by John Knapp II
“Will there be fiction in Heaven?” asks the English teacher. “After all, if there’s no conflict there’s no story.”
Since I suspect the answer is “No,” I’ve been scrambling before it’s too late to create a novel called Earth Is Not Alone¹ because I like stories that, along with science, scratch the itch caused by our curiosity. Here’s a preamble to what I’ve done.
First, stories are not necessarily lies; they may recount history or lean heavily into it, but the ones we call “fiction” spring first and foremost from the imagination, sifting the mind for plausible details, images, and connections to entertain or say something that we think matters. Even Jesus did this when he told parables.
Consider for a moment the imago deo (a la Dorothy L. Sayers², perhaps) as godlike (small “g”) writers tiptoe past divine history³ into mystery and other fiction in order to ponder what is, what really was, or what later may be. Is it bad to do this? Or too presumptious? Perhaps if writers and the readers fail to distinguish speculation from history. Level-headed people can do that, but there’s always risk.
Fiction about the Bible has a long and fascinating history. Much of the biblical Apocrypha, found in many Bibles, purports to have been written centuries earlier than it really was, or so say the scholars in their convincing notes. And portions of it are obviously fiction, though in cases these accounts more or less follow actual history, helping us learn about the past.
My favorite stories are “Susanna” (which introduces wise young Daniel), “Judith” (where a strong and beautiful Jewish widow decapitates an Assyrian general and saves her people), and “Bel and Dragon” (a mystery which a now-older Daniel solves)⁴. Are these “pious frauds” as some have claimed? Not damning ones if we accept the tagalong commentary. If they’re in Bibles, they’re usually grouped and come after the standard sacred canon. But they clearly originated in the imagination, going far beyond real history.
After the Apocrypha—from then until now—have come thousands of fictional musings by writers energized by the Bible, who’ve sought to instruct and/or entertain by presenting problems, issues and conflicts in the context of a biblical world view. Why more fiction? Because the passing years teach us more about everything.
And—listen carefully—because the Bible only says so much. We must look through and beyond it to learn much about God’s world: about science, material objects, energy, social structure, communication, the nature of human life, mental illness, deviant behavior, the size of our “world,” the galaxy, and the universe, and our responsibility it to it. I could go on and on.
And “story” helps us do this. (Note that one role of rabbinic aggadic—legend—midrash is to fill out “missing parts” of the biblical story.⁵)
Let’s not foolishly assume that we should never leave God’s house and go outdoors. In practical ways we do this every day. Of course, danger lurks in the forest beyond Scripture, but you wouldn’t even see this warning without tools made by those who left before you.
As to the growing body of enchanting fiction—setting aside stories with little religious association—many writers have cared about Bible ideas, and if I make any list—say Dante, Hugo, Dostoevsky, Lewis, Tolkien, L’Engle, Rivers, Peretti, Lawhead, (LaHaye⁶ &) Jenkins, for example—I would probably surprise or shock you by who I’ve put in and left out. What about balance, depth, style, or awareness of the modern world? The Bible of course is an antique we accept, but what about newer “old” stories that test brand-new knowledge? For example, what about C. S. Lewis’s space trilogy⁷ in the light of today? It’s still memorable, though it would have been cast a bit differently if created last year. If written at all.
So what can I—the English teacher/science educator⁸—bring now to fiction that has a Bible worldview? Perhaps my age, my experience, my passion for Scripture, for folklore, and the influence of nearby Cape Canaveral, when I’m in Florida. In 2009 so much has happened in space: repairs on the Hubble telescope (in May); the launching of the Kepler spacecraft with the expressed purpose of seeking out Earthlike⁹ planets (earlier in March); and actually finding another “earth,” an exoplanet named “Gliese 581 e” 20 light-years away (on April 21)¹⁰. Is there other life, human life, out there—far, far away?
And there’s my concern about nuclear weapons; and my awareness of the very real danger of electromagnetic pulse (EMP)¹¹ that’s been with us since 1962, and now has the potential of destroying all microcircuitry, electrical power, and erasing electronic (modern) records.
With change, or the threat of it, we seek answers; but ironically, on the road to greater certainty sometimes, instead, we need to entertain larger, more fundamental, questions. The Bible reminds us about when Job’s personal world long ago suddenly changed, that God responded to Job’s agonizing bewilderment and restored him, not with answers but with dozens of totally unexpected questions¹².
Prepare now for a blizzard of my own.
As a planet, are we prepared to go backwards?
How vulnerable is our technology? And how much do we depend on it? What would happen after a series of EMP explosions? Why is EMP a terrorist’s dream?
How does the Bible help in such a difficulty? What does it say about the possibility of finding humans created in the image of God—and fallen—on other planets? How should we respond to such creatures as Earthings? As Americans? As Christians? What does the Bible say? And (now in my adventure/romance) how should we think about two strange, recently discovered folklore-sounding, extrabiblical stories?
What about nonbelievers in the middle of such things? In particular, (according to my story) suppose a highly moral (but “doesn’t need God”) atheistic teacher in the mountains of Pennsylvania who’s determined to expose and punish his two best students, who are superstitious Christians— a local boy and a mysterious girl “without a past”—for an absurd act of cheating?
Is it possible—and wise—to connect with a person (with similar appearance and DNA¹³) from another planet? To love—and fall in love with—that person?
How does the once-for-all birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection (see Hebrews 9 & 10), and second coming of Jesus fit into all this? And traditional end-time scenarios?
And what if there were a “Macedonian call”¹⁴ from “out there”? How far can—and should—our missionary arms reach?
According to a recent review of Earth Is Not Alone from New Zealand: “This is…the first book I’ve ever seen that truly tackles the concept of life in other worlds from within a Christian worldview. If there were aliens elsewhere, how would they be covered by our theology since it was here on Earth that Jesus lived? We begin to see how it might be plausible, through a complex series of discussions and connections……an entertaining and highly unusual read—a novel novel, as it were—and I look forward to more from this author.”¹⁵
And here you may have wished for less.
To go further you can read the first two chapters of EINA and explore other facts and ideas on my website, www.johnknapp2.com, and at www.amazon.com there are reviews and random “inside the book” selections.
Imago deo. I wonder how Darwin would explain such faith and wild wandering?
²The imago deo according to Sayers, a scholar and detective writer, is essentially the assertion that the common characteristic to God and man is the “desire and ability to make things” based on Sayer’s The Mind of the Maker. You can easily Google this for more.
³“Divine history” is my quick way of saying, without defending it, that when the Bible itself is reporting events, it’s reporting real history, not fiction.
⁴Two popular Bibles (among many) which include the Apocrypha are The New Oxford Study Bible, (Oxford, 1977) and The HarperCollins Study Bible, 1993.
⁵I have been reminded by my colleague E. A. Knapp that “fleshing out [minor] characters” and creating “legendary back story” was an important part of midrash in ancient Jewish history.
⁶In the Left Behind series while Tim LaHaye did much of the planning, Jerry B. Jenkins did the bulk of the writing.
⁷C. S. Lewis’s trilogy (in order) are Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandria, and That Hideous Strength. This is adult fantasy and can be easily obtained many places.
⁸In my website, www.johnknapp2.com hit the “bio” tab; when there hit “short.” I was probably the only tenured university full professor of English in the U.S. with a Ph.D. in science education, rather than English.
⁹Notice I capitalize “Earthlike” and usually “Earth.” If Jupiter, Mars, Venus, and now Gliese 581 e all get caps, how can we do less for Earth?
¹⁰See blog portion of my website for sources and discussion of these space events in 2009.
¹¹Read Ch. 2 of my novel on my website, or Google “electromagnetic pulse” or just “EMP” for a weekend of fascinating, perhaps disturbing reading, reading.
¹²Job chapters 38 through 42.
¹³It could be interesting to hear proponents of Intelligent Design discuss this with naturalistic Darwinists.
¹⁴“A Macedonian call.” See Acts 16:9. God gives St. Paul a vision of a man from Macedonia asking for his help. This is a common Christian expression, jargon, if you will, for a person said to have experienced, or received, a specific missionary call to a specific place.
¹⁵Review by Gail Bridges on Sept. 23, 2009 at www.titletrakk.com. It’s now archived. Go there and click on “books” and go to the alphabetical listings.