I have a rather strong memory of being at church one particular Sunday morning several years ago. It was dark, as usual; the church met in an old movie theater. I was sitting off to the left side of the stage with my mom, listening to the pastor. Doctrinally speaking, I got along with this pastor well. I was a member of the church, attended a women’s group, and served in the children’s ministry. I was committed. But that Sunday, the pastor said something that shocked me. He didn’t say something blasphemous, or accuse the congregation of anything—nothing that dramatic. He simply said something to the effect of, “Don’t read fiction books, Christian or otherwise. They’re a waste of your time.”
Did he just say that? Seriously? I was a writer, even back then in high school. I’d always been a writer. I thought that was God’s gift to me; it was what I was supposed to do with my life. It was my ministry, my passion, my calling. But reading fiction books is a waste of time? Then what about writing them?
I was furious, and although I eventually left that church for numerous reasons beyond my own hurt, that Sunday morning still stings a bit. I wanted to ask him what he thought about movies, music, and the rest of the arts. Were they a waste of time as well? Because by his logic, anything that portrays a fictional world or tells a story that never actually happened is a waste of time and energy. It was as if a fictional story, regardless of its spiritual intention and worth, was junk food; that fantasy novel was a double cheeseburger, and you pollute your body and waste your energy by reading it. How dare he!?
Now, as a disclaimer, I’m not advocating that you consider all fiction to be created equal; it most certainly is not. I admit that not all fiction is healthy or worthy of your attention, as there’s plenty of crap out there that’s hollow and without deeper meaning…
You should of course choose your books wisely, both those you read and those you write. I’m addressing the worth of fiction skillfully written, possessing true worth in the craft and subtext.
I can’t help but think of passages of Scripture containing ‘fictional stories.’ Christ used fictional stories in His ministry, didn’t He? The gospels are full of parables; a parable is a simple story with a higher meaning. In Luke chapter ten, Jesus tells a parable that many people know as the ‘Parable of the Good Samaritan’ in response to a question from a religious scholar. The scholar wanted to know who he was required to love. He knew he was supposed to love his neighbor as himself, but he wanted to know who his ‘neighbors’ were, exactly. As with all good writing, you should read this story for yourself, but here’s a quick summary of the fictional story Jesus tells the scholar and the gathered crowd in response to his question:
There was a Jew laying on the side of the road who had been badly beaten and robbed. This was a very busy road, travelled often, which made it a target for thieves and bandits. This man had been attacked by one such band of robbers, beaten, and left in a bloody, naked pile to die. Three different men, one after the other, come upon the man: a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. The first two men, who are expected to stop and help the man, pass on the other side of the road; they don’t want to even look too closely. The only one who stops is the Samaritan, and not only does he stop, he treats the man’s wounds, takes him to an inn, and pays for him to stay and recover there.
Samaritans and Jews hated one another, which is why Jesus’ use of the Samaritan as the hero in the story is striking. In this work of fiction, Jesus uses classic story-telling elements, steeped in the culture of the day, to show people that anyone in need is your neighbor, even that one person you can’t stand.
I can’t believe that Jesus would tell stories if it was a waste of His time and His followers’ time. His use of fiction is evidence of the power of stories and their ability to reach people at the heart level. Fictional stories cut through people’s defenses and get to their cores before they know what hit them. They’re beautiful couriers that slip behind enemy lines, disguising deep meaning and powerful truths as plot, character, and imagery.
By Madeleine Mozley
Image 2 by click, images 1 & 3 from FreeDigitalPhotos.net: 1 by Aleska D, 3 by jannoon028.