil intentions of his characters doesn’t abolish the fundamental distinction between them. God remains God, and the creatures remain creatures. The author is the author, and the characters are the characters. At the same time, the characters and all their thoughts, intentions, and actions are the content and product of the author’s creative will.
Some may not find the author- story analogy as helpful as I do. The tension between the sovereignty of God and human responsibility still feels too weighty and substantial. For those who feel this way, let me make a larger point about doing faithful biblical theology.
Over the years, as I’ve wrestled through various biblical, theological, and pastoral problems and tensions, I’ve noticed that fidelity to the Scriptures regularly requires me to stretch, expand, and reorient my theological and emotional frameworks.
And when I say stretch, I mean stretch. I mean that one biblical truth pulls me in one direction, and another biblical truth pulls me in the other direction, and it falls to me to live with the pain and discomfort of the stretching. Here are examples of some of the truths I have in mind: God is one. God is three. God is transcendent and full of majesty. God is immanent and close at hand. Jesus Christ is fully God. Jesus Christ is fully man. Jesus is a Lion. Jesus is a Lamb. We are sinners. We are saints. We should enjoy God through feasting. We should enjoy God through fasting. We should know God fully and accurately with our minds. We should love God deeply and passionately with our hearts. We should weep with those who weep. We should rejoice with those who rejoice. God is sovereign over our actions. We are responsible for our actions.
This is God’s way, the way of the cross. God intends to explode our pitiful little categories by insisting in the strongest terms that we be pulled in opposite directions. These are not contradictions. There may be paradox, and there is certainly tremendous mystery, but if we are going to submit our patterns and categories of thinking to the Bible, then we must allow them to be stretched and pulled (and sometimes put to death altogether) in order to remain faithful to what God has said.
Think of it as simultaneously the crucifixion of the old man (with his passions, desires, and rebellion against God’s truth) and the maturation and growth of the new man, created and governed by Christ. God’s design in these theological mysteries is “to wear Adam down and let Christ’s glorious grace shine through.”
Through this painful process, God grows and matures and draws us nearer to himself by expanding our minds to take in all the biblical truth and expanding our hearts to feel all that we should feel. He does this in order to remind us that he is holy, that he is unique, that there is none like him. Yes, we can probe and explore and make use of analogies and illustrations in order to understand how it all works, but our analogies will always break down, and they will generally break down for the same reason: we are dealing with the absolutely holy, unique, self- sufficient, and triune God of Scripture.
So if you can’t seem to reconcile two truths that are clearly taught in the Bible, resist the impulse to compromise one or the other. Refuse to allow one truth to mute another truth. Labor to hold them in tension. Be willing to be stretched. Don’t hold one biblical truth so closely that you refuse to let all of Scripture speak.
Don’t despair when your mind aches because of the tension. You should expect paradox; you should expect mystery; you should expect to have your categories blown, and your mind stretched, and your heart expanded so that you can take in more and more of God." (This is taken from the 2nd chapter of the book, “The Things of Earth” By Joe Rigney and it is so wonderfully helpful. Read it. Have your mind stretched. Be blessed. Then go to the book of all books - the Bible. The greatest story of all. A true story. The one you are in the midst of right now. The story of God's glory. May it be for your joy.)