Monday, July 15, 2013

The Heavy Hand of Fiction

The pen is mightier than the sword, or so the saying goes. But what if the pen is the sword? What if the words are like fire, or swords, or even a hammer? Should it affect how an author uses them?

One trend I've noticed over the past few years is that including verses of Scripture in fiction creates division. In an era when a lot of people seem to cringe at the idea of healthy and reasonable debate, it's no wonder that I have a difficult time naming many recent books that include Scripture in a character's day-to-day life. I can't remember offhand a novel where a character quoted Scripture or let alone opened a Bible, yet the book was clearly marketed as a Christian fiction.

Now, that's not to say that a book can't have faith-based themes without mentioning God, the Bible, or having a clergy member as a character. There are plenty of books that do that and to great effect. But what I find unusual is that authors (publishers?) seem to run the other way if a character quotes bits of Scripture or struggles openly with passages out of the Bible.

Maybe it would be helpful at this point to back up and see what the Bible says about itself. In Hebrews 4:12 (NKJV), it states, "For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." In Jeremiah 23:29 (NKJV), it reads, ""Is not My word like a fire?" says the Lord, "And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?""

Then, in Isaiah 55:11 (NKJV), it states, "So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it." In Matthew 13:1-23 Jesus also discusses how the Word is like seed and illustrates the circumstances that can affect how the Word (seed) is received by comparing it to how a sower scatters seed on different types of soil.

If that wasn't enough, in John 1:1 (NKJV), it says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And over in Matthew 24:35 (NKJV), Jesus expands on this theme by stating, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away."

So not only is the Word full of power and can spring forth life like a seed, but it has existed since the beginning and will live on past all of our lifetimes.

Not to pile it on, but the Bible also goes into great detail what can happen when someone shares the Gospel or even parts of it. In short, expect joy, indifference, anger, engaging conversation, everlasting change, or fireworks.

So should a writer back away from quoting Scripture in fiction? Sometimes people balk at the mere mention of anything Christian or anything that reminds them of a bad experience with a church, a pastor, or another Christian. Is that always the fault of the writer though?

As a writer, it's almost impossible to know what a reader is going through when they read a piece of fiction. Including some Scripture (used in a realistic way) might push things over the top...but like a well-preached sermon, maybe that is a good thing. It can certainly be done without "being preachy" (whatever that means...see my previous post on that topic).

Maybe a story will help someone think through a bad decision they are about to make. I recently attended a concert where the band's lead singer spoke of how one of their songs saved someone from taking their own life. Their song was playing on a station and it was the only one that could be picked up that night in the car.

I can't count the number of times God has used the exact same piece of Scripture through multiple sources (books, sermons, Bible studies, radio broadcasts, etc.) to get a point across to someone. Perhaps someone's fiction will some day be a part of that, too, but an author will never know unless they take that risk.

What's the lesson in all of this? I'm not always sure of the way forward, but I do know it's important to try to handle the Word with care, especially in writing. As the Bible testifies about itself, there is a lot more going out than merely words on the page. That said, I'm seriously considering incorporating more verses in some upcoming fiction...not just to include verses, but to illustrate a concept in a realistic manner. It's something I have not seen done very often, if at all. I don't know...maybe I just need to read some fiction from a different era. More on that soon...

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