Fiction and costly redemption

21 Dec

I’ve been reading a lot of fiction lately, and thinking over what it means for a Christian to read fiction well. A fiction novel, liberated from the world of “things that actually happened” can often resonate with more actual truth than non-fiction. This is of course provided that the author’s worldview is infused with truth. Because of common grace, even non-Christian authors are often able to deftly communicate truth with their stories. For example, the novels of Cormac McCarthy are dripping with the truth of man’s depravity, and the presence of evil in the world. Redemption of course, is one of the most popular and universal of all themes in stories (because all men are woefully aware of their need of it). Flannery O’Connor, a Southern Christian novelist, goes as far as saying that we demand redemption in stories. And then she goes even further and says something very interesting.

“There is something in us as story-tellers, and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance of restoration. The reader of today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but he has forgotten the cost of it. His sense of evil is deluded or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. He has forgotten the cost of truth, even in fiction.” (emphasis mine)

For redemption, even fictional redemption, to really grip us, to really ring true, it must be costly. Only when redemption is costly will it resonate, because only then is it reflecting the true redemption.

O’Conner demonstrated this brilliantly in her own fiction. In many of her stories the characters are blind in their sin and self-righteousness, and only a violent, costly wakeup call is able to snap them into reality. The most famous example is probably the grandmother from her short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. She was enamored with her own goodness; she referred to her “good blood” and that “she’d never hurt anybody” as evidences of her goodness. It took the violent death of her family and her own imminent death to slap her into an awareness of her need for grace. In that moment, amid that violence, she found her redemption.

For most of us, such violence will not have to touch our lives in order to find redemption. But the violence is still there. Redemption is not free, and our salvation from the bondage of sin will always cost someone, and cost them dearly. Galatians 3 says that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us”. This was both violent and costly. Philippians 2 says that Christ “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” and that he “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Fictional stories have the power to captivate us with dramatic stories of heroic self-sacrifice and costly redemption, but all human stories pale in comparison to the true story. Only one redemption has ever been infinitely costly. Christ was infinitely pure, infinitely just, and infinitely worthy; his death for our atonement is the most dramatic moment in history, and it is the redemption to which all others point. This is the story which must captivate our hearts.

I always look for biblical themes when I read fiction, with a special eye out for acts of redemption. Now, instead of only looking at the object of redemption, I want to pay special heed to its cost. And in that cost, I want to be reminded of the cost that I no longer bear; of the cost absorbed in Christ for me.

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John Owen on Christopher Hitchens (and me)

19 Dec

“The difference between the knowledge of believers and unbelievers is not so much a difference in the matter of their knowledge but in the manner of knowing. Unbelievers, some of them, know more about God, his perfections, and his will, than many believers do; but they know nothing as they ought, nothing in a right manner, nothing spiritually and savingly, nothing with a holy and heavenly light. The excellence of a believer is not that he has a large grasp of things, but that what he does grasp, which may be very little, he sees it in the light of the Spirit of God, in a saving, soul-transforming light; and this is that which gives us communion with God.”

– John Owen, the Mortification of Sin

As I read this quote, I couldn’t help but think of the late Christopher Hitchens.  Much has been written on the famous atheist in the wake of his death this week, and a great deal of the obituaries were from the mouths of Christians. (see here or here or even here)  The overwhelming response seems to be that of respect and regret.  Respect for his wit, vigor, and knowledge of the Christian faith, and regret that he seemingly never turned from his sins to embrace Christ as Savior.  It was said that Hitchens had a firm understanding of the Christian doctrine of the atonement; he could explain an orthodox understanding of the penal substitutionary atonement as well as a true believer (probably better in many cases,sadly), only without the belief.  Instead, his knowledge only fueled his harsh anti-God rhetoric and cutting arguments.

The other person I was reminded of as I read Owen’s quote was me.  How deep is my own faith?  How often do I fail to see my knowledge of salvation “in the light of the Spirit of God, in a saving, soul-transforming light” leading to communion with God?  Christopher Hitchen’s knowledge of the truth resulted in passionate raging against the God of the gospel.  How many of us know the same truth, and experience neither Hitchen’s revulsion nor the graceful transformation Owen describes? I do not doubt my salvation.  Rather, I am reminded to pray that my acceptance of this glorious gospel of grace would be at least as passionate as Hitchen’s rejection of it, and never result in the cold head knowledge that produces no fruit, no heat, and no light.


First

18 Dec

Well, since i’m still here in afghanistan, i will be making my best effort to use my time wisely.  this effort has so far included a church history course, some greek, a lot of  books.  my reading skills might not be lacking, but my writing…. rough. I’d like to work on that. So this will be my outlet for sharing thoughts; hopefully edifying, possibly intelligent, and certainly brief.

I will discuss culture, books I might be reading, faith, theology, and anything else I feel compelled to mention.