But It’s Only Fiction

My recent blog post about the book The Shack generated several responses that ran along the line that we shouldn’t be too hard on the book because it is, after all, only fiction. These responses show a misunderstanding of both fiction and theology.

While fiction is by definition a story that doesn’t pretend to be true, it still must adhere to certain basic rules. You can create any universe you like, but once you’ve created it, you must stick to its internal logic. If zurts are green and fly and jurts are blue and don’t fly, you cannot willy-nilly switch these “facts” around, even if they are totally products of your imagination. And if for some reason in your story we see a blue jurt that is flying, you’d better have a good narrative explanation for why or else you’ve confused the reader.

A good example of this rule of fiction is seen in the Star Trek universe. Many a Star Trek staple such as the transporters violates the laws of physics. Credit the show’s creators for knowing this and coming up with a work-around. My favorite example is the Heisenberg Compensators. According to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the transporters shouldn’t work, since they could never disassemble and reassemble an object atom by atom. Hence the fictional compensators. When someone asked Star Trek technical advisor Michael Okuda how the compensators worked, he answered, “They work just fine, thank you.” (For more such fun, I recommend The Physics of Star Trek.)

If you’re going to ground your fiction in the real world, then it must conform to the rules of the real world we live in. No unicorns or magic squirrels allowed. Even one of my favorite literary genres, Magical Realism, adheres to certain basic rules.

So if you’re going to have God as a character in your real-world fiction, then you must deal with God as he has revealed himself in Scripture. By using the Trinity as characters in this story set in the real world, The Shack author William P. Young is clearly indicating that he’s supposedly talking about the God of Christianity. But God has said certain things about himself in Scripture, and much of what Young does in this novel contradicts that. I don’t care if he’s trying to make God more “accessible.” He’s violated the rules of fiction.

More important, why does Young feel the need to change the character of God in this story? In a way, he’s saying that the God who reveals himself to us in the Bible is insufficient. Young needs to “improve” the image to make it more palatable. But as I said in the original post, God never changes himself so that we can understand Him better. He changes us so that we can see Him as he truly is. If God changed his nature, He would cease to be God.

If a friend had a cold, abusive father, don’t make the God of your story into a warm, loving female to compensate. Show your friend what a true father is like, using the example from Scripture. If your friend is hurting, don’t comfort him with soothing lies, such as The Shack’s assertion that God does not judge sin. Show him the God of all comfort found in Scripture, the God who was willing to save you from that judgment by sending his Son.

To those people who have snapped up copies of The Shack to give to non-Christian friends, you are doing them no favors. You are introducing them to a false god. You are inoculating them against the claims of the True God of Scripture. And more to the point, you’re just giving them bad fiction.