Monday, 18 March 2019

Where is God in our writing? by Jo Wanmer

 “My name is Prince Charles. My Father is the King. I have an older brother, Jesus.” 
Some years ago a guest in our church introduced himself this memorable way. We were taken aback, but then caught the profound truth he shared.
In those few words, we understood this man knew God intimately. 
Does our writing convey such truth?

Imaged taken and owned by Jo Wanmer
As Christian writers we show our characters, we don’t tell about them. We show the reader what they are doing, how they are feeling and what they are about to do.

Does this maxim include God? Is He a character in our books? If not, is He part of the background?  The setting? Is He inanimate, or animate? Or is He excluded from the story.

In many Christian fiction stories God is completely absent. There may be a Bible verse, or church attendance, or even prayer at the table but no reference to God himself.  The characters talk about Him, but rarely show Him in the plot or allow Him to feature as a character.

If God was to appear in our books, what would He be like? I’ve been musing on a character sheet for him.

Character’s name: God, Jesus, Holy Spirit

Unique characteristics: He has three parts, yet He is only One.  He can be present without being seen. He can speak without being audible. He is like the wind – no one knows where it comes from or where it goes.

Imaged taken and owned by Jo Wanmer
Appearance: He is light, too bright to look at. Or He could appear in a different form. He appeared as men to Abraham and a man to disciples walking the road to Emmaus. Gideon saw him as an angel. He spoke out of a storm to Job.

Family: God is original family. Jesus is God’s son. God is His father.

Siblings: Numberless, but for the sake of our story, we will only consider Jesus’ brothers who feature in the current work in progress. You are one of his brothers. So am I.

Address: Heaven. In the hearts of men. Omnipresent.

Occupation: When on earth, Jesus was a carpenter, the Messiah and leader of men.

Occupation now: God, enthroned on high. Yet he is my refuge, wings under which I can hide, wisdom of the ages, creator of the universe, and father to the fatherless. Jesus, seated at the right side of the Father. My intercessor, passionate lover of His bride…

Ok…I’ve run out of words to describe He who is the Word. 

God is beyond description and understanding. Yet He is close, intimate, personal. This may mean the aspect of God you know and love may be different from mine. He is so big He can be everything to me. He can be a lover or a warrior, my defender or my enabling grace, a father who either disciplines and/or pours out extravagant love upon me….

As authors - we write the characteristics of God we know best. If we know Him as a stern judge, that is who we will write. If we know Him as rescuer and redeemer, we will tell of His grace and power. Perchance He is our best friend, our constant companion, our source of all help, it becomes difficult to think of a story where He is absent.

Many protagonists cry out to God for help, and He answers them circumstantially, as He answers us in our everyday lives. But He also speaks in one of His many voices – through the Bible, an impression, a dream or vision, a friend or an acquaintance. Or often the still small voice.
Some years ago I wrote a novel where God speaks to the protagonist directly, obtusely, profoundly. Can I share a snippet?

Imaged taken and owned by Jo Wanmer
“The contractions woke Milly in the middle of the night.
It’s too early God. I know I’m big, but it’s not time.
~~~Be still~~~
Not a time to be still God. Obviously You’re never given birth.
~~~Only to creation~~~
You birthed creation?
~~~What do you think of the work of my womb~~~
A gripping contraction distracted her. As it faded, she climbed from the bed and wrapped a blanket around her shoulders. She shut the kitchen door behind her so she wouldn’t disturb the rest of the house and flicked on the light. It shone a pale yellow. The generator would need to be run today.
Fading embers glowed in the stove. Shivering, Milly added kindling to the coals, praying it would flare and warm the kitchen.
Leaning on the kitchen table, she breathed through the next contraction.
They seem close, Lord. Is my baby ready?
~~~Be still~~~
Milly stopped pacing. Be still. Why do you say that at the most ridiculous time?
~~~Be still in your soul. Calm your worries and fears, your anxiety and questions~~~
Not my body?
~~~Your body will move of its own accord. When I created you, I programmed the birthing process in you. Allow your body to do its work. Focus your mind on me~~~”
Excerpt taken from ‘El Shaddai.’

So what you do think? Should God get a larger share of the action in our books? Would you like to read more of God in this style? Or maybe you don’t like it? I’m looking forward to reading your comments.

Jo Wanmer lives with family in Brisbane, Queensland. Her first book, 'Though the Bud be Bruised', a Caleb prize winner, was published in 2012. Her work also appears in a few anthologies. The book 'El Shaddai' was written in 2014 and with the feedback of many fine writers has been edited multiple times. It still remains unpublished due to life circumstances. Two others in the same series are written. One day soon they will be released. 


  1. Hi Jo, I found it so faith building for a Monday morning just to read that character sheet! When a small planning exercise has such a powerful effect, the potential for the final product is immense. Thanks for such a timely reminder for all of us to consider carefully how we present Him.

    1. Don't we have an amazing God! Blessings on you Paula.x

  2. Interesting food for thought, Jo. I've just finished the draft of my novel. One of the main themes is abandonment, and my protagonist here's God say 'I will never leave you' at a couple of key points in the book. He also speaks to her through a key verse. However, I haven't given much thought to using God as a more integral character. Good on you for raising the topic.

    1. Thanks Nola. i do look forward to this book. I know the blood sweat and tears that it cost to produce it."
      In El Shaddai God was heard to have said: 'I'm the same today as I was yesterday. I will still be the same tomorrow.'
      His voice is very Biblical but different. It's so refreshing!

  3. Hi Jo, love the character sheet for our Triune creator God. And I enjoyed your excerpt from El Shaddai. It reminds me of conversations i have with God :)

    You raise a great question. As I write for the general market, most of my fiction is closer to the book of Esther, though sometimes He speaks, often unseen or hidden but he is always there. The exception would my one contemporary story Sandy: Perfect Plans in Let the Sea Roar where His presence is much more explicit. I think there is a place for both approaches (or as you say - a mulitude of ways, refecting our experiences of God and also our audience.

  4. Hi Jeanette. Thanks for dropping by. So much of God is unseen...but always there. As you say there are endless ways of writing Him. Your book about Sandy has escaped my attention. I must have a look.

  5. Hi Jo. I felt I should comment as, in my fourth novel 'Jenna', published what seems a lifetime ago in 2010, I included a brief word from God at the end of each chapter, which was printed in italics and centred on the page. Mostly, these words encouraged the main character Jenna but sometimes they were for other characters I had focussed on in that particular chapter. It just seemed to me the natural thing to do--and I remember some readers telling me how those words in particular had touched them. And in my two non-fiction books, I have certainly included words I felt God said to me at certain stages of my life, encouraging me and giving me direction. But I always try to explain such things in a way that those unfamiliar with listening to God's voice or somewhat sceptical about such things will hopefully understand.

  6. Thats so good Joanne. I'd forgotten about the God bits in Jenna. Just pulled it off the shelf to check. I must re-read.
    Thanks for commenting x

  7. Wow! Such a beautiful post Jo. Thanks so much. I loved the character description of God. I reckon we could write pages and pages about Him and still be at the starting point of describing Him. Loved your little snippet too. I can relate to that. I love how your blog points out that as we know Him - we will share Him. Which means that our number one calling before we write is to be saturated by Him and His presence and to know Him better. Thanks for a refreshing post Jo. And may God bless you in 2019 with lots of writing endeavours.

  8. Thanks for making that point Anusha. Our starting point is to always get to know Him better. From that place our writing will carry the glory!

  9. Thanks for sharing. I am in the final stages of preparing to publish my first story, and I took a lot of encouragement from reading your thoughts. God starts speaking in the opening chapter of my book. When I began the story, I didn't know God intended this to be a novel, and I let Him take a central role. I have learned a lot about who I am and how I see Him engaging with the broken creation as He keeps introducing Himself in new ways to my characters )i(

  10. Hey Chrissy. How wonderful. I look forward to the release of your book. Thanks for your encouragement.

  11. So well said, Jo. I love writing this way.
    This is an excerpt from the YA novel I'm about to publish.
    'And then a miracle happened. It was as though a refreshing stream flowed through her lungs, breathing life and air into her, filling her with inexplicable peace.
    I’m here, Clare. I love you.
    The voice washed over her like a warm blanket.
    She had never thought their story could end this way. But it hit her, then. Phil was never meant to be the main character, the hero in her story. Jesus was the true hero. And to finish the story they would both be re-united with him someday, their closest friend and saviour. It seemed that Phil’s story might have finished before hers.'

    I also use the italics to show when God speaks. Thanks for the challenge and encouragement.

  12. Yay, Jenny. That's wonderful. Its so excited when God shows up and changes the story line! Thanks for encouraging me.

  13. Fascinating post, Jo. The Shack is a book that comes to mind where God and Jesus were characters in the story. Their portrayal in the story was controversial but I enjoyed the story.

  14. When we're used to conversing with God in everyday life, it seems only natural to include his comments in our writing. And yes, a few of those have found their way into mine. I also find he speaks to me through stories as I write them, sometimes in most surprising ways. I'm mindful though, that we need to take care not to put our own words into God's mouth for the sake of a story, but to ensure we honour him and his character by being consistent with his nature and his written word.Thanks for your thoughtful post, Jo.