The title of Emily Hedrick’s novel might initially seem problematic, even sacrilegious. What believer would wish to read the confessional work of someone who has killed God, even in fictional form? Yet Hedrick’s allegory, subtitled “A Postmodern Pilgrim’s Progress,” is deeply spiritual and well worth reading.
Because the path toward truly knowing God is fraught and complicated, Hedrick’s text is discomforting at times. The journey of discovery is not easy. True Confessions of a God Killer reflects not only the seeming impossibility of comprehending the mystery of God but also our own complicity in creating images of God that we may recognize but that are not, after all, life-giving or true.
Hedrick grew up in Souderton, Pa., has a degree in music, Bible and religion from Goshen (Ind.) College and is now a student in divinity at Wake Forest. Her theological studies inform True Confessions of a God Killer, which is rich in biblical and theological allusion and is inspired by her love for John Bunyan’s 17th-century classic, Pilgrim’s Progress.
Like Bunyan’s protagonist, Christian, the narrator in True Confessions of a God Killer begins her tale in the apparent safety and security of her hometown, a place surrounded by “thick, forbidding walls” that could keep its citizens safe — or mostly so, as the walls do not protect them from themselves. Thus they believe God provides protection, but their belief is founded only on the idea of a rigid Almighty, an image drawn for them by a Man of God. Their lives are guided by a Code of Conduct and by an understanding of Truth that no one seems, in the end, to fully possess.
This specific God, known well to the protagonist because of the culture in which she is raised, becomes weaker and sicker. God’s decline propels the narrator to begin a journey marked less by movement through physical space than by contention with the self — or, actually, selves. Hedrick does a credible job of showing the ways spiritual crises can compel our very selves to split into warring factions, causing inner chaos.
Having several iterations of the narrative “I” speak to each other as separate entities may seem initially confusing. But Hedrick uses this device effectively. She portrays the inability, even within one person’s mind, to agree about who God is, who we are and how we are to understand and navigate the world. Hedrick replicates well the mental and emotional turmoil some of us experience moment by moment — our fractured selves, unable to know real peace.
As the narrative progresses, the long-believed-in God weakens. Efforts to keep God alive fail. Despite feeling great anxiety in seeing God crumble and die, the narrator expresses relief: “As I sat beside the corpse of God,” Hedrick writes, “I could embrace myself for the first time.”
But this inner peace is short-lived. God’s death dismantles everything the protagonist has known. The narrator’s inner journey continues with the recognition that without the old, well-defined paradigms of who God is and how God reigns, life can itself be terrifying: There are no assurances from Men of God and like-believers that the image of God they’ve created is true and real.
The narrator also discovers, though, that finding one’s way toward knowing a life-giving and vibrant God requires that we discover grace, love and a community of folks on similar journeys. Despite a denouement that suggests the narrator has found some of what is sought, it also seems clear that all the selves at journey’s end have not been reconciled. The narrator’s various worlds continue to collide, within and without.
Yet Hedrick seems to assert that if we treat each other and ourselves with gentleness and grace rather than with “blatant, ugly remarks of certainty and judgment,” we will understand better the mystery that is God.
While the journey toward knowing Something Else beyond ourselves never ends, the book’s final chapters suggest the narrator has found a semblance of peace and wholeness through a community of like-minded pilgrims.
Although highly recommended, True Confessions of a God Killer is a challenging read, especially for those not accustomed to extended allegories. Hedrick asks her readers to unwind the many mysteries embedded within her story and to make connections and interpret symbols requiring more than just a simple engagement with the text. Those willing to invest their time in her narrative will be rewarded and will emerge seeing the world — and God — differently than before.
Melanie Springer Mock is professor of English at George Fox University in Newberg, Ore.