Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Christian Writer and Conflict

A good story is always a story of conflict. A boring story is one in which everything goes right and nothing goes wrong. The sharper the conflict the more there is in favor of the story being a good one. This conflict comes in all shapes and sizes. Conflict between two persons, conflict between two teams, two parties, two countries. The conflict always works its way into the lives of at least two people. The persons involved may be part of a larger body, such as a corporation, or an athletic team, a culture, an army. Even the abstract crystallizes into the concrete lives of human beings. Consider Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, and the assumed struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, how it led to the great revolutions that produced the Soviet Union and Red China. Or, Hitler’s Mein Kampf with its seminal idea of the extermination of European Jewry, the demand for Lebensraum, and the ideal of racial purity all of which led to Nazi death camps all over Europe and a war on two fronts.

Conflict is essential to a story’s credibility not to mention its success. Anyone who knows anything about writing knows that. But why is that so? Why is the conflict so tantalizing, even as it may require the horrors of the human condition to be starkly painted?

At bottom, it is because there is nothing else the human being can relate to. Ever since the Fall, man has always known struggle and conflict. It is part and parcel to his existence. That's what Mom and Dad, and Aunt Max and Uncle Jesse talk about. It's what the neighbors gossip about over the fence. It's what my dog experienced with the dysplasia in his hip.

That struggle comes under the two broad categories of good and evil. These may refer to the physical conflict that typically is used to describe the human condition - desert and paradise, poverty and riches, paucity and plentitude. But they also refer to moral conflict, the clash between doing the right and doing the wrong.

If good and evil are the essence of conflict, then every good story of fiction in some fashion is a story about precisely that, good and evil.

Think of that, as a Christian writer. Only the Christian, enlightened by the word of God and illuminated by the Holy Spirit, truly knows what good and evil are. The Christian writer is the most qualified to write anything fictional from that standpoint. If that truth could sink deep into every Christian writer’s literary heart, I think it would profoundly impact Christian fiction.

Paul wrote, the Lord Jesus Christ ‘gave himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age according to the will of our God and Father.’ Gal 1:4. This world is intrinsically, inherently, through and through an evil, dark world, and the Christian is the lamp that God has placed here to shed some light on it (Matt 5:16). A Christian writer of fiction is the only truly eligible writer that can do this for the reading world.

Fiction is a marvelous vehicle to bring the reader face to face with not only the evil around him, but also the evil within. When trying to do this, however, it can easily come across as preachy dialogue set in a cast of out-of-touch maudlin characters. There is no requisite for sermonizing. Serious dialogue, yes, where the ‘unbeliever’ is not a push over. Rosy personalities are fine as long as the rose faces the thorns, blight, and drought of the real world - the evil world.

Just as important as the message is the tapestry it is woven into. The writer must write with the greatest care, not shabbily, but as an artisan, crafting his words and sentences into a laudable tale that brings to the eyes and mind of the reader what the conflict between good and evil really is. As the most serious problem in the universe - good and evil - the work becomes a weighty tale elegantly woven. That is not easy, but no work of art that truly earns that accolade is easy. As Christian and writer, it is incumbent that we put into our story the best that we have. Our goal is to paint the canvas and charge the imagination so that the ubiquitous evil character of this world, which reigns in the heart of every person from birth, is not glossed over. The revelation of evil readies the stage for the only hope and deliverance from it, the great redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ.

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