In his book A Grace Disguised (Zondervan 2005), Jerry Sittser uses two metaphors for God on pages 156-157: God as a puppeteer and God as a novelist. The puppeteer is an all-powerful God who predetermines our every move. We are passive victims of God’s whims; we have little freedom to choose. On the other hand, God as novelist is in overall control of the writing of the book, but as the story line develops, the characters change as their characters develop. Rather than being manipulated and controlled, they have a freedom to choose their own destinies.
In thinking about these two metaphors for God, I came up with a list to describe each one and their contrasting characteristics.
God as puppeteer
• God of much of Christianity, especially fundamentalism
• All-powerful God
• God of justice (fairness-we get what we deserve)
• God of sending Hebrews into exile
• Story of Job
• Causes fatalism (I’m stuck)
• God of creeds and “isms”
God as novelist
• God of Nouwen, Sittser, many other writers on spirituality
• All-loving God
• God of grace (mercy)
• Story of Prodigal Son
• God of allowing Hebrews a king
• Causes hope (I can change)
• God of mystery
My first claim is that the puppeteer metaphor is the one that most of us grow up with in our black-and-white Sunday school faith. Many stay stuck with this image of God. This stuck-ness results in rigid belief systems that produce fundamentalism. Most writers on Christian spirituality show us how to grow and mature in our faith by moving us more toward the novelist metaphor.
The puppeteer God is all-powerful while the novelist God is all-loving. I have written about this difference in a previous blog post: "God: Almighty or All-loving?"
The puppeteer God is a God of justice and righteousness. This God judges us for our faults; dishes out what we deserve—if we are good we get a reward, if we are bad, we get punishment (Deut. 28). This God is the God who sent the Hebrews into exile for their disobedience. In contrast, the novelist God is a God of mercy. The best example of this is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:32). This God loves and forgives no matter how egregious the straying and the sin.
The best biblical story that portrays God as a puppeteer is the story of Job. Job is seemingly at the mercy of the forces of good and evil, and Job is a mere marionette on a string being manipulated by God. The best biblical story to illustrate the God as novelist is the story of the Hebrews’ desire for a king (1 Samuel 8). This was not in God’s original plan; It was an outright rejection of God’s sovereignty. However, as the novel developed, and the people’s characters changed, God allowed for them to have a king.
The puppeteer God causes fatalism. “That’s life.” “It was or wasn’t God’s will.” We get stuck in the blame game with no way for movement out. On the other hand, the novelist God brings us hope. We can change, we are not stuck.
The puppeteer God is the one that has the followers develop creeds to believe in, doctrines to follow, and institutions to be preserved. The novelist God is mysterious, beyond rational explanation and characterization. This is the God that mystics through the ages and in all religions traditions have experienced.
Of course, as mentioned above, there is biblical evidence for both kinds of “Gods,” and the categories are probably not as neatly defined as I make them. Nevertheless, the lists can give us some food for thought in how we experience or view God.
During my crisis of faith, I became very cynical about the church, God and religion in general. I was stuck on the institutional God of creeds and “isms.” My faith was restored and my cynicism conquered by the mysterious God, mainly through the spiritual disciplines. I learned to “know” God rather than just to “believe” in God.