The Responsibility of the Storyteller

Christian Fantasy God Writing

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.

Comments

  • Rebecca LuElla Miller
    August 3, 2011 - 4:23 pm · Reply

    Great post, Sarah! I think this is particularly insightful: People absorb what they watch and read, and it shapes their view of everyday life and the spiritual realm.

    And the conclusion, that our responsibility is to convey truth. Which does not mean make sure the readers receive the truth. The fact is, no matter how we might craft truth — expertly and artistically or clumsily and overtly — we have no control over readers accepting or rejecting what we say.

    I think of Pharaoh and his constant refusal to do what God through Moses told him to, despite the clear evidence that God was in charge. He would not because he hardened his heart and God hardened his heart.

    Going in, Moses knew this, but he didn’t skip steps.

    Jeremiah, too, knew going in that people wouldn’t believe his prophecies, but he didn’t stop proclaiming the truth.

    That’s where we writers need to be, I think.

    Becky

    • Sarah Sawyer
      August 5, 2011 - 1:42 pm · Reply

      Thanks, Becky! Those are excellent examples. Of course, we would all love acceptance of everything we write, but especially as we tackle spiritual issues, that won’t always be the case. It’s important to realize that up front. 🙂

  • Mary
    August 4, 2011 - 1:18 pm · Reply

    Hear, hear! Thanks so much for this post, Sarah. Right on. This is a great reminder for all Christian storytellers, of our responsibility to everyone who reads our writings. Even if the only people to ever read my stories are already strong Christians, it’s my hope that, like you said, the truth I’ve built my story on will help grow and shape their perceptions and beliefs in a way that honors God.
    Keep up the great work, Sarah!

    • Sarah Sawyer
      August 5, 2011 - 1:43 pm · Reply

      Thanks for the encouragement, Mary! I so appreciate your vision to honor God in speculative fiction.

  • Richard H
    August 7, 2011 - 11:55 pm · Reply

    SO TRUE!! We have to write in a way that brings the vision of Heaven to Earth for the reader. Even if they don’t realize it, we were created by God, created to dream, created to have vision, created to desire the most beautiful things and the live and the most beautiful place beyond imagination. This place is the reality that God has for us, eternal life. As christian writers we have to cast that vision to grasp the hearts of men by the reality of God, by who He really is, and who we were created to be with Him. As you said Sarah “engaging readers hearts and stirring awe at the visions of beauty we cast–beauty rooted in truth.” The reason we see a longing for fantasy from readers is that we were all created to desire that reality by God Himself, as writers we have to depict that reality through our story telling to the reader. In essence I believe that is what C.S. Lewis accomplished in his writing. It needs to happen again and again!

    • Sarah Sawyer
      August 8, 2011 - 12:19 pm · Reply

      Thanks for sharing, Richard! I fully agree. It’s easy for our hearts to grow dull in the busyness of life, and stories–the ones that reflect the ultimate reality of life and eternity–have the capacity to remind us of the beauty and glory that awaits us, spurring us to seek God and immerse ourselves in the reality of his kingdom. He made the human heart to respond to the language of story, and it’s one of the tools that can help wake us up and reveal truth (as it did for David when Nathan confronted him or to those who heard Jesus’s parables).

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