Monday, February 1, 2010

Why Tell a Story?

Some people wonder, why should we write stories? Especially, fiction? Is fiction even godly? I would argue that fiction is not only a godly genre, but it's encouraged by God. Here's why I think so.

1. Jesus told fictional stories. This knocks out the belief that fiction could be ungodly; Jesus Himself told fictional stories! All throughout the Gospels, He told parables that conveyed some sort of truth or message. His disciples even asked Him why He did this, and here's what He said:

"Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given... Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand... But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear." (Matthew 13:11,13,16, NKJV)

In other words, His parables were sort of like codes. Only those who were supposed to understand them could comprehend their messages. To those who were not supposed to understand, they were just meaningless stories without any significance.

2. God created stories. I think God encourages us to tell stories, because He created them. He made them along with stars, animals, oceans, music, mathematics, galaxies, and everything else in His creation. I'll tell you why I think this in the section below, but I'm convinced that stories are an art form that God created, so that we could use them to glorify Him.

3. Stories reflect a Larger Story. While we may never notice it, we all read books and go to the movies for more than just entertainment; there's something deep inside of us that wants to understand our own life story by hearing someone else's, whether it be truth or fiction. In other words, as John Eldredge explains in his book Epic:

"Every story, great and small, shares the same essential structure because every story we tell borrows its power from a Larger Story, a Story women into the fabric of our being..."

That Story is the history of all things; from before our universe was created, to the time Jesus returns; when His true followers will live with Him for eternity. It is a story that is still very much in motion... and we all have a crucial role to play.

Ever wonder why those awesome story endings pulled at your heartstrings? It was because your heart was longing for eternity (see Ecclesiastes 3:11), where you we will experience the ultimate story ending... or, as C. S. Lewis put it in The Last Battle, it will be "only the beginning of the real story," and we will begin "Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."

To read more about how our lives reflect a greater story, I highly recommend John Eldredge's book Epic. (Click here to see it on Amazon. On another topic, the book is also an excellent evangelism tool!)

So, why do I believe stories are God's creation? First, He is the Master Storyteller; our own stories are just mere reflections of the true-life story He is writing now. (Epic goes into a lot more depth as to why that is.) Second, while Jesus was on earth, He used stories - A.K.A. parables - to convey messages (which I'll talk about in the next section). This only confirms that God is a storyteller Himself; and if He is one, than we certainly can be one.

And, while this may not prove anything about stories exactly, the words that make up stories are important to God. John 1:1 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and Word was God" (NKJV). If "the Word" is used to describe God, than there is certainly mighty power in words!

4. Stories can tell messages. This is the main reason I champion the art of storytelling. I'm convinced that stories are the best way to tell a message; better than sermons, lectures, articles, or any form of nonfiction. Why? Because when people read a story, they're not expecting to be preached at. They're expecting to be entertained. And so, to an extent, their guards are down. They're much more likely to be affected by the message. Everyone loves a story; and when a story conveys some sort of message, moral, or truth in a way that isn't pushy, preachy, or in your face, anyone can be changed by it.

People's hearts and lives have been transformed by stories... sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. As Christians, let's make it our aim to write stories that change people for the better. And even more importantly, let's write stories that point people to Jesus Christ and bring glory to His name.

5. Why Fiction? So, we've established the fact that stories can change people and point them to Jesus. As a side note, not every story has to be life-changing; even stories directed to the already-saved can be used by God, just the same. But why fiction? Why not use nonfictional stories? Aren't they better, since they're accounts of things that really happened; not just something from someone's imagination?

Well, I'll admit that sometimes true stories can be more inspiring. For an example, which would strengthen your faith more: a fictional story of someone miraculously healed by God, or a true story of the same thing? However, true stories can only go so far. They don't have the advantage that fiction has; like clay, it can be changed, molded, and sculpted into any genre or any message, for any audience you desire. Fiction may not have the inspiring "true" element of nonfiction, but it can still be just as impacting. It can still win souls for Christ just as well. It can still resurrect the much-needed, long-lost Biblical values and morals that are rapidly declining in this society.

I believe suspense/adventure novels are the best type of fiction for this task. The stories that keep us up at night, constantly turning pages and unable to put the book down, draw readers in like prey at the end of the hook... only instead of cooking our prey for dinner, we point them to Jesus, and hopefully give them a message that they remember forever.

We still give them all the action, adventure, suspense, grabbing plots, etc. as any secular novel, (as long as we're not crossing Biblical lines, of course), but not for the sole intent of becoming a best seller. Our main intent is not to bring fame and glory to ourselves, but to bring glory to the true and living God. If becoming a best-selling author is the best way to that, so be it; it means more people will be impacted by our stories. But whatever we do, let us do it for the glory of God.