This week, one of Patheos’ favorite bloggers, Frank Viola, releases his new book God’s Favorite Place on Earth. Recommended by some 47 top Christian leaders, Viola’s book is a creative retelling of the stories of Bethany, told through the eyes of Lazarus.
The premise of the book is simple and 100% Biblical: when Jesus was on the earth, He was rejected everywhere He went … from Bethlehem, to Nazareth, to Jerusalem. The only exception was the little village of Bethany. We caught up with Frank during his book launch week to ask him a few questions about his song to Bethany.
In the book’s introduction, you say there is “a narrative within the narrative” of the Gospels that is the greatest story ever told. What story is this, and what makes it so powerful for you?
The story of Jesus’ many visits to Bethany and the profound significance of each visit and what it means for us today.
I would have thought Jerusalem was God’s “favorite place on earth.” But you suggest that Bethany, 2 miles from Jerusalem, was more likely God’s favorite place. Why?
Those who have read the book can easily answer that. But for those who haven’t, yes, some people may think that Jerusalem is God’s favorite place on earth. And in a sense they are correct. Jerusalem is central in the Bible. It is where God put His name and where He chose to presence Himself in the temple.
When Jesus arrived on the scene, however, the holy city of Jerusalem became something that God never intended. And it rejected its Savior. So much so that it crucified Him. The tears of Jesus over Jerusalem, therefore, were not tears of satisfaction and joy. They were tears of sorrow for rejecting its Messiah.
Why did you choose to retell the many visits of Jesus to Bethany in narrative form? What inspired you to flesh out the gospels with more detail and imagined conversations?
To bring it to life. The book puts all the visits of Jesus to Bethany in the Gospels together in chronological order, and turns them into 3-D High Definition Technicolor. Readers are saying that they feel they are watching a movie and Jesus is more relatable to them.
What was like taking on the voice – becoming the character – of Lazarus to tell this story? How did this exercise affect you and your faith? What did you learn in the writing of this book?
I learned a ton. It touched my on so many levels. I wept writing while portions of it and readers are saying they re weeping while reading it.
What was most challenging about writing this book? What came easiest?
Hardest: Some of the dramatizations where I had to “show” and not “tell.” Easiest: The nonfiction teaching part.
Who do you hope reads your book and what do you most hope people take away from it?
How to deal effectively deal with the 18 struggles most of us faith in our faith journey (they are listed here). And what it means to be a “Bethany” for Jesus on the earth today and what it involves. This, I believe, is God’s consuming passion and purpose. I think the book makes a strong case for this.
Also: if people by the book before launch week ends (May 7), I will give them 25 books & audios by 19 different authors as a “thank you.” The book is presently on sale on Amazon.com and it’s been below #25 out of all books for the last 3 days. I’m stunned.