If visitors here at Spec Faith have read our Statement of Faith, to which we all agree if we write regular columns, they know that we believe the Bible. Part of that document reads as follows:
We believe the Bible is the only inspired, infallible, and authoritative Word of God, and our only sure source for knowing Who God is, what the Gospel is, and what we must do in response.
Unfortunately that belief in the Bible is not as widespread as it once was in western culture. In fact, more and more people who identify as Christian will say that they can’t accept things like “Jonah and the Whale” or “Noah and the Ark.” In other words, the supernatural things God did in the Old and New Testaments that seem impossible to us today.
Of course, supernatural events are not possible naturally. That’s how we know they are supernatural.
But in this day and age when myth is popular and superheroes are in TV programs, movies, and games, let alone, in books, I wonder if the skepticism we need to enjoy the mythological might not affect our understanding of the Bible. I mean, look at the amazing feats accomplished by the Mutant X, a group of “new mutants who possess extraordinary powers as a result of genetic engineering,” portrayed in a TV program some fifteen years ago.
Such characters in speculative stories do “the impossible,” but we have an understanding that, no, what we are seeing on the screen are not real people doing real things. We see it with our own eyes, but we understand it’s not true.
I realize that I’ve taken that same skepticism into the way I look at photos. There are pictures with colors so vibrant, I question if they are real or if the photographer/artist/creator has enhanced them to make them pop, to “improve” on the nature which they supposedly represent.
Then there is fake news and the stories that we must view with a questioning eye because, who knows what context has been omitted or what person has been cropped from the picture or what slant has been taken to further support or undermine the actor/politician/athlete/teacher/policeman/religious figure, or whoever.
In other words, we can hear with our ears and see with our eyes, and still we have no idea if what’s been reported is accurate and true.
How does all this affect our understanding of the Bible? Has speculative literature undermined our belief in God’s word? Has the post-truth culture in which we live, undermined our belief in the Bible?
My own conviction since I started writing is that fantasy, in particular—which is filled with magic and dragons and faeries and orcs and Gollum and worlds that exist inside wardrobes—is a vehicle to illuminate the truth of Scripture, not confuse readers about its veracity.
J. R. R. Tolkien certainly made a case for readers, even children, understanding the difference between the real and the pretend. He would be one of those scoffing at the idea that Harry Potter readers would think that witches and wizards could do all the imaginary things depicted in J. K. Rowling’s wonderful series. He had no doubt that we have the ability to discern what is real and what is imagined. Some years ago, in a series of posts here at Spec Faith, we looked at what the “Father of Fantasy” believed about myth and imagination and “wonder.”
But the world is a different place from the one in which Tolkien lived. Art is different. Stories are different. And the way our culture looks at the Bible is different.
So what does separate fantasy and myth from the miraculous? How does a reader make the distinction between the pretend of a talking donkey in C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle and a talking donkey in the Old Testament?
Atheists so often point to Scripture as filled with the unbelievable, no different from Greek myths or stories about Roman gods.
I fear that this same attitude has filtered into the Church. Which causes two opposing results.
First, a group of people denigrate the Bible. It’s all made up by people, filled with stories that are certainly not history. They are legend, passed down orally and exaggerated by each retelling. The danger there, of course, is that Jesus rising from the dead is categorized with all those other “myths.” In essence, then, we do not have a risen Savior. We have only a nice story.
The other result of this trend of looking at the Bible as nothing different from speculative fiction, is a denigration of fantasy and science fiction. The creative imaginings worked out in story become the evil Bible-believing Christians want to stamp out. The stories are the culprits leading people astray.
The truth is far from either position, and it’s up to us Christians who love speculative stories to state the facts clearly, I think. Yes, imaginative stories are imaginative. As a class, they are not leading children or adults into false beliefs. And yes, the Bible is true. It is not make-believe, pretend, intended for symbolic representation of a greater truth. It contains parables and poetry and picturesque language, but the events stated as historical, actually happened, to real people, even if they contained the miraculous.
The distinction needs to be clear in our minds first so we can make it clear to others who want to tear down either the Bible or speculative fiction.
As I see it, there is one major factor we must communicate: God is all powerful and can do the impossible. If we grasp this truth, then any miracle or “impossible” event recorded in the Bible has a clear and logical source. There should be no uncertainty, no skeptical denial. Since God can do the impossible, the Red Sea could part and God’s people cross on dry land. Since God can do the impossible, Daniel can survive a night in the midst of a den of lions. Since God can do the impossible, Peter can follow an angel and escape prison undetected. Basically the question should be, What couldn’t an all powerful God do?
In speculative fiction, Christians have the opportunity of creating worlds in which amazing things happen, peopled with amazing beings. Even if these speculative events make it to a screen and special effects put them before the public as if they really happened, there is no carry over to our world. People here still can’t make broomsticks fly. There are no dragons. No space ships taking us across galaxies to other worlds populated by alien cultures.
The world of imagination does not give us an excuse to dismiss the God of the impossible as if He is not real. And the record of His work in the world is not a reason to fear speculative stories, as if they must, because of their nature, lead us away from the reality of Scripture.