Fiction that explores the monsters and strangers among us.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How can a Christian write a story where a character commits a murder?

The role of the artist often is confusing to Christians as well as non-Christians who think Christians are supposed to be better than everybody else. The truth is Christians are about the biggest sinners around. Not only are we vicious little sinners, but also we should know better. Knowing what is right and wrong makes our sin that much worse according to this line of reasoning.

Certain Christians believe artists should only take on projects that meet the Christian ideal of what is uplifting and Christ honoring. For them, the Christian artist should never depict a life of sin since that might lead a person exposed to the art into temptation. I can't imagine a story without a sin element in the same way that I can't imagine a character without a flaw. Besides, who would want to read the boring story of perfect Sam or Sally?

Are artists sinning when they depict sin in their art? The opposite is true. To ignore sin or pretend that it doesn’t exist would be a lie. Artists are called to express the truth, whether they create music, paintings, films or suspense novels.

Writers, like all artists, are called to plum the depths of the human condition. We dive deep into the black places of the soul and shine the love of Christ. Christ's love reveals sin. Sin may be forgiven or unforgiven. Confessed or unconfessed. But all sin is revealed in the light.

Writers are the reporters or journalists of the action of the story. We report the great love people show towards one another as well as the evil they do. To hide the sin -- or worse -- to ignore it -- would itself be sin for we seek to reveal the truth. People don't just sin. Their actions are the result of a lifetime (back story) of actions, thoughts, etc. that make up the character's strengths and flaws.

As writers, our model is Jesus Christ, the great story teller. In his tales, people are beaten, robbed, left for dead, and ignored by the very people who should rush to their aid. A man can take his inheritance, squander it in a sin-filled life of pleasure, end up broke and living in a pig sty. Those are the stories Jesus tells. The stories his followers tell are even more violent. Has any modern writer told a more vicious, blood-curdling story than that of the crucifixion of Jesus? And it's a true story, not fiction. Even the sweet story of the Babe of Bethlehem includes the murder of the Holy Innocents. And do we really understand the justice in Peter's condemning a husband and wife to death for what in our age would probably not even qualify for civil action? What is that story about? Writers make us think, don't they?

The contribution the Christian brings to the art of the story is his or her personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, it's about having a Christian worldview but it goes beyond that to walking close to our Lord and writing the story He wants us to tell. He doesn't hold back when it comes to telling stories about humans. We are sinners and our stories have to include the sin.

Stories written by Christians, like all stories, are filled with passion, murder, love, angst, abuse, etc. The difference, if there is one, is the redemptive message itself. Christians live in a world where redemption is real, life has meaning, and people matter. In our stories, we recognize the difference between good and evil. We show that people really can change and that no matter what happens during the course of our story, in the end good will triumph. Maybe not at the end of the story we are telling, but certainly at the end of the age. The victory is certain. Our stories help the reader see these things for their edification and entertainment.

Writing Guide: The Book of James, chapters 3 and 4, provides good advice for teachers that writers would do well to read and consider.