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Will Fiction Last Forever? Part 1

“Your job and your hobbies have no eternal value.” Why do many Christians suspect that belief is true?
| Nov 10, 2011 | 30 comments

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, from a book, story, song, pastor, or maybe yourself:

This world is not my home; I’m just passing through.

Or any of these:

In heaven, time shall be no more.

Only three things are eternal: God, souls, and God’s Word.

We’ll spend all eternity undistracted by earthly things, worshiping God.

Or even:

You can’t take it [that is, a material possession] with you [when you die].

Several things have brought these to my mind, starting with my “open letter” last month about the contemporary Christian movie Courageous. In that column I attempted to react to the movie not just as a story, or just as a sermon, but both. After all, its creators had said they wanted make a sermon-story, so I felt the movie should be praised or critiqued accordingly. But soon that discussion developed into — you never can be too sure about these things — a subtopic about whether the iPhone, though developed by presumed non-Christian Steve Jobs, could be used in Heaven.

Actually, this subtopic wasn’t really that random. That’s because in the film’s ending scene, with a church altar-call-esque summons for men to be men, one character says:

“You can’t fall asleep at the wheel only to wake up one day and realize that your job and your hobbies have no eternal value, but the souls of your children do.”

Transcription courtesy of Christian Jaeschke, from the novelization of Courageous by Randy Alcorn

“Your job and your hobbies have no eternal value.”

Yes, that part — like several of the above clichés — leaped out to me as both poor story and un-Biblical sermon.

But hey, I’ve been there, done that about Courageous. I don’t want to blame the movie’s screenwriters, who surely meant well. Lines like “your job and your hobbies have no eternal value” are the result of ongoing evangelical myths. They are not the source.

So my hope in this series is to identify the problem’s source. Then prove that it is a problem. Then show from Scripture how these are not Biblical, and why it matters.

This definitely applies to Christians as people. It also applies to those who have devoted significant amounts of time to their hobbies or even jobs of reading/writing the best speculative stories they can (given that hobbies and jobs are often interchangeable).

But first I have a few problems of my own to overcome.

Otherworldly issues

1. I just finished a miniseries about going beyond story battles.

I loved writing that short series. It gave me a chance to remember what all our love for stories, and ultimately God’s original and ongoing Story, is all about. It’s not just about generating controversy (as Fred Warren underscored on Tuesday), or beating back un-Biblically “safe” views of story or speculative genres. Those issues are important, but they are temporary. Rather, I want to love and promote great stories because they are special agents of worship. Unlike nonfiction teaching, or even art forms like music, stories help us “get more,” in unique ways, of the same God Who has revealed Himself.

This new series, though, should expand those themes.

I don’t believe that manmade stories, like controversy, are temporary. I hope to prove proactively in this series that all of a Christian’s God-honoring talents, ambitions, even accomplishments — including our stories — may just follow us into the New Earth.

My goal is not just whacking wrong Heaven/New Earth beliefs. Sure, that’ll come, but only while a-passing through to the final destination. My hope is to encourage.

2. Talking about the goodness of material Things could seem like justification for greed and materialism, “prosperity gospel” garbage, or neglect of holiness.

That nonsense is out there. It’s sinful and it’s disgusting. The chief end of man is not to get more of God’s gifts and enjoy them forever. It’s to glorify and “get” and enjoy God.

You’re a child of the king, so you should live as the King wants you to live, coo the friendly, smiling, too-easy-to-take-cheap-shots-at television preachers, to gullible, self-centered followers. But true children of the King store up treasures in Heaven (Matt. 6: 19-21), and are eager to give, at personal cost and from Christ-endorsed “selfish” desire for the greatest reward that He promises: Himself and His Kingdom (Luke 12: 32-34).

But in some sense, I’ll assume in this series that you already know the danger of valuing God’s gifts more highly than their Giver; or that greed and sin are nasty; or that God may call us to give up ambitions, talents, or anything else, to serve Him in other ways.

Of course, true to form, I might still issue a sporadic disclaimer about those. But not every book, sermon, or series can take care of every angle of every Christian issue.

And nowadays, I’m seeing a lot of pushback against things like The American Dream, ambition, possessions, even personal talents. And there could be a chance — I’ve been noticing this — that we push too far. That we wind up in the opposite extremes. That in correcting for materialism, we wind up with spiritualismGnosticism-infected beliefs that fail to recall that God is redeeming not just souls, but His world.

These hurt our holiness. Worse, they accidentally deny God’s Word. They imply that the material world itself — not just its present evil age — isn’t worth God’s time. That the world to come is vague and unearthly. That only our “spiritual” deeds and work matters.

I think I’ve been saying this often, but more vaguely. Until now.

How vital is this topic? I suggest this: If we don’t have some hope that our story-related hobbies/jobs could enter eternity, we should stop doing them. Now.

3. I don’t want to assume readers believe New-Earth myths that they don’t.

Last week I said that more Christians need not fear painting only in pastel, fuzzy tones about the New Earth. This applies especially to Christian storytellers. All Christians are in the business of pointing to everlasting life. Our stories in particular should arouse this longing deep in the hearts of hearers, and in one way or another, point to its Source.

To discern and enjoy man’s stories, and know how their music — in sounds and lyrics — are echoic remixes of Heaven, we must be more familiar with the original Song.

Some of us may have grown up hearing sermons or seeing images that imply Christians have only the clichéd “sitting on clouds and playing harps” lifestyle to “anticipate” after we die. Others, though, may have more often heard rebuttals. How silly, the rebutters may say. Really, we can’t know exactly what Heaven will be like, but that’s where God is.

But too often we debunk the stereotypical clouds-and-harps mythology, yet hold onto other un-Biblical myths.

And too often also might one set out to debunk myths, having not taken stock of what folks actually believe and would say outright, or believe deep down and haven’t thought of it in a while. That’s why I’m asking: what do you believe about the After-world?

Perhaps giving away my challenges to some of the above clichés may help — if for no other reason than for readers to say, Hey, I’ve never believed that. You’re behind, brother.

Yet again, my hope is not just to myth-bust, but to encourage all Christians.

That goes especially for those who love stories, and/or writing, and would love to keep their favorites right on into everlasting life, but aren’t sure if that’s a Godly desire.

So this series will start with this: For readers and writers of stories whose themes and excellencies are meant to glorify God — according to His own nature and revelation about how He seeks His glory — your hobbies and jobs are not automatically worthless.

Scripture doesn’t say that this world, or time, or “earthly things,” are temporary.

God’s Word itself never claims that only God, souls, and itself will last forever.

In fact, it speaks of fire that purges and cleanses the curse of sin from the Earth (2 Peter 3). As the stars melt and the skies tear apart, the Earth does not. Instead it is “exposed” (verse 10). Made new. Reforged. A real, solid, perfect planet. Crown jewel of the divine empire.

That has implications. And prophecy is clear that the new world will also have Things.

Why should those Things not include manmade stories? More on that, next week.

E. Stephen Burnett explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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Kaci Hill
Member

As I can’t get embedding code to work….

“You can’t get to Heaven on roller skates”
http://youtu.be/H29PZxdXFKo

Kessie Carroll
Member

I don’t see why it’s so important to cling to this earth, theologically.
 
Rev 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
 
Right there, it says a new heaven and a new earth and there’s no longer any sea, implying a radical terrain change. Are you saying that God is so small that he has to recycle our old, tired Earth that groans in pain from the curse? God can’t just make a new one?
 
I also don’t think it’s worth fighting over, as you seem prepared to do. We don’t understand prophecy about the last days anyway, and getting dogmatic about it is only divisive.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Kessie, I could have saved myself a LOT of time if I’d only come over and read your post earlier. As it happens, Stephen and I have been exchanging comments on this subject on my site, and I left a LONG one that concludes with exactly what you say here.

Thanks for your clear, succinct, Biblical  response.

 

Becky

Galadriel
Guest

Well, I suppose this is what comes of encouraging vibrant discussion on a post.  I’ve thought about this a little bit before. One of the quotes that catches my attention is from The Silmarillion, where it is claimed that in the days after the end , the music of men shall be played rightly and take being in the moment of its utterance(paraphrased.) It made me think of subcreation in our world and what effect it will have in heaven.

Grace Bridges
Member

I have long wished there would be more fiction dealing with the Afterworld. Sure, there is some, but most of it is sappy and contrived, in my opinion. But the question that irks me most is this: how can there be a good story without conflict? Without sin, as it were? The answer according to principles of good writing is that there can’t be. And yet, there must be a way. Perhaps this is one of the mysteries waiting for us on the other side.

Of course it’s not just about fiction. The other related question is this: how can life be interesting at all if there is no conflict? Eternal life, no less? But I do know down to my boots that God sure wouldn’t give us a forever that’s boring – so there must be a solution. Maybe the answer lies somewhere in a definition of challenge without a hint of evil, of discovery without danger? 

I admit I have a hard time wrapping my mind around that possibility, but it’s all I’ve got for now…

Paul Lee
Member

I love my fantasy so much that I hope I will never again read any in Eternity.
Stories are not frivolous to me.  I do have fun reading novels or watching movies, but especially when I’m consuming my favorite speculative genres, I use the stories as a means to cope with my life.  I read fantasy because I want to believe in the meaningfulness and wonder that I don’t see in life — meaningfulness and wonder that should certainly exist if the Bible is at all true.
Right now, I’m content to read fantasy to help me envision truth that must be more real than the reality that I see and to help ward off despair.  But reading and imagining aren’t good enough.  If I believed that there was no deeper reality behind the sense that I get from fantasy, or if I believed that it were utterly impossible for me to ever encounter that profound purpose, I would want to kill myself.  I want my dreams to come true.  I want to live the epic.  If I were to go to Heaven and still have to longingly imagine the fantastic, I would not believe that it was really Heaven.
If heaven is really ultimate, there would be nothing beyond it to be imagined, I think.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Paul, what a great point! Reality will be so much MORE than any fantasy we could dream up. I tend to think I’ll switch over to contemporary fiction at that point. 😀

 

Becky

Fred Warren
Member

I’m hopeful that some of my stories will not accompany me to the New Earth. 🙂

Kaci Hill
Member

Amen, my friend. Amen.

Bethany J.
Guest
Bethany J.

I’m sorry, I’m coming to this discussion a bit late!  I meant to comment when the post went up, but had something else to do at the time, and then forgot.

Pardon my somewhat disjointed thoughts here… 🙂

On the controversy of “new earth vs. old earth revised” – personally, I don’t see why this is an issue as far as the main question (“will fiction last forever”?).  Supposing we still remember and love the fiction we read in the old earth, that is something that would continue on in our memories and affections, regardless of whether we live in a new “house” or a remodel!  God isn’t going to wipe our memories!

BUT…  The first thing that came to mind as I reflected on the post was a quote I saw in someone’s Facebook post recently (sorry, not sure where it’s from – maybe someone here knows?).  I think it went, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past.  Only what’s done for Christ will last.”  I’m not sure I entirely agree with the quote as a whole, but it brings to mind a good question.  Obviously, if fiction does go with us to the New Earth, not all of it will.  I can think of a billion books and even whole genres that would have NO place in a perfect New Earth!  But what then determines whether a book “makes the cut”?  Things suddenly get very tricky and muddy.

Tangent – I love the parable of the talents.  I yearn to hear my King say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  And I certainly hope that in those words He includes my use of the talents He has given me – and the books I write with them!  In that sense, I believe that what’s done for Christ, including fiction, WILL last.

But will people continue reading and enjoying my books in the New Heavens and New Earth?  Meh.  If they are read, enjoyed, and draw people closer to God in this world, I care little whether they’ll be enjoyed in eternity.  More paramount to me, personally, is the question, “Will we WRITE fiction forever?”  🙂  Our past works may or may not follow us into eternity, but I think we will continue to create works of art, probably including stories.  We are made in the Creator’s image – we are created to create!  In fact, in our perfected and sinless state how much more amazing will creativity be?!   Writing is such an integral part of who I am; I can’t imagine NOT writing anymore.  🙂  I expect the kind of things I write might change a little, or even a lot, but I firmly believe that it is a talent God has given me, and I’d be able to create things that are better, deeper, and much more glorifying to Him when I am a sinless saint in the New Earth!  🙂

Sorry for the ramble…I have a TON of thoughts on this topic.  I should just write my own blog post!  Which is what I plan to do, because I’m going to start a blog soon (yay!).  🙂

Bethany J.
Guest
Bethany J.

“I guess a related question, though, is whether we can “speculate” about New-Earth details on which the Bible is silent. The only parameters there, I think, include first, making sure we’re not certain about our speculations, and “speculating” contrary to where the Bible is certain, and second, not replacing Biblical truth’s import in our beliefs and actions with extra-Biblical speculations.”

I absolutely agree!  I enjoy speculating about Heaven and the New Earth, but I know it will probably be entirely different from my imaginings – and that’s perfectly okay with me, because I know whatever God has planned is infinitely more glorious and wonderful than even the best human speculations.  🙂
I guess I should have said, “I’m *planning* to start a blog soon, Lord willing,” because I’m still not even sure whether I’d be able to keep up with one along with everything else on my plate.  But I am certainly hoping to, and if I do, I will definitely mention it in a comment.  I’d love to be “visited” by some of the SpecFaith writers and readers.  🙂

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[…] the Bible and biblical reasoning do support the concept of stories and other human culture elements …. This is because God will renew planet Earth, which will last forever as the home of resurrected […]

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[…] the Bible and biblical reasoning do support the concept of stories and other human culture elements …. This is because God will renew planet Earth, which will last forever as the home of resurrected […]