Melissa: Hi Cliff. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer our questions. I thoroughly enjoyed Exodus and am looking forward to the rest of the series.
Your books are different, especially for the Christian market. Different in a good way, but for the average reader expecting to find a gentle retelling of scripture, they are in for a bit of a surprise. What should readers expect when they pick up Exodus or any of your books for that matter?
Cliff: You are right, of course, that most of what constitutes Biblical fiction is considered “soft.” And that’s ironic, because the Bible itself is not soft. I think part of it is that the Biblical fiction genre is dominated by a long-held belief that anything about the Bible has to be sanitized, or turned in a historical romance, to make it palatable. I’m not sure what we are afraid of; the Bible is inherently offensive and raw because that is the condition of the human soul, and it needs to meet us there.
My prayer is that when a reader picks up one of my books, they feel a little like they have been kicked in the teeth, but over time, perhaps that translates into a new perspective on the Scriptures. The compliment I most appreciate is when people say, “I will never read that story in the Bible the same way again.”
Melissa: In many ways, your books can be considered a call to arms for men. They have strong warfare and some of the more violent aspects of Biblical times. However, they also are strong encouragements for men to be men as God intended and to stand up for their family and their spiritual values. But our society has created an environment where men fulfilling their role as family and spiritual leaders seem at times virtually impossible. In entertainment, family men are often portrayed as clueless buffoons. It’s rare to see the dad driving the family in their car in movies, TV, or commercials. I have yet to figure out what it is women are suppose to want in their husband, because often what I read strips a man of what allows for a man and woman to compliment each other. What are men to do in order to function in our current society?
Cliff: You make an important series of points and I don’t think I could say it any better. The issue is complex, but if I may be frank, in the modern culture men are currently expected to be what women want them to be, and that definition changes based on whims and not any objective standard. Which then frustrates women because they never can quite get what they are looking for, and men respond by just checking out and going the selfish route because they don’t have the incentive to be noble. “Noble” equals “offensive” these days. That doesn’t excuse how men can behave, but it is important context for it.
There has been a great deal of positive progress made in relations between men and women, where women are increasingly being treated as equally valuable before God. But, as you indicate, much more confusion and heartache has set in because of the ever-shifting standards of what society wants men to be. As Dr. Laura once said, “You ladies want your man to be a kitten when it suits you, and a gladiator when it suits you.” Men were created for hard and rugged duty, to be the first one to sacrifice, the first one to get hurt, the first one to go hungry, the first one to get out of bed and investigate bumps in the night, etc.
Despite the endless gender-based wackiness going on out there, I still believe our intrinsic natures as designed by God will prevail, and when something goes bump in the night, 99% of homes, regardless of how “progressive” they are, will see the man get up and investigate. And if he does not, he is a coward…and she is a fool.
Men and women should be battle buddies in life, each with specialization of roles based on their different genetic design, but one in purpose and value.
Melissa: In all the times I have read Exodus and Judges, I never stopped to consider that Caleb was not an Israelite, but rather a Kenizzite. For this book, his heritage plays a very important role as we get to see the Exodus from a different perspective. As you were writing this book and recreating the plagues from the Egyptian point of view, what are some new insights you picked up on?
Cliff: As far as I can tell, I am the first mainstream author or entertainment content provider to tell the story of the Exodus entirely from the Egyptian perspective through the eyes of a non-Hebrew character. Many movies and books have scenes with Pharaoh, but I wanted to put the reader inside the golden palaces and among the soldiers and nobles of the Egyptian empire.
Their world was comprehensively shattered, and I always wondered what it would have been like to be a pagan Egyptian watching this unknown but terrifying god of slaves utterly crushing everything about what they believed to be true and powerful. Also, I wanted to portray Pharaoh as a flesh and blood human, and not just the comic book villain he has been made out to be. Was he evil? Certainly. His hard heart caused endless grief. But he was a man, and I believed it would be thought-provoking to flesh out his character more than typically occurs in these types of projects.
Melissa: As you mention in the author’s notes for Exodus, there isn’t a lot of information about Caleb in the Bible. Aside from taking generic information about the time and people, are there any specific people you based Caleb on, either historical or present?
Cliff: Caleb was one-of-a-kind. It’s hard to find his parallel, even in the Bible itself. In my imagination, I picture him as a vibrant and daring young man much like a young David, eventually becoming an aging, grumpy but noble war horse who can still muster his old ferocity when it matters most. I have a friend who is a retired special operations warfare general officer, and he is covered in scars and looks at you with a squint that says he has seen everything. He’s been a good Caleb model for me as he approaches his seventies.
Melissa: I adore this quote from Exodus, “Their god had captivated me. A powerful god was nothing new to us, but a powerful god with compassion? A god who would destroy and destroy again everything in the empire for the ages, just to protect the laughing little girl next to me, tugging a goat along? To bring her and her family out of bondage?” We talk about the mystery of God and to me this so very clearly demonstrates the mystery of God. But while I marvel at this statement, it presents difficulty for those who want a loving, gracious, forgiving God, without the righteous, powerful, judging God. Yet God is all these things and more. How do we present God to a world that wants His beneficial qualities without the ones that hold us personally responsible?
Cliff: If God was not love, then we would not understand love. And, if God was not justice and righteousness, we would not understand justice and righteousness. He never gets credit for the infinite number of times he has stayed his hand of righteous justice and wrath. It always comes as a last resort, after man has been given many chances to repent, frequently over generations.
At the end of the day, God will defend the honor of His name and He will defend His people. I believe we present Him as a gracious and loving Father whom we can access through His son, Jesus, and should be sure to include descriptions of his justice and righteousness as well as his love.
Melissa: Biblical-based entertainment has grown not only in the Christian market, but also within the general market. What are your thoughts about some of the movies and TV series that have featured stories from the Bible? From what you have seen, how well do you think filmmakers are balancing Biblical truth and creative liberties?
Cliff: In general there have been some good steps forward. Hollywood realizes the potential of Biblical content. But the quality needs to continue to improve. We should look at art through the same lens of desiring excellence to the glory of God as we would anything else. A Christian engineer shouldn’t get a pass for building mediocre bridges just because he is a Christian.
Most of the filmmakers making the big epics in Hollywood are agnostic or atheist. We can’t expect that they will make a film that is entirely honoring to the Scriptures. That said, we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If a film has positive aspects of its production that honor God, that is what we should focus on.
Melissa: I follow your Facebook page and it seems obvious to me that you practice what you preach. Where can our readers find out more about some of the ministries you are involved in as well as how to help support your writing and film projects?
Cliff: I am very active on my Facebook page as well as my Twitter account @cliffgraham We just launched a new series of podcasts that I host and/or narrate and they can be found on my website or downloaded in any podcast storefront by searching my name.
Melissa: What’s next for you? Any plans for your wife to write something for the women? 🙂
Cliff: I am finishing up my Lion of War series, and of course I have two more books in the Shadow of the Mountain series. I am also working hard on an epic series based on the Judges, Samson in particular. My wife isn’t a writer, but she’s feisty and tough and that’s why I call her the Spartan Queen. She’ll be joining me on my podcast in upcoming episodes talking about how we do life together as battle buddies.