You know how I feel about a call from God to write from previous postings and Writing In Holiness: While Keeping It Real. DJ’s call is for a wider path. We have many authors there. But, this isn’t to say that the call is not valid. That’s the thing about a call from God. You tell me you’re called from God, what can I do? That’s between you and God. As for me, I’m still looking for those rare books which transform lives by surreptitiously delivering the Gospel. On the other hand, DJ’s call seems genuine. I pray the Lord blesses it.
Following the Echoes
I’ve always enjoyed good stories. The best ones stick with you long after the last page is turned. They sit in the belly and make you think. They enrich our lives in ways that mere living cannot. But until a few years ago I never really saw their great potential as a way to communicate and spread the truth. I thought non-fiction was probably the best way to do that–books on theology, philosophy, or even history. What changed my mind was joining a literature club. Over the course of the couple of years that I attended it, we read mostly fiction. Lots of classics, some sci-fi, some fantasy, a few fairy tales. What struck me as I read these books was how theological the stories were. Most of them were not what anyone today would call “Christian” books, novels like The Count of Monte Cristo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Stars My Destination, and The Worm Ouroboros. Their authors were not out to advance the gospel or spread any deep spiritual truth. And yet as I read about Edmund Dante’s thirst for revenge and watched Mr. Hyde wrestle with his personal demons, echoes of the divine began to sound inside my mind.
I believe it was Augustine who said, “All truth is God’s truth”. Never was this more evident to me than when I read these “secular” works. I came to see that, much like a carpenter gleans all of his materials from God’s good earth, these stories borrowed from the deep well of God’s truth on every page. They were about light and dark, beauty an ugliness, joy and sorrow. Our personal struggle with sin and guilt and shame as a result of our abandonment of God played itself out in a hundred different ways across their pages. These stories chronicled man’s struggle against evil in a way that showed the need for the gospel and God’s redemption sometimes in spite of the story they were telling. Not all of them did this to the same degree, but even those stories which seemed enamored with the fallenness of man told the truth by way of negation. In Alfred Bester’s, The Stars My Destination, for example, the main character is unsavory, selfish, and prone to violence, but as he rumbles along, using people as if he were changing out the oil in his car, we see how hollow and empty a person he becomes. Why? Because he has put himself in the place where only God deserves to be, at the center of his life.
A spring uncoiled in my mind through this experience. Much of what I had learned by reading theology and philosophy reverberated throughout these fictional stories. And yet, as I mentioned, in some, the echoes were easier to hear than in others. Mostly these were the classics. It was the older writers who seemed to care most about the good, the true, and the beautiful. They were the ones wrestling with the eternal issues of pain and suffering, good and evil, life and death. Many contemporary writers seemed to avoid such subjects with a practiced indifference. Their books were filled with the echoes of echoes of echoes, the truth often lost in pragmatic prose and sheer entertainment, the quick hit, the emotional score. And it was the realization that the good stories were becoming few and far between which led me to venture out of my spiritual cave holding nothing more than a few sheafs of paper, a pen, and a stubby candle lit with the fire of my feeble grasp of the truth.
Carry Your Candle
As I began to craft my first novel, Into the Vast, the initial storyline had very overt Christian elements to it. While I think there is certainly value to books that put biblical themes front and center, as I went through the various drafts, in this particular story it felt like I was forcing the issue, maybe even being a little preachy with some of my characters. So the Christian elements became more latent, more subtle. I would even say the book is pre-incarnational, stemming more from an old testament perspective on God.
But whether an author takes a subtle approach or a more direct one, the important thing is that truth is there for the reader to be exposed to. Many readers will never pick up a book which they think is “Christian”. Because of that, I believe there is value in simply assuming Christian ideas and themes without necessarily coming right out and making it obvious. As I walk through bookstores and see the shelves groaning with the weight of all the prodigious work of modern authors, so much of which is nothing more than vanity and a chasing after the wind, I long for others to brush against the same divine truths I have discovered in my own reading. I earnestly desire for there to be stories which spread the light from that little candle of truth into the dark and sordid corners of the world.
Of course writing fiction is not the only way to do this. There are many ways to spread the truth in writing. I think first and foremost we do need the theological and philosophical books. These are what help us hone and digest the truths of Scripture so that we can see them with the keen insight that comes from wise counsellors and teachers whom God has gifted to the church. Without the Bible, chiefly, and good theology, in general, we cannot grasp the depths of God’s truth, nor recognize the echoes of eternity when we stumble across them. So I believe we need to understand and believe the truth first from these primary sources.
Having said that, who can deny the deep pleasure one feels in walking through green fields after a spring rain or listening to the birds as they flutter high up in the trees, or the ache in the heart one may feel as we gaze upon those masterpieces of God’s we call sunsets? These are expressions of God’s truth, his creative power, his love of beauty, as surely as the words we read about in theology, only expressed in a different way. And so it is with stories. As I said, many will never read the primary sources or seek after truth in its more direct, propositional forms. But when we see the great themes of sacrifice, courage, loyalty, and honor played out within the pages of a well-told tale, we may be sure that God is calling to us there just as much as he is in a treatise on the problem of evil. And it is often here, in the realm of mere “fancy”, where we see the truth begin to take shape. For imagination is the precursor to moral action. Sometimes a story may serve to inspire us to see a better way, God’s way. I believe I have learned as much about friendship, for example, from Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings as I have in any book on the subject. And so it is that good books, by enforcing a settled meditation on truths both hard and wonderful, can lead us into a greater experience of the truth of God, oft times teaching us lessons we do not even know we are being taught until much later.
So this is why I write: to add my voice to those echoes I hear from the divine song. I am not the song’s originator, but when I harmonize with his truth, the truth of the gospel as given through Jesus Christ, I am reminded once again of just how big that truth is. Big enough to stand against all the smudge and smear of the world of modern literature. Big enough to shed abroad the message of God in a secular world. And big enough to sound the clarion call of an infinite, eternal savior’s invitation to forget all else and follow him.