There is nothing quite so satisfying as a good story with rich characters and a powerful thematic message. However, as much as I love a good story, I have always found one thing to be lacking-no one has been able to adequately convey God. Many authors have tried–character representations, a voice in the head of a main character, an unseen influence. To some, this inability to capture God in story might support a falseness to the claim of God’s existence. In reality, though, our inability to capture God is more reflective of our lack of imagination than the veracity of God’s existence. God is simply too big for story and any “God” we try to imagine will always be too small.
There is one author who, not surprisingly, has made the best attempt. In Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series, God is suspiciously absent and yet he provides the best representation of God I have read so far. What makes Tolkien’s attempt so effective as a Christian author is that he doesn’t attempt too much. The great Creator God is assumed but not described. Though you learn more about Him in the Silmarillion, He remains a great mystery. Instead, Tolkien takes attributes of God and spreads them out among his characters: Frodo as the sin-bearer, Gandalf as the resurrected one, Aragorn as king, and Samwise the servant. He wisely realizes that we can not limit God’s person to one character. Our fictional characters cannot take the full weight of the glory of God. We can only hope to express a glimpse of His greatness.
Did you ever wonder why the Bible has so many authors? There are actually over 40. Perhaps it is because one voice, even a few voices, just can’t be loud enough, articulate enough to even begin the conversation. Even beyond that are the multitude of lives covered in the Bible–from Adam and Eve to Mary and Joseph to the prophetic John–we see God working in individual lives.
God’s Image Displayed in Us
And just like a single character cannot encompass the depth of God in story, God Himself operates in three distinct persons. And as we consider the imago Dei, we cannot forget that He is also seen in us–millions of distinct persons each reflecting a portion of His light. Genesis 1: 26-17 says:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (italics mine)
Our stories by themselves may not seem much but projected alongside the images of a billion other believers now and through time, a clearer image begins to be seen.
Each life is needed. Some of us will tell the world of God’s creative beauty making the space around us a place of rest and beauty. Some of us reflect His compassionate heart by gently caring for those in need. Some of us make His face a bit clearer as we open God’s Word to explain the truth of God. And many, many through their selfless service to those in need reveal the loving heart of our Father God to those who would otherwise never know.
Hannah Anderson explores this in her book Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image where she says,
As an image bearer, you are made to reflect and represent God on earth…You will know yourself and God’s image will radiate through your life like light radiates through a prism. Each element will act as a plane…bend His glory through your identity, revealing not only the depth and brilliance of who He is but illuminating your own existence as well.
There are many who would complain that God has not made Himself available. But He has. He has given this world you, and He has given them me. We might not feel our contribution accomplishes much, but as Anderson comments, our relationship with Him, our living out the unique identity He has given shows forth the radiance of His glory.
We are all needed to fully display God. Just as Tolkien needed a Samwise and a Gandalf and a Frodo just to give us a glimpse of the corner of God’s garment, God needs you and me to tell the story of His personhood so that the world can truly see.
“Our lives are unique stones in the mosaic of human existence — priceless and irreplaceable.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World