For numerous reasons, it matters how we depict God and the spiritual world in our writing, not least of which is the power of story to shape the beliefs and worldview of the reader. I was reminded of this several years ago when I worked a book table at a conference. In the course of discussing books with various customers, I dialogued with a woman about The Shack. To her disappointment, we weren’t selling the book. She shared with me how much it impacted her. The story so engaged her emotions that she didn’t stop to consider if certain aspects of it aligned with Biblical truth.
She’s not alone in experiencing such impact. Various studies, done by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the Barna Group, and other organizations, show that spiritualism in America is on the rise–but not that which finds its roots in a Biblical worldview. One of the influencing factors in this spiritualism is story. An increased number of Americans cite spiritual experiences and encounters, and at least one news article links that to the rise of the paranormal in fiction, hypothesizing that it has made it more socially acceptable to believe in paranormal encounters in everyday life. If dark supernatural encounters are depicted in fiction as normal, and even desirable, then it provides encouragement for people to seek out these encounters in real life–consulting psychics and dabbling in various occult activities.
Not only are people being encouraged to engage in spiritualism, their very perspective of our world can be shaped by the stories they encounter. An article written shortly after the release of Avatar discussed how viewers often fell into depression after watching the film, because our world seemed bland and colorless in comparison to the one depicted. And I quote: “James Cameron’s completely immersive spectacle ‘Avatar’ may have been a little too real for some fans who say they have experienced depression and suicidal thoughts after seeing the film because they long to enjoy the beauty of the alien world Pandora.”
So what should we take from this? There’s strong spiritual hunger in America, and right now it’s being stirred and shaped by speculative stories, among other things. People absorb what they watch and read, and it shapes their view of everyday life and the spiritual realm.
Therefore, it is the responsibility of the storyteller to convey truth. We cannot control how our stories will be perceived by others, but we can purpose them to contain Truth–not forced into the tale or tacked on at the end, but as the central tenant, one so integral to the story that it would unravel with its absence. We need to raise the standard, so that we as believers are the ones engaging readers hearts and stirring awe at the visions of beauty we cast–beauty rooted in truth.