(This is the first part of a three-part series.)

Introduction

A picture of a typewriterHow do you go about explaining who God is to a non-believer—either someone who has never heard of Him or someone with a flawed or limited understanding? How do you, a finite being, explain to another finite being the infinitely incomprehensible God?

While it's true no one can fathom the heights and depths of who God is or what He has done, we can know Him enough to love, trust, and obey Him. This knowledge typically begins with basic biblical doctrine about the attributes of God such as His omnipotence, His omniscience, His holiness, and so on.

But straight biblical doctrine, repeated over and over again, tends to lose it's grip on our minds. We get used to hearing it and we take it for granted. We acknowledge the truth of the doctrine, but we don't think about the significance of all that the doctrine means for us. I think this is why, when Jesus taught His disciples about God, He didn't merely present them with dry doctrinal statements. Instead, He used pictures of things they were familiar with to help them understand God better. Jesus said God is the owner of a field or vineyard, He is the ruler of a kingdom, and His personal favorite, God is our heavenly Father.

A good analogy encourages you to consider the truth of a doctrine in more detail. When you think of God as your heavenly Father, you first think of what it means to be a human father—maybe you remember your own father, or maybe you think of yourself if you have children. Then you apply that meaning to God. A father gives us life, God gives us life. A father loves us, God loves us. A father provides for us, God provides for us. A father disciplines us, God disciplines us. A father sets us an example to follow, God wants us to be like Him.

But when Jesus spoke of our heavenly Father, He wasn't talking in pictures. God is our ultimate Father. He is more our Father than our earthly fathers could ever be. You see, human fathers are supposed to be the allegories, the pictures, that reflect the Fatherhood of God. That's a tall and scary responsibility. None of us does a perfect job at imitating our heavenly Father before our children. Some do an extremely bad job at it. And our children come away with a flawed understanding of what our heavenly Father is like. God is perfect, but there is no perfect illustration or model of Him.

But I'm not going to talk about the fatherhood of God. Instead, I want us to look at another imperfect but very powerful and useful analogy, one that can help us understand God better and trust Him more. It can also help us explain who God is to non-believers, because most have an incorrect or limited idea of who God is.

A Different Analogy

As an introduction, how many of you remember the 1960's television series Batman? I remember watching that show when I was a child. All of the episodes followed the same basic pattern. One or more arch-villains would create havoc in Gotham city. The commissioner would call Batman on the batphone, and the 'Dynamic Duo' would go into action to stop them. At some point, Batman and Robin would find themselves in some ridiculous, certain-death situation. Once, the Riddler had them tied up by their wrists, descending into a vat of hot wax. It seemed hopeless. But while I didn't always know how they would extricate themselves from their predicament, I knew they would! On that show, the good guys always won, and the bad guys always lost. How did I know Batman and Robin wouldn't die? Because I knew the scriptwriters needed Batman and Robin for the next episode, so they always wrote a way out of their predicament. It didn't matter how much power the villains had over the masked heroes, they were completely powerless against the scriptwriters!

God is like a writer of stories. Well, let me restate that better: A writer of stories is like God. 1 We call the ability to tell a good story a creative gift. J.R.R. Tolkien gave us Middle Earth, C.S. Lewis gave us Narnia, and George Lucas gave us the Star Wars universe. These authors not only invented the worlds they wrote about, they created the characters and histories of those worlds. They have or had absolute control over those worlds. When you think about it, those authors are like God to the worlds they created. Of course, the analogy isn't perfect. They aren't really gods. Their fictional worlds aren't real. Their characters don't really exist, nor do they have the ability to think, speak and act on their own, apart from what the author wrote. Those authors are only able to imitate some of God's qualities, and that only in the world of their own stories. In the real world, they are just as powerless as the rest of us who can't write.

God is the original Author. He created our world and filled it with characters and a story line (of which we only know the historical parts). Unlike a human author, what God creates is real, and His characters are free moral agents: they have real conscious choice over what they think, speak, and do. And yet God is still, like a story-writer, in complete control of His universe. A human author is only sovereign over the story he writes, but God is truly sovereign everywhere.

We're going to explore this picture of God as the ultimate Author in more detail. In this first part, we'll see how some of the attributes of God can be more easily understood by this analogy. In the second part, we'll look at the story He has written. And in the last part, we'll look at the purpose God has for the story, and answer some questions this analogy may bring up, such as how free-will fits into it.

Before I go any further, I want to caution those who practice apologetics and evangelism. If you are looking for a way to prove God exists, this by itself is not it. No analogy will do that. An analogy's purpose is to correct a faulty understanding of God, not to prove God. People don't believe in God because they have faulty understandings of Him. But if you can bring them to a correct understanding, the door opens wide to proving He exists and that He is all He says He is. So while an analogy can't prove God directly, it is still profitable to include it in your apologetics or evangelism toolbox.

1. Pre-existent

The first attribute of God we'll look at is His pre-existence. We know God existed before everything He created. Well, guess what? Human authors also exist before their stories are written.

  • Before Luke Skywalker, before Obi-wan Kenobi, before Yoda, and before the entire Star Wars universe, there was… George Lucas.
  • Before Robinson Crusoe, there was… Daniel Defoe.
  • Before Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, there was… Herman Melville.
  • And before Daffy Duck, there was… Tex Avery.

These characters (and in some cases worlds) exist in our imagination only because their authors existed first. If there was no Tex Avery, there would be no Daffy Duck. So the stories and their characters are entirely dependent on the pre-existence of their authors. But the authors are not dependent at all on their stories. If George never wrote Star Wars, he would still exist.

Before there was George, Herman, Daniel, or Tex, before there was anyone or anything, there was God. If God did not exist first, we would not be here. We wouldn't be anywhere, neither would there be an 'anywhere' for us to exist in if we did. Our universe is entirely dependent on the pre-existence of God. And since the instrument by which God created everything was Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, He pre-exists as well:

All things were made through him {Jesus}, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

– John 1:3 (ESV)

"And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed."

– John 17:5 (ESV)

"Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world."

– John 17:24 (ESV)

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

– Colossians 1:17 (ESV)

2. Separate

Because God existed before what He created, He is by nature separate from His creation. He exists outside of the universe.

Did you ever think about how Bilbo, Frodo, Aragorn, and the other characters of Middle Earth relate to J.R.R. Tolkien? Each of these characters know other characters in the story, yet none of them are aware of their author. They are oblivious to his existence. If the people of Middle Earth are dependent on Tolkien for their existence, why are they unaware of him? Because he is not a part of their universe. He is outside Middle Earth, outside of Arda. So whatever happens in the world of his story, including whether Sauron or Melkor won in the end, has not the slightest effect on him.

God also exists outside the 'story' of His universe. He has to: the universe isn't big enough to hold Him, as king Solomon acknowledged:

"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!"

– 1 Kings 8:27 (ESV)

Because God is not a part of the universe, we cannot know He exists unless He reveals Himself to us. Stan Lee appeared in the Marvel movies, but he was always incognito – no one in the movies recognized him, and he didn't let them know who he was, or tell his characters that he held their lives in his hands.

God has gone beyond most, if not all, human authors in that He has placed Himself in His own story to reveal Himself to man. For thousands of years, God revealed Himself by speaking to man through prophets, but then He came in human flesh to speak to us directly:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by [his] Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

– Hebrews 1:1-2 (ESV)

Jesus is the Author revealing Himself to us, the characters of His story. But most people aren't aware of this, or they willfully disbelieve it (John 1:10). They think of Jesus as only a man, or a myth. The Jews at least recognized Jesus claimed to be God, but they wanted to stone Him for it (John 10:33). Regardless of what man may think, Jesus is still God and He has revealed God to us. He is the only one who can:

… no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

– Matthew 11:27 (ESV)

Jesus spent His ministry years telling His hearers about God, and showing who He is through through His works. His miracles showed us God's love and power. And His teaching showed us God's wisdom and will.

3. Creator Out Of Nothing (ex nihilo)

An author makes everything in his story out of nothing but words. When J.R.R. Tolkien put together his epic history of Middle Earth, he did not first find some silmarils, rings, swords, elves, dwarves, hobbits, and men and build his story around them. No, Tolkien invented the raw materials of his world out of nothing but his own imagination and he wrote them down. It took no more effort to create things large and powerful like Minas Tirith or Barad-dûr than it took to create things small and fragile like the plants Elanor or Athelas. It didn't weaken or physically exhaust him in the slightest to create these things. But Tolkien was just imitating God who created the real universe out of nothing but words:

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.

– Psalm 33:6 (ESV)

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

– Hebrews 11:3 (ESV)

When God said, "Let there be…", they came into being. We have light because God said, "Let there be." We have trees because God said, "Let there be." He just said it, and it happened. It did not exhaust God to create everything. You can't exhaust infinity. God rested on the seventh day, not because He needed to recuperate, but because His work was completed.

A human author creates his world in the form of written words, but the Bible tells us God created everything through Jesus Christ, who is Himself the living Word:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

– John 1:1-3 (ESV)

You've heard the saying that the pen is mightier than the sword. Well, the living Word is mightier than the pen (the written word), or anything else. Never underestimate the power of God's Word! If He says something is so, it is so.

4. Omnipresent

God is omnipresent. He is everywhere. And while it's not true in a physical sense, a human author is also effectively present everywhere in his story. He sees everything. Nothing escapes his eye. None of his characters can hide from him to prevent him from moving the story along. (Like an author complaining, "Where did that prince go? I need him to rescue the princess!") No matter where the characters are, if they need help, the author can write a way out of their situation… even a miraculous way. If an author choses to make himself part of his story, he can talk to his characters and listen to what they have to say.

Like a human author, God is everywhere. He also is not physically present, but He is present none-the-less. God sees everything. Nothing escapes His eye. No one can run away or hide from Him. Just ask Jonah. He tried and failed (Jonah 1:3), which was a good thing, because God was also present in the big fish to hear his prayer.

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

– Psalm 139:7-8 (ESV)

"Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD."

– Jeremiah 23:23-24 (ESV)

The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.

– Proverbs 15:3 (ESV)

While Frodo and Sam were in Mordor on their way to Mount Doom, they may have seemed alone, but in a sense Tolkien was with them, protecting and guiding them on the way to their goal, even in the midst of their sufferings. When we seem to be alone in our troubles, God is with us.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

– Psalm 23:4 (ESV)

5. Omniscient

God is omniscient. He knows everything. A story-writer is also omniscient about his world. George Lucas knows everything there is to know in the Star Wars universe. Not the smallest detail can surprise him. None of his characters can hide any secrets from him. If George doesn't know it, then it is not part of his universe and none of his characters can know it either.

George also knows his characters in great detail, even though they know nothing about him. He knows their history, their personality, what they're going to say or do, how long they're going to live, and so on. He knows them better than they know themselves.

God also knows everything about His universe because He "wrote" the whole thing from start to finish. He knows how big it is. He knows its history, even what we call the future. He knows absolutely how everything works, from the largest galaxies down to each quantum particle. He knows everyone's personality, what we're going to say and do, how long we're going to live …He knows everything! He even knows what happens in Vegas! There is nothing in the universe that can surprise Him.

O LORD, you have searched me and known me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.

You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

– Psalm 139:1-6 (ESV)

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.

– Psalm 147:5 (ESV)

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

– Jeremiah 1:5 (ESV)

Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.

– John 16:30 (ESV)

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

– Romans 11:33 (ESV)

Nothing can happen in God's story outside of His own knowledge and will. While the story holds many surprises for us, it holds no surprises for the Author.

6. Sovereign

Like God, an author is in complete control of his story world.

I talked about Batman earlier, how the main characters would seem to be in danger, but would always come out of that danger. I also watched classic Doctor Who back in the 80's and 90's, and those stories followed the same pattern. The Doctor would always find himself in some hopeless predicament, but I never thought he would die because the story writers needed the Doctor for the next story. On the level of the story, the Doctor was in danger of losing his life. But on a higher level, he was never in danger, because the writers were in complete control of everything that happened. They had God-like sovereign power over their fictional universe.

The power of an author over his story is a picture of the power of God over the universe. Just as an author's power is limitless over his story, God's power is truly limitless, and He's always in complete control.

Is anything too hard for the LORD? …

– Genesis 18:14 (ESV)

'Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.

– Jeremiah 32:17 (ESV)

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

– Psalm 115:3 (ESV)

But what if someone asks how God can be good and all powerful and still allow evil to exist? Doesn't that disprove the God of the Bible? Let's look at this question through the lens of a storywriter.

What if someone told X-Men character Charles Xavier that Stan Lee is in control of everything that happens in his world. Would he believe it? Wouldn't he have doubts? Charles could say Stan is either cruel or not in control because he made him a paraplegic, confined to a wheelchair. He could say Stan is cruel or not in control because of all the suffering and death Stan wrote into his world. He might even deny the existence of Stan Lee because of these things. And he would be wrong on all counts.

All good stories have five elements: setting, characters, plot, conflict and resolution. The bad things that happen in a story belong to the conflict element, and they are just as essential to the story as the other parts. A story with no conflict and eventual resolution is not a good story. It won't hold interest and it won't sell. If Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson spent all their time reading the newspaper or playing chess because there were no villains and so no need for Batman and Robin, the show would not have lasted an episode.

That all good stories have bad things happen in them does not reflect on the existence or character of the author. In fact, some of the worst characters and events occur in some of the best books and movies. The movie Speed would have been a box-office flop if Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper's character) wasn't there to plant bombs. But because he was so evil, everyone looked forward to the resolution. We wondered how Jack Traven (Keanu Reeve's character) would prevent the various disasters from happening. That was the focus of the movie. It was not about the conflict (i.e. a guy planting bombs), it was about the resolution.

God's story is also not about the conflict but about the resolution. We get too focused on the bad things that happen. We should be looking beyond that to the eventual resolution that God will surely bring about.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

– Romans 8:28 (ESV)

Unlike the stories we write, the ultimate resolution of God's story takes place in eternity. We have no guarantee life will be good and fair here on earth. We should be looking forward to the good God has for us after we die instead of the good we may not receive in this life. To put it in a more familiar way, we should set our minds on things above, not on earthly things. So let's think beyond the level of the story to the higher, eternal level.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

– 2 Corinthians 4:17 (ESV)

As Tolkien developed his mythological history, he put together a detailed chronology covering many thousands of years. He defined the beginning and ending of different ages and the time periods for various kingdoms. He wrote a complex storyline. He raised up kings, and then took them down. But Tolkien was only imitating God who did it all first. Daniel spoke of God to king Nebuchadnezzar. He said:

He changes the times and the seasons; he removes kings, and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to those who have understanding

– Daniel 2:21 (ESV)

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place…

– Acts 17:26 (ESV)

As practical proof, two chapters later we see God take Nebuchadnezzar off the throne and take away his sanity for a time.

The sentence is … to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.'

– Dan 4:17 (ESV)

Some time later, God restored Nebuchadnezzar's sanity and gave him back his power. Through this experience ol' Neb learned God really is in control. Nebuchadnezzar said:

he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"

– Daniel 4:35 (ESV)

When Nebuchadnezzar's time was done, God raised up his son, then finally his grandson to be the last ruler of Babylon.

"It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, … and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, …. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. Then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave."

– Jeremiah 37:5-7 (ESV)

While it may be hard to believe, there is no one in power today, good or evil, that God has not raised up, because…

… there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

– Romans 13:1 (ESV)

Jesus told Pilate, "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:10).

What those in power do with their power they will have to answer for. We usually don't know why God puts certain people in power, but He has His reasons. Remember Pharaoh in the book of Exodus. When God told him to "Let my people go," Pharaoh said "No," and increased the sufferings of the Hebrew slaves. On the surface, it may appear Pharaoh was obstructing God's will, but according to Exodus 9:16, God raised up this most obstinate person specifically so He could show His power and declare His name throughout all the earth. God could have picked someone more sympathetic to the Hebrews, but this evil man was best suited to His purposes. God even hardened Pharaoh's heart to show His power.

Then Israel came to Egypt; … He turned their hearts to hate his people, to deal craftily with his servants.

– Psalm 105:23-25 (ESV)

From within the story, things may seem uncertain, out of control, or impossible. But on the higher level, God is in control. We'll see this in more detail when we examine God's story in the second part.

Practical Applications

So, what do you think of this analogy so far? Do you think it can be helpful when talking to a non-believer about God? As I said at the beginning, no one has a complete understanding of God. Well, this is especially true of the non-believer and the skeptic.

I browse various atheist blogs and internet forums at times, looking at the arguments they use to deny the existence of God. Sometimes they'll take scripture out of context to malign God's character. They'll destroy a strawman, a distorted caricature that is not the God of the Bible. I'll give you an example.

You've probably heard this little riddle: "Can God create a rock too heavy for him to lift?" How would you answer this? Would it stump you? Or would you recognize the fundamental problem with the question?

This question assumes God is like the strongest being or most powerful magician in the universe, but for all that, He still a part of the universe and bound by its laws. Can God create a rock too heavy for Him to lift? Of course not! A rock is part of creation, but God is not. He is not physical, He is spirit. As the ultimate Author, God can do anything He wants in His story, even if it is physically impossible.

If I were a science fiction writer, I could create a space ship in my story that goes faster than the speed of light, even if the natural laws of my fictional world say that's impossible! I'm the author, I can do anything I want in my story. This is a picture of the sovereignty of God. He can do anything He wants in His universe. He can even create a rock that is infinitely heavy and still lift it. But God will not go against His own nature.

Looking at God as Author is also beneficial to our spiritual walk. Most, if not all of us, have doubts at times about God's power and sovereignty. We know it in our heads, but all it takes is some difficult, painful situation, and we doubt God can either resolve it completely or bring us through it. Perhaps, like the non-believer, we see God as only the most powerful being in the universe.

When I look at God as the Author not only of the universe but of my personal story, my faith increases and my worries decrease. The strongest man may stumble, but an author always gets his way in a story. I am able to trust the Author in whatever situation I find myself in. I know that everything that happens to me, good or bad, pleasurable or painful, even extremely stressful and depressing, is a necessary part of my portion of God's story, and works for my good. With this understanding, I can be more patient under long-term adverse circumstances. I can have real hope.

These are only two of the practical ways this analogy can help us. You can probably find plenty of applications in other areas as well. In the next part, we'll look at the story God has created to see how He is always in utter control of everything that happens.

Notes:

  1. God is the standard by which an author is judged, not the other way around.<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;Suppose you met someone who had never seen an automobile. You show him a toy car and say, "A car is like this, only bigger." At that point, the toy becomes the standard by which a car is judged. So if a toy car must be pushed by hand to make it move, then that person may think a real car must be pushed by hand. If a toy car has no functional brakes, lights, transmission, etc., then the real car doesn't have them either. The toy analogy limits the person's understanding of the real thing.<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;But if you say, "This toy is a small imitation of a real car," the real car becomes the standard. All of the differences between the real thing and the toy are due to limitations in the toy.<br />&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;If I say God is like a human author, a human author becomes the standard by which God is judged. This leads to faulty understanding ("Story characters don't have consciousness or free will"), or silly questions ("Who is God's publisher?"). The analogy actually limits God. But if I say a human author is like God, then the limitations are placed on human authors, not on God. This is true of all analogies for God.