I'm a writer who was raised evangelical. For the last seventeen years, I've lived my small spiritual struggle in the context of the Greek Orthodox Church. My writing includes sex, death, pain, and satire at the expense of people who are certain of things no one can prove. It is shaped by my experiences. Recently those experiences included having a Marine son at war.
God is a character in my new novel. He shows up as a foul-mouthed African-American Marine Corps drill instructor in a story--extruded from my worst nightmares--about a young Marine who is killed in Iraq and the aftermath for his family.
Some people believe that writers who are Christians should stick to writing books like “The Chronicles of Narnia." Maybe they can picture God better as a lion than as a DI who swears drinks and fights and trains young people to kill.
According to Christian teaching, we're made in "the image of God" and "God is love." But what is love?
If we read the book of Job, we see God strings a lot of people along and kills a few---all Job's children, for instance---before they have a clue that he cares. And when Job asks why, God tells him to mind his own business. This is not love as Oprah explains it, or as we like to think of it.
If we read the gospels, we see Jesus calling people snakes and/or filthy defiled bones in a tomb, which in Jesus’ time was as profane as yelling the expletive that begins with "mother" and ends with an abbreviated reference to sexual intercourse. We just don't feel the impact of Jesus' words because we're not the first century Pharisees being called "unclean" creatures. Perhaps God's love is sometimes closer to the love we find in the hearts of Marine Corps drill instructors than to the bland therapeutic definition we give it sometimes. Love leads from the front. We all die, so Christ showed us how to overcome death. We must suffer to learn humility, so our DI God provides the boot camp we call life and gives us the chance to earn the title of human--just as the DIs of Parris Island give their recruits the opportunity to earn the title of Marine.
God's love comes as a kick in the ass. Reality is a jolt to the senses, like when we first realize that our very existence makes us all killers. We live because other creatures die. But we filter out this reality for the same reason we'd rather buy our steaks in the supermarket than from a slaughterhouse reeking of blood.
Even when we wish for good things there is a dark side. When my Marine son went to war, every time I heard the words, "Today a Marine was killed," I prayed, "Please don't let it be John!" I knew I was really praying, "Let another father get the bad news."
Little is clear, let alone black and white. It turns out that steaks do come from slaughterhouses and even good prayers can be selfish. And in this world, if writing doesn't reflect paradox it is a lie. Telling only "nice stories"--about life, about religion--can be its own kind of lying.
Woody Allen was right--there is such a thing as loyal opposition to God. Asking tough questions is okay. Solomon knew all about this, as we see in the book of Ecclesiastes. If God didn't want us saying or thinking even despairing things like "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," he wouldn't have created writers.
Writing which reflects gritty reality is a way of exploring truth. Solomon just put into words the very reasonable question all writers worth their salt have been asking ever since: what the hell does God have in mind?