What We Learn from God Fiction

Connections were made earlier between these God novels and the Book of Job. Job was probably written late in the biblical period of ancient Israel, when Judaism had suffered the humiliation of exile at the hands of pagan nations, and at a time when its theological beliefs were in flux. The experience of exile had required a revamping of much of the Jewish understanding of God. We, too, live in a time of change in which we have lost many of our inherited theological certainties. "Jobian" literature can be expected to appear at such transitional times. These three novels use fiction to wonder aloud how we are to continue making sense of inherited humanitarian ideals whose metaphysical context no longer holds for a majority of people. The profoundly humanitarian ideals of the West emerged in a specific religious context in which they made sense, but which has been breaking apart now for more than two centuries. These authors instinctively know that the survival of these ideals demands a periodic return to the substratum of sacred narratives out of which they arose. God happens to be the central character in this narrative substratum, and God returns in these new recitations with an astonishing boldness for modern fiction. Minimally, they recognize that God has served as a symbol for a purposive metaphysical order in the nature of things.

In their appropriation of elements from the ancient God stories, the authors of these three novels are renovating old myths - not simply reciting the old myths, but borrowing themes and symbols and characters, segments of plotlines and similar dilemmas - and thus showing them due respect. This appropriation, as bombastic as it may appear in Ferrucci and Morrow in particular, tacitly acknowledges that the contents of these old stories about God and the human condition have not been exhausted. But they require being re-narrated into stories that contain late twentieth-century circumstances, sensibilities and humor, and an appreciation for evolving customs of human behavior in order to have their power reactivated.

These three writers are clearly groping for reasons for Western societies to be moral. They each tell a story that worries over the erosion of moral ideals and behavior in the late twentieth century. They sense that our societal and cultural commitment to the moral life needs to be re-set, and they use the device of a colorful but out-of-character act of God to push the red reset button. These are stories that deserve to be taken seriously. They are works of the imagination that are engaged in theological reflection of a high order and do offer theologically informed interpretations of the present cultural situation. By presenting us with narrative worlds in which the boundary between life on earth and the life of God is thin, we are invited to have our understandings of reality "disturbed and rearranged," and thus guided into a liminality out of which we might comprehend the meaning of our lives differently and come to appreciate in a new way the full extent of our communal obligations.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment