by Serena Sickler
We all enjoy a good story. As children we love hearing the same book read over and over again even though we know every word by heart. We like hearing stories and we like telling them. This love of stories is a reflection of who God is. God is a story-teller.
God's story is written in history; our stories are imitations of His larger work. Though our love for stories was originally good, the entrance of sin into the world means that much of what was intended for good is now used for evil. Many writers have a distorted view of God and the world around them. We as Christians must use discernment in our reading choices.
Fiction And the Image of God
Not every book with a Christian label is healthy reading for the believer. Philippians 4:8 tells us "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." We should consciously and consistently saturate our minds with good things. The right kind of fiction helps us to do that. If used correctly, fiction can reflect God's image, teach truth in an engaging manner, and--most importantly--point us to the greatest story ever told.
We reflect God's image through fiction in at least two ways: creativity and compassion.
The gift of creativity. Fiction showcases the creative nature God has put inside every one of us. The very first task he assigned Adam in the garden was the naming of all the animals. God could have easily named them Himself, but He wanted Adam--specially made in his own image--to have a part. In the same way, writing stories can employ that creative nature.
The gift of compassion. Fiction can help us empathize with others. By reading a story we can see the world through another's eyes. We are not restricted to only what we observe and feel. Reading fiction can also help us understand the impact of our actions or non-actions.
Once, a lawyer, trying to trick Jesus, quoted a Biblical passage that tells the reader to love his neighbor. He then asked Jesus, "who is my neighbor?"(Luke 10:29) Jesus could have said "everyone is your neighbor," but instead He chose to tell a story. In His story a man was robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Several people, even religious people, passed by without giving him a second glance. Finally, a Samaritan happened by and helped the man. When the story was finished, Jesus asked the lawyer which of the men in the story had been a neighbor to the injured man. The lawyer had to answer, "He that shewed mercy on him." Jesus replied, "Go, and do thou likewise."(Luke 10:37) Stories like that of the Good Samaritan help us remember our responsibility to others. Through the course of a story we can be guided from an attitude of indifference to one of compassion.
A Method for Our Message
As well as reflecting God's creativity and compassion, fiction can also teach truth where other means of teaching fall flat. The simple truth is this: stories get our attention. A pastor who is preaching a long, exegetical sermon may put half of his congregation to sleep. When he begins to tell a story, however, the people previously nodding are suddenly wide awake. Perhaps for this reason Jesus would often use stories or parables to teach his audience. The parable of the sower (Matt. 13:1-23), the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30), the parable of the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10): all were fictional stories used to convey a message.
As well as getting our attention, stories are also relatable. People tend to relate to the characters in a story, feeling their joys and sorrows. This can be a powerful teaching tool. II Samuel 12:1-12 is a unique example of this. When the prophet Nathan entered David's courtroom, King David gladly listened to him as usual. The prophet told King David a story in which a wealthy, greedy man (who owned a large flock of sheep) did wrong by a poor man, stealing and killing his pet lamb. By the end of the story David was enraged and ordered that the wicked man be executed. Nathan then revealed the full meaning of the story. Nathan told King David, "Thou art the man."(2 Samuel 12:7) Previous to hearing the story, King David had sinned; committing adultery, murder, and (on top of it all) hiding what he had done. By helping David feel the pain of the injustice done against a poor man, the story had shown David the enormity of his own guilt. Fiction can help us recognize the truth not only about God but also about ourselves in relation to Him.
A Tool For Communicating Worldview
While Christian fiction can teach truth directly, it can also teach it indirectly through its worldview. Every writer, whether he means to or not, writes from a set of preconceived ideas and beliefs.
Dr. Timothy Keller says that worldviews are based on several questions:
Though our love for stories was originally good, many writers have a distorted view of God and the world around them because of the entrance of sin into the world.
For the Christian, the simple answers would be:
It is important when reading fiction to be aware of the author's worldview. While reading good fiction (such as Pilgrim's Progress) can be uplifting, writing good fiction from a Christian worldview can impact our culture for Christ. Many people put up walls when a theological topic arises. However, many of these same people will happily read a story containing that theology. Good stories have the ability to break down barriers. This is an opportunity for evangelism that should not be overlooked.
So the question stands: “should Christians read fiction?” The answer is a qualified "yes." We must use biblically-based discernment in choosing what fiction we read, just as we would in our other reading (non-fiction, religious works, etc.). As Christian readers we can better understand truth through fiction. As Christian writers we can positively influence our society by using stories to communicate God's message. Fiction, used wisely, has tremendous potential for good. We should not discount the power of a story written from a transformed, Christ-centered worldview.
Keller, Timothy. "Writing from a Christian Worldview." Bethinking.org. Retrieved from https://www.bethinking.org/worldviews/writing-from-a-christian-worldview.