Is it even possible to write a Christian novel without evil? Not really. I suppose one could write of unfallen other worlds, the pre-fall Garden of Eden, or of the saints in Heaven and get away with it. But that’s not the world we inhabit or anything remotely close to it. And, as a friendly, jab, best wishes on your conflict in Heaven!
To the contrary, I’d argue that evil is a central component of the Christian worldview. Any character that is genuinely Christian must face it and face it even within their own being, Wesleyan Holiness types aside. After all, who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks to E. Stephen Burnett, I’ve been presented an opportunity here to discuss some of the issues regarding evil and Christian fiction.
Christian fiction written without evil is truly a Christian fiction, in that it has no tie to reality as professed by Christians. It ceases to be Christian, outside of the possible exceptions presented above. A novel without evil is a non-Christian mythology, a way of understanding our world at the deepest levels that bears no relation to the truths taught by Christianity.
Fortunately, it’s good news that the logical problem of evil is widely thought to be solved by thinkers of all stripes, largely due to the work of Alvin Plantinga. The logical problem of evil differs from evidential or probabilistic versions of the argument in that it attempts to detect a contradiction or incoherency between the propositions God exists and evil exists. After two millennia or more, it is now commonly accepted that the proposition God may have morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil is sufficient to dispatch the logical POE.
So, the question for us as Christian writers is something along the lines of the following: do I have morally sufficient reasons for writing a Christian novel that contains evil? I think the answer is not only a resounding yes, but that evil is required. Here are some reasons why (keep in mind the above disclaimers)…
- A Christian writer ought to be faithful to the revealed Word of God, which describes our world as evil.
- For Christian writers to create characters who possess no evil qualities is tantamount to denying Scriptures such as All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
There are more we could list, but that should be adequate for the moment. The existence of evil in Christian literature is really not that contentious. What is, however, is the existence of gratuitous evil. Gratuitous evil is any evil that does not appear to have a role or purpose in the story. It is evil for evil’s sake, so to speak.
Interestingly, this is one of the philosophical reactions to the fall of the logical form of the POE discussed above. There are some forms of evil in the world, it is argued, that are gratuitous evils that God could not have a morally sufficient reason for allowing. A classic example of this is the fawn that dies horribly in a forest fire. What possible reason could be offered for this type of evil? Certainly not free will or the soul-making property of evil. Rather than offer a defense here, let’s take a moment instead to look at the problem in light of Christian fiction.
Is there an instance in your writing, or mine, where evil is inserted gratuitously? Does it serve no purpose in the development of the characters, the general tenor of the created world, the spiritual theme, or the story at large? If so, this is probably a good example of an area where evil does not belong in Christian fiction. The point is this: have solid reasons why the evil you insert into a novel is required by the world and story itself, and offered pursuant to that taught in Scripture.
But that’s not all. Intertwined with evil and fiction is the existence of violence. You may have evil without violence, but often they appear together. Is this acceptable for a Christian novel, given that the violence portrayed is not gratuitous? I believe so, and I believe it’s fairly easy to demonstrate.
The Bible is an extremely violent book. There’s Jael and the tent peg, there’s David beheading Goliath, there are bears mauling kids—young men, most likely—at the command of the prophet Elisha (those of you who taunt my thinning hair should be glad I’m not Elisha…you know who you are!), and literally hundreds of other violent acts that upset our delicate, 21st century PC sensibilities. Even God gets in on the act with frequency: I will make my arrows drunk with blood, while my sword devours flesh.
Our choices are to accept the Bible as the authoritative, infallible, inerrant Word, including its violence, or not. I for one choose the former and think it is high time we quit making excuses for it. In like manner, as long as violence within a Christian novel is not gratuitous, is genuine with regard to the created world and story, and displays Christian truth, it is acceptable.
After all, why is the Bible so violent? The answer is simple, yet important: God cannot lie; thus, He describes our world and our hearts exactly as they are. Imagine if God had not done so out of fear he might offend someone! Heaven forbid.
Lastly, the most violent event of all time—yes, more violent than the worldwide flood that killed all but eight or the eschatological violence looming ahead—is the crucifixion, in which God poured out his wrath on His perfect son. Why? Why would God write such a violent story? And make no mistake, He did write it.
True, we are not God, so we must take utmost care when handling such powerful themes. And please hear me clearly: evil and violence are never to be glorified. They ought to be described as the hideous realities they are, and they should never be focused on solely to the exclusion of the Good. But I also believe God wishes us to tell the truth about this world, about the hearts of men, and about how His glory shines ever clearer through it all. May it be so.
Marc Schooley is a Texan, which may be empirically verified if you ever hear him speak. He is a Christian philosopher, theologian, Bible teacher, speaker, musician, and nascent Christian fiction writer who welcomes you to communicate with him at www.MarcSchooley.com, featuring quest appearances by MS Quixote—which may or may not be his alter ego (a special commission has been established to investigate this matter). His novels The Dark Man and König’s Fire blend action and paranormal twists with in-depth characters and Christian doctrines.