Friday, November 02, 2007


I'm afraid to write this post because I don't really know what I'm talking about. Let me just say, I'm not drawing any conclusions. Nope. No conclusions here. Mostly (because I think better this way, which is why I majored in English and not Philosophy), I'm just thinking of stories.

So the other week, Chris made this throwaway comment about openness theology. (How do you make throwaway theological comments? I have no idea. It takes great skill, I think.) Anyway, it got me thinking about the first time I was really confronted with that theology as such. Which was in London; my pastor was mulling it over. I mulled it over, too, because as best as I could work out, the basic idea was that God had an overall plotline for life and the universe, but none of the details were ironed out; thus, He could, potentially, be surprised by our actions.

I do really and honestly believe that God has dignified us with free will, somehow, but I also can't get rid of the idea that He knows and has planned out what's going to happen, and the idea that I could surprise Him kind of freaked me out. Still does. However, the thought kind of lodged, because at the time I was writing a novel. I ended up giving it up as a bad job (which I was just thinking I hope God never does, but you might, I suppose, say that the Noah and the Sodom and Gomorrah stories are kind of like that). However, I hadn't given it up before the characters in it had done some things that I wasn't expecting. You go along, and you write your novel, and your characters really do grow into themselves such that they might end up doing things you didn't expect, just because that's who they are. You designed them that way. You just didn't know how it was all going to play out--even if they manage to get to the end of the book and still bring about the desired ending.

I did not really want to think that the universe might run in just this way. On the other hand, I do have this theory that (sort of like a Platonic ideal, maybe, but not quite) most relationships in life can be turned into parables to reveal truths about the relationship of humans to God. It seemed not totally improbable, then, that the relation of author to character could also be put in this category. It's not like I was the first one to make the comparison or anything.

I have more to tell of this thought-process, and like I said, there are no conclusions. I just don't want to make this post so long that no one reads it, so I'll continue anon. But if anyone feels like reacting, or if any of you writers would like to confirm or deny that this happens to your characters, be my guest.

Photo by jennw2ns: Ladder of Fortune. 2007.


Annelise said...

There must be another word to use besides "surprised", since if God were "surprised", he would not be omniscient, right? And I think there's a verse that says He knows the end from the beginning.... However, I do know that authors always say their characters sort of take on their own natures as the book is being written! The whole conundrum of "free will" and "predestination" is beyond my powers to grasp, for sure!

Christianne said...

Your quip about Sodom and Gomorrah and Noah really cracked me up. :)

I do know what you mean. When I was writing my novels (many, many years ago), I got all hyped up on this theory. "I don't know what my characters are going to do," I would tell my friends and family so mysteriously. I thought I was so artistic that way.

This eventually led me to my idea for PhD work in literature and theology; I wanted to explore how different authors, as quasi-gods, related to their characters, and how this relationship ultimately reflected their ideas about theology and creation in real life, like with God and the universe and evolution and stuff.

So, yeah, I've thought about this.

I think the difference is that God is outside of time. He's not going along in real-time with us, watching how we develop and then being surprised at what we do because He didn't foresee it in advance. He sees everything that happens at one and the same time, doesn't it? Isn't that what it means to be outside of time, to always exist in past, present, and future? (I realize I am WAY out of my depth in this talk about time and eternity here.)

Whereas we, on the other hand, as authors that are quasi-gods of our stories, truly cannot see everything from start to finish unless we think through it all in advance. And even then we could be surprised by what our characters end up doing, even in the thinking-it-out process.

Here's another reason why I think it could be different. We create characters but don't necessarily think through all their nooks and crannies in advance. (Well, some authors do. This, again, is what led to my idea for doctorate work.) We don't know how things we assign to them in the beginning will grow in magnitude and significance to the story, or diminish in kind, in the end. Whereas God does know every nook and cranny of what He created when He created us. He implanted the possibility there in the first place. He knows us like He knows the grains of sand.

Pete Juvinall said...

I'm with you; there has to be some sort of fuzzy in between where you have choice, but in the same way that a kid is given a choice by their parent, but not really. A God that is surprised constantly by stuff kind of scares me in that I would think that an omniscient creator that has my back shouldn't see anything sneak up on him.

There's a really good talk on a related subject that is a link in my posted items up on facebook. InterVarsity had a grad/faculty conference way back in 98 where a prof. from cambrige named Jeremy Begbie came to talk. He's a professor of music and theology and spun it in terms of God writing an improvisational jazz piece; he followed basic song rules and improvised the rest.

One of the more encouraging ideas he had was the idea of God creating new things. That there is always hope and the ability to change.

Anyway...I digress.

Jenn said...

Mom--well, I'm just describing the way I understood the theology as described.

Christianne--you anticipated my next point. Actually, my next post. Actually, maybe I don't even need to write it now . . . oh, all right. ;)

Pete--yeah, I find it a scary concept, too. I'll have to check out that link . . .

Heather said...

I've been struggling with this, too. Especially as Chris and I are trying to make a major decision in life right now. Is God directing us to one path or another? Or is He saying something like, "Hey, choose either one [like a Choose Your Own Adventure], just as long as you use it to serve Me"?
This morning, listening to our Bible passages, we came upon that part in Matthew when Jesus says that he doesn't even know the day when he'll return (or at least he didn't at the time--does he now?). If Jesus is God, how can this be?

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