The Encouragement Of Story

The superhero film “Thor” encouraged me, a friend of mine said. How should great stories encourage us? What stories have encouraged you by echoing to you God, or our nature and response to Him, or the beauty of God’s world, or all three?
on Sep 14, 2011 · No comments

I thought I loathed “study guides” that attempt to pull Practical Value out of a work of fiction. Yet I suppose last May, that is almost what I did in offering a two-part series about how the Marvel superhero film Thor echoes Biblical truths.

Then in response, a friend of mine commented:

I enjoyed Thor on several levels…it was an encouraging movie!

Encouraging. Why yes. Yes, of course it was. No one who liked it would disagree with that.

Yet I’m not sure I’ve previously thought to apply that adjective to a story I loved.

But it makes sense, doesn’t it? Such stories encourage us.

Encourage us to what? Perhaps for three things, all of which echo the Epic Story of Scripture. Such a story implicitly honors God, or shows us truth about ourselves and subtly motivates us to respond to God, or reminds us of truth about God’s beauty in our world. Or all three.

And yet a great story can also encourage us, in happy or even discouraging moments, even if it seems “pointless.” A secular story, without truths about God or us and our response to God, can still show His world. It can show good ultimately winning over the worst evils. It can show “Christ-figures,” or perhaps more accurately “Christian-figures,” who in their love and sacrifice remind us of how we as Christians imitate the true Christ. That’s encouraging.

Here’s how my friend, who is a pastor, remarked upon how Thor’s story encouraged him. (Slightly edited. Also, don’t read this quote if you haven’t yet seen Thor.)

It was positive and really played up friendship and family relationships in a good way, and the lessons of loyalty and sacrifice were done without making it campy. Even the communication between Thor and those back home on his planet — very much like prayer. He only had to speak and his father heard him and responded. The scene where he laid down his life … the tear appeared in his father’s eye … and his life was given back to him — well, that was kind of OBVIOUS. And powerfully done. It was a movie I enjoyed watching and was glad I had gone to see it.

Hal Jordan's ring can seem a reminder of predestination, if you use your free will hard enough.

If you’ve seen Thor, or any other well-done superhero or other film this year (and yes, I stubbornly include Green Lantern in this category), how did its story encourage you?

How can we share with others that this is another reason we need, not just “could use,” great stories that encourage us? After all, if some people find sappy Christian art or a sentimental greeting card encouraging, why not an excellently done story with God-honoring themes?

Do you, like me, even now tend to separate Story enjoyments, or enjoyment altogether, from your spiritual thoughts and practices? If so, why? How can we fight that false dichotomy?

How does Scripture itself, with its Psalms and literature, encourage us?

What are some other books and stories you’ve read or seen this year that encouraged you?

E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. Court Ellyn says:

    It’s my greatest hope that the stories I write reflect something of my faith. God gave me the determination to write; while I love the hours of fun and distraction it provides, I also feel obligated to somehow turn my fiction toward themes and motifs that point toward Him. Point toward the common human struggle with faith and with God. And the fiction I write will probably never be called “Christian” fiction. Still, the objective is to encourage, to point an indirect finger to things of God. In truth, I get bored with a story if those elements aren’t present, b/c there’s nothing that carries more meaning and more importance.
    Now I need to run out and rent Thor!
    Thanks for the encouraging post, as always.

  2. Kessie says:

    I hope all these movies go on Netflix Instant, so I can watch them late at night once the munchkins are in bed. 🙂
    I love this idea about books that encourage.  I was reminiscing about my favorite books when I was growing up. I was really into horses (the Black Stallion) and dogs (Walt Morey, Albert Payson Terhune, Jim Kjelegaard, gee, I seem to have only read old books …).
    Anyway, one of my favorite Terhune books was called Gray Dawn. It’s about this collie puppy who is either the biggest moron, or the smartest dog since Lassie. You go the entire book with his hilarious misadventures that land him and his owners in hot water over and over again, even though from Gray Dawn’s perspective, he was just following rules or doing what they wanted. And his Master hates the dog and only keeps him because the Mistress loves him so much.
    In the final chapter, there’s an awful situation where there’s a forest fire, and the Mistress sends Dawn through the fire back to where the Master is, in order to deliver him the keys to the boathouse so the Master can escape the fire. Dawn is terrified of fire, but he runs through it and burns off all his fur, but delivers the keys and saves the Master. And Dawn survives afterward, too!
    I loved that book and read it over and over. When Dawn triumphed over his own fear, I triumphed, too. I think the book even remarks that ‘perfect love casts out fear’. I think that’s what Truth does and how it encourages us, even though there’s no mention of God or anything religious in it.

  3. Galadriel says:

    The first one that comes to my mind is Heartless by Anne Stengl. It made me cry, but at the same time it was so beautiful as a picture of love.

What do you think?