“When God writes history, he writes a novel.”
I had no idea what my Old Testament professor meant when he first said this. It seemed bordering on the heretical to think of God as a fiction writer, especially while we were studying the Bible.
But he was provoking us to recognize how Scripture is different from all other forms of writing. Novelists have complete control over their subject matter. In good fiction writing, all the details, characters, and events are woven together to construct a coherent and satisfying story. Events early on foreshadow what is to come. The reader is able to know the central characters well and see the significance of their choices.
Good history writing, however, is never so tidy. Biographers always lack important details about their subjects and are left to speculate about motives. Historians try to marshal arguments for how some events led to others, but there are always loose ends, awkward details, that refuse to fit in a neat package.
And that’s how the Bible feels when we first read it. We find all sorts of strange and confusing historical details, and it’s hard to see how they all fit together. It feels messy.