How much God do we find in our visionary fiction? Is it wrong if He’s not there?
Or if we do find Him or a Christlike character in our stories, how would He best be portrayed?
All kinds of fiction include different degrees of involving God in their plotlines. Though I’m sure overlaps exist, I suggest one can break these down into four overall categories, like this:
- God-ignoring. This includes most secular stories, such as Star Wars, Harry Potter and most fairy tales I’ve heard. No one in these stories says “God does not exist”, but they also don’t affirm He does exist. Occasionally we might find story elements that seem to contradict the idea of God, such as The Force, but overall the story stays “neutral.”
- God-hating. Very few stories fill this category. I can only think of Pullman’s His Dark Materials books, which include “god” as a character, but certainly twist His nature and authority, and turn him into an enemy to defeat.
- God-centered. Unfortunately I suggest even fewer stories fit here, partly because many doctrine wonks who want to be God-centered aren’t the types of people to write fiction. By God-centered I don’t mean only including God by Name or as an active character, but also recognizing that He does all things, not just out of love, but to glorify Himself; He has his own agenda and even “destiny,” to which all other characters, destinies, quests, etc., are naturally subject.But most stories labeled Christian seem to fit better into this category:
- God-including. This also includes many “secular” works such as Les Misérables, A Christmas Carol and Anne of Green Gables. Whether present as a parallel character in a fantasy world, or merely mentioned, God gets credit as an extra or even a supporting role. But who is the main star of the story? The human characters. In fantasy this often includes flawed people who must discover who they truly are, and often find the gifts/inheritance/talents/throne they’ve had all along. And any Christlike figure is there, mostly as a “sidekick,” to support this, with His own greater storyline not as important.
Please understand: I am not rejecting all stories that are mainly God-including. That’s because many Christians’ stories that are mainly God-including may drift into being God-centered. While all Christians have wrong ideas in their heads, the Holy Spirit may ensure true believers know and echo mainly truth even when they don’t know it. Similarly, I can enjoy God-ignoring stories for the truths their authors incidentally embed, whether it’s simple love-friendship-and-sacrifice, or more-direct hints such as Tolkien included (much of it by incident) in The Lord of the Rings.
For the Christian, the choice seems easy between God-rejecting and God-centered stories. But if I had to choose between stories that ignore God and those that (despite frequent hints of God-centeredness) most often include Him, I must admit I would prefer the God-ignoring ones.
Why? Because at least God-ignoring stories are not claiming to represent Christianity. Whether showing through story or telling more directly, they are not saying “this is what Christianity is” and then bait-and-switching. That would exchange the God-centeredness of more-potent Christianity — “God does all things for His glory, giving His perfect self to save even those who hated Him” — for the watered-down, more popular yet Pelagian worldview of “God’s main goal is to love you and help you Fulfill your Destiny.”
Still this may come across as slamming any author or story that doesn’t proclaim the whole Gospel on every page. But as I mentioned last week, I recognize not even the Bible does that!
However, the Bible’s big story — God created, man rebelled, God saves, God will restore — is clear to see amidst all the subplots involving heroes, battles, kings and fulfilled destinies.
Stories like this are far more amazing than the God-helps-person-follow-his-own-dream tales. Moreover, this will not only bring us more-Biblical stories that glorify God better as the main (though often hidden) Character, but better stories, free to explore what happens when God is on His throne and man is in his subservient yet joyous place, worshiping and following Him.
At Novel Journey, Noël De Vries presented this beautifully, regarding a certain fantasy film.
There is an essential difference between moralistic and Christ-centered storytelling. Every Hollywood film, no matter its source, preaches some degree of morality. Sometimes it’s obvious. Sometimes the filmmakers are more subtle, and create a desire within the viewers to emulate the hero. But either way, it’s about us summoning up the faith and courage to fight the giants in our lives.
In this film’s story, Eustace is pulled into Narnia so that he can overcome certain character defects, to help complete a mission and save hapless lives. Just like Frodo. Just like Harry. Just like Dorothy and Luke Skywalker. In the original story, however, Eustace is drawn into Narnia for one great adventure: Aslan saving him.
The men and women behind The Voyage of the Dawn Treader focus on good deeds and green mist and summoning strength because that’s the way storytelling works within their worldview.
But for a tale to be more than okay, you must replace the moralistic center. Heroic deeds flow naturally and painlessly, even poetically, from a cast that is anchored by the character of Aslan.
How to persuade well-meaning Christians that this way brings far greater joy? Point to Scripture’s own meta-story, rightly read, and always act according to God’s grace. We might also tell our own nonfiction stories — similar to how God may use fiction to point us to Him — about how we began seeing the man-centered monsters, in beliefs and stories, and heartily rejecting them in favor of the greater stories, mainly the Gospel of God’s Word, and thus began better reflecting the light of glory from His perfect joy in Himself. And specifically for Christian fiction readers and writers: we can also show more of this truth in the newer, better, more God-centered stories we may find.