During contract negotiations some years ago my fantasy novel Swords of the Six went before a Christian publishing house’s committee and a couple of editors raised objection with the violence in the story. I remember the acquisitions editor asked for a good response to their concerns. Back then I felt in my soul what I wanted to say, but it was difficult to put it into words. Fortunately another editor had foreseen this and I was able to satisfy their questions by showing them why I believed violence was a necessary element in that novel.
In my books and my short fiction I deal with tough subjects, darker themes. Being a Christian empowers the clarity of good versus evil, yet it presents its own set of challenges when well-meaning parents or readers object to elements of my stories’ content. Violence and romance are a couple of examples.
As a guideline I like to look at what God left us: the Bible. And what is the Bible full of? Along with good deeds it is full of violence, theft, incest, rape, murder, and all kinds of wickedness. But what the Scripture does not do is glorify the sin or the sinner.
Some have argued that those sins are shown only because they are part of history, but it’s important to note that these things are not glossed over. Rather, they are often told in great detail. As to historical context, a simple summary of an evil act or an act of violence would suffice but instead we are often given the details.
A prime example is Ehud who slew King Eglon (Judges 3:12-30). Some would consider the details of Eglon’s death gross and gratuitous. Who wants to picture stabbing someone who was fat enough that his body fat prevented Ehud from pulling the blade back out?
But because of the details we experience disgust, and those who are inclined toward wicked deeds find themselves horrified at the consequences of God’s retribution.
In past ages children were not sheltered as much as conservative Christian American children are from tales of violence and cruelty. Well-meaning parents often miss the point of showing the good along with the bad. The law is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, and without a fear of God no one flees into His arms for salvation.
Christianity has the advantage in fiction because it demonstrates love and fear, wonder and evil and horrors. Without the darkness we cannot see how bright the light is.
When fiction is written to be “safe” it creates unrealistic expectations for relationships and our lives. It paints a picture in our mind of ideal people in ideal or easier circumstances.
It is my conviction that we need less “sanitized” fiction and more honest fiction. We need to stop avoiding evil in story in order that the light can reveal the darkness for what it really is. Too often conservative Christian youths enter the world and find that “Surprise! Sin is pleasurable.” But if they are taught to discern instead of avoid, they will have greater defense against temptation because they know that the pleasures of sin only last for a season.
“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for a whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7,8 ESV)
Instead of interpreting what is good by how we were culturally raised, let’s learn it from how it is demonstrated in Biblical and historical narratives. Instead of worrying how culture will respond to our writing, let’s be excited to share through stories that are true to our earthly existence, even if that means we have to drag readers through darker events and wickedness.
Show the good, but show the bad too. The Biblical cannon demonstrates this repeatedly. Writing is only powerful as long as we are willing to let it take us through the muck as well as the green fields.
Q: Which subjects do you avoid when reading fiction?
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