Anyone familiar with L.A. Story, that Steve Martin film from the mid 90s, will recognize this quote, from Hamlet.
"There is more in heaven and earth…than is dreamt of in your philosophy."
Back in college, this struck me as a good bit of trivia to remember. In those mind-bending, soul-stretching days, I thought a lot about life and where mine specifically was going. I nursed fantasies of directing movies and writing brilliant screenplays, transforming Hollywood, and basically expanding my influence. For God, of course. But like love or personal character, influence can’t be manufactured. To have influence you must first be influenced. So the thing to remember, it seems, is choose your influences wisely. And attending film school the year L.A. Story released, I started looking for my own magic freeway sign to show me what I felt I needed.
Fact is, each of us is responsible for our influences. Not much of a new thought, but the rub for me is that ultimately, you can’t help but be influenced by many things—more things than anyone can ever know. Concepts, philosophies, cultural histories, experiences far removed from our own. For instance, consider the ways of perceiving you carry, passed down to you by Greek philosophy. Disastrous assumptions about the world go by us every day, unexamined, and among them, this one from ancient Greek philosophy that the world can be escaped by whatever convenient means we prefer.
If escape from the world is what you want, you’ll find Christian fiction to serve your purpose. But if it isn’t? Is there also Christian fiction that provides escape from the illusion that we can escape the world? With so much escapist literature competing for attention, this kind of Christian fiction is becoming an increasingly difficult thing to write. There’s also TV, video games, and surfing the Internet for free blogs to fill our need for input. Will our books conform? Can Christian books fight for incarnational truth?
Who will resist the enormous pressure to revise the intense suffering of our world which grace came to destroy?
“A [Christian] writer who wants to get to mystery cannot bypass the evil and pain and suffering of the world, because that is to bypass the cross.” –Flannery O’Connor
Here’s what’s hard to get at in writing to the best of our abilities: we can’t aim to bypass the truth of a fallen world. A singular, powerful idea emerges from the best books—incarnate—in the very process of writing with our eyes wide open: we must grapple with this thing called reality, and when we do, we can come out more alive as a result.
Here’s a little philosophy I want us to ponder today–and next time, we’ll link it up with the heirarchy of our geyser analogy (On High Quality-12/7/06).
- If: the best writing mimics God’s redemption of reality (in nature),
- And if: reality is how we experience God’s redemption,
- Then: the best writing is that which depicts the most accurate picture of reality.
If we accept this, some questions follow:
- As writers, are we attempting to mimic the original creative force or the struggle of creation with evil?
- If God allows natural consequences rather than intervening, should our stories portray the natural world as any different?
- If we show nature as less-than fallen in our books, are we negating God’s process in redeeming it?
- If we are not accurate in portraying this process, are we writing at our best?
Nature is fallen. Not all of it portrays God. Yet the "groans" of creation do display the work of God in the way they’re continually redeemed. If the fallen natural world is what we have to work with as writers, does ignoring the influence of evil–either for our books or in our lives–end up undermining God’s deep redemption? I can’t deny the fear that I’ll get this wrong and end up writing poorer for it. The big question, it seems, is: If I don’t study how God’s creation struggles here and now, am I going to naturally write reduced? I think we’re forced to look at this struggle to portray it accurately and not look away or try to deny it. And frankly, I don’t understand why evil is necessary for grace (as it was for Jesus in inviting Judas to his table, or similar such things), but do I have to? To write well, I don’t think it matters if we know why the presence of evil precedes the knowledge of grace. What matters is what happens if we ban it from our books.
I’m content to say "I don’t know" the why here, and leave that part to God. He gave us the Word, the Logos (the Logic) to hammer out the natural laws, and the whys remain his. But there are some things we must grapple with; we must wrestle within the tenets of our faith. These are the questions I’m wrestling with–ponder them at your leisure. I’ve been pondering a while so I have some answers, for me. But you need to find yours, too.
Think of Hamlet. I think Shakespeare, like O’Connor, understood that nature is both sinful and holy, sacred and profane, but that it all would be ultimately redeemed, in the end. It didn’t mean their stories always showed this full redemption, but in my philosophy, we can’t extract good from evil here on earth. We must commit to writing creation interacting with both, so that no one misses the greater point.