Tag: The Kingdom of God

What’s The Good of Christian Fantasy Books?

What’s The Good of Christian Fantasy Books?

As a writer of Christian Fantasy books I often wonder if there is any eternal value in my stories. Do my stories produce any kind of life-change, or do they merely exist to entertain and distract from the world?  When the cover closes, what remains?

Fantasy as Escapism

Tolkien defended his own stories by embracing the idea of escapism. However, he defined escapism very carefully.  There tends to be a snobbish tone in people’s voice when they talk about escapism.  People think of escapism as the soldier running from his duty, the mother hiding from her family, or the student procrastinating assignments.  Tolkien sees escapism as the prisoner of war breaking free from his chains and running headlong for home.  Ursula K. LeGuin summarizes Tolkien’s thoughts in a quote that is often misattributed to Tolkien himself. 

Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!  -Ursula K. LeGuin

And while I embrace this vision of escape, it is limited.  It fixes our eyes on Heaven and asks us to ignore and even despise the world around us.  Fortunately, this isn’t the end goal of Christian Fantasy, it is only one step along the way, and it is dangerous to linger here too long.

Illuminating Reality through Christian Fantasy Books

Reality is undoubtedly a dark place.  With the constant news of war, disease, disasters, and the constant looming threat of imminent destruction, we can’t help but feel helpless.  Every day we face the darkness and we have no choice but to respond to it.  Anyone who looks at reality through modern, analytic, what-are-the-odds glasses sees themselves as too small to face the weight of this world, and they are.  Human beings alone will always fall to the darkness.  It’s Gollum and Frodo, bending under the weight of the ring, It’s Edmond, taking Turkish delight from the White Witch, and it’s us, every time we give in to the cravings of our sinful nature.

Fantasy doesn’t just offer us an escape, it shows us the world we live in, a world filled with shadows, evil, and despair.  But it also shows us what happens when the light steps into the shadow.

Hope for Our World

In fantasy we find people empowered by hope.  Sam, Frodo, and Aragorn are led by a constant hope, a will to push against the darkness with their very lives.  In Star Wars we see a handful of Rebels standing against an entire empire.  In The Chronicles of Narnia we find five children who decide to stand against a darkness that plagued their world for centuries.  Time after time fantasy stories present us with individuals empowered to change their world because of their hope.  When Christians read fantasy we see that hope isn’t just for some future world, but for the world we live in everyday.

My favorite scene in the Lord of the Rings was cut from the films.  After the ring is destroyed, Aragorn is crowned, and all the companions go their own way, the Hobbits return home.  But the home they returned to is not the home they left.  The shire itself became tainted by the shadow, governed by Saruman and Worm-tongue, and characterized by despair.

The heroes, changed by the adventure they’ve been on, are unable to fade into that system of despair.  They rebel against the darkness and work to change the world they live in.  At last their hope spreads and the entire shire, once divided over petty arguments and family feuds, is united in casting off the dominion of Saruman.  Their adventure prepared them to face the issues of their home!  And so the adventures we take through the pages of fantasy novels prepare us for the issues we face every day.

The Good of Christian Fantasy Books

It is no surprise to me that fantasy resonates so wonderfully with the story of Christianity.  The Bible is not fantasy, but it is fantastic.  It shows us the epic struggle of good against evil, not only on a cosmic level, but on a very human level.  It shows us a God Who is undeniably characterized by Hope, and Who passes that Hope to all who follow Him.  Time after time we read how He empowers His people to stand against the darkness, to live in hope, and to make a difference in their world.

So what is the good of Christian fantasy books?  Certainly the Bible is more than enough, but contemporary Christian fantasy has the ability to focus on the issues of our present age, as Tolkien and Lewis did, and show readers the difference Christ makes in our lives, and the difference He empowers us to make in the world around us.

This is why I write, not to provide an escape from this world, but to inspire its citizens to stand with Christ against the shadow which rules it.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in Heaven.  – Matthew 5:16

Thanks for reading!  If you like what you read here take a look at my books section, and feel free to leave any feedback in the comments.

-J. Christopher Earl

Let the Kingdom Come

Let the Kingdom Come

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.  Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

-1 Peter 5:5

As human beings, we long for harmony.

Music isn't the same when the notes do nothing but clash, sending screeching, nails-on-a-chalkboard pain through our ear-drums and down our spines.  We prefer harmony.  We crave it as individuals and as a society.  We consider ourselves happy in our personal lives if everything is balanced and well-ordered.  The bills are smaller than the paychecks.  The meals are bigger than the appetites.  Everything moves just as it should.

It's a common belief that if we just work hard enough, if we understand the system well enough, we can achieve this perfect state of harmony.  It's the great modern dream of "Utopia."  From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.  No child left behind.  Free puppies for everyone.  A shining city where everything is perfectly in place and nothing ever goes wrong.  We struggle to attain that dream not just as a society, but in our personal lives too, and it seems far more attainable for the little things we call our lives.

But every human attempt to attain harmony ends in destruction.  It's the post-modern nightmare of dystopia.  On the outside, everything looks perfect.  However, in order to attain that outward appearance of perfection, the inner-workings of the dystopian society are cruel, unforgiving, exact, and terrible.  It's George Orwell's "1984."  Lois Lowry's "The Giver."  "The Hunger Games," by Suzanne Collins.  Society has finally figured out that, yes, that outwardly perfect society is possible, but inward perfection from the efforts of humans is a myth.

However, we as Christians have a third option.  The Modern day-dream of Utopia will never come true.  The Post-Modern nightmare of Dystopia can never satisfy.  The God of the Universe gives us hope of a society made perfect by Him, a world perfected, both inwardly and outwardly.  The hungry are fed.  The lonely are comforted.  The naked are clothed.  The despised are loved.  He offers us Heaven, and we look forward to it every moment of our lives.  But our looking isn't enough.

As the Church, we are called to be the Body of Christ on Earth.  A society created by the Spirit of God that mirrors, though imperfectly, the society He will one day create.

We are not just called to look forward to Heaven, we are called to bring Heaven to Earth.

The first step is to humble ourselves.

We often clothe ourselves to look good.  When we get dressed in the morning, the thought goes through our head, especially when we're going to see someone, "What will they think of my appearance?"  So we put on our good clothes, even if they aren't as comfortable.  When we aim to impress we dress to impress.  And what's so bad about looking good?

If we look good others will appreciate us, they'll want to be around us, they'll laugh at our jokes and care about our stories.  Right?

But there's a difference between looking good and being good.  Looking good is easy.  Being good is something entirely different.  It's the difference between Utopia and Dystopia.  And it carries the same problems.  Our own attempts to make ourselves look good, not just physically but morally, only corrupt us.  Romans 3:23 clearly tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.  That's all of us.  So when we try to put up a mask that says, "I'm good." we make ourselves liars.  We've only deepened the problem.  The clothes we think make us look good only hide our rotten cores.  Our attempts to make ourselves appear righteous only hide our sinfulness.

Humility is clothing ourselves honestly.  We take off the mask.  We stop hiding.  We confess our sins to each other.  We aren't afraid to ask for help when we need it.  And we know we will need it.  When we live humbly, God is glorified, people are loved, and the Church gives life.

God is glorified because we aren't trying to take the credit for any of the good things in our life.  God has freely given us every blessing, not because of our own goodness, but because of His own extraordinary love!

People are loved, because we aren't trying to compete with them!  We understand our common human nature, our shared struggle.  We know that the message every human being needs to hear is, Christ died for sinners to bring them into relationship with Him!  The list of rules is for our benefit, not as a way to get to God, but as an owner's manual for ourselves.  The rules are second to the relationship, and when we live humbly, we understand that we need to seek loving relationship with people before dumping impossible rules on them!

And the Church gives life.  Have you ever walked into a building where you know everyone's story?  Where everyone knows your story?  And there is no shame, no guilt, no blame - but only love and acceptance?  That is life-giving!  Notice, I'm not saying we let sin slide, I'm saying we recognize that we are all sinners!  We all struggle against the temptations of this life, but in Church we find people to struggle with!  In the Church we find friends.

But pride ruins it.  

Pride makes the Church a place of death.  Pride makes the Church a place where we learn to be holy so we can measure up to one another.  God is on some distant peak we must climb every day of our lives, and hope we never fall.

Pride turns people into enemies.  In pride we constantly compare ourselves to those around us.  Am I better than him?  "Thank you Lord for not making me like that sinner.

Pride robs God of His glory.  Pride says, "I achieved this."  But every good thing we have comes from GOD! There is no gift, no talent, no wisdom, except by the grace of God freely poured out on unworthy creatures.  But Pride says, "I did this."

Pride is so concerned with looking good, that it corrupts, and it corrupts, and it corrupts.

We must lower our guard.

Hiding, justifying, and rationalizing our sins crushes harmony.  In pride we try to protect ourselves, to protect our little pleasures, our secret sins.  "It's not that bad."  we think.

Hiding, like the kid with the cookie shoved behind his back, we attempt to convince others we don't have a problem.  If others knew they would think less of us, and in this mad prideful scramble to reach the top of the heap, we can't allow it.  So we hide our sins.

Justifying, we tell ourselves it was ok, we won't do it again.  It was a one-time thing.  They made me do it.  We look at our past sins and try to figure out why we did it, and then blame the temptation, rather than simply confess we fell to it.

Rationalizing, we look at a sin we are about to commit and come up for all sorts of reasons why it's perfectly fine.  Everyone else does it.  Jesus drank wine, so that makes getting absolutely wasted perfectly fine, right?  We talk ourselves up, prepare ourselves to fall, convince ourselves the sin we're about to commit isn't really what we know it is.

But all of this is a thin mask protecting our sin, and we know it.  We must lower that guard.

And when someone lowers their guard to us, we need to listen carefully, with suspended judgment, not pridefully doling out scriptural "Thou shalt not..." but just listening.  Forgiving where necessary.  When the thief on the cross cries out, "We deserve this but this man is innocent!"  Jesus doesn't say, "You bet.  Sinner.  You know your theft will send you to hell, right?  You'd better stop it."  No!  He says, "This night you will be with me in Paradise."  Jesus, who has every right to sentence that sinner to hell, comforts Him.  Forgives Him.  Loves Him.  And that's exactly what we're called to do when someone confesses to us.

I say this because we are called to confess, but we're afraid to!  We are afraid because we live in a culture of pride.  We don't want to damage our own reputation, but we are afraid that others will look down on us.  But please, that isn't how we should think in the Church.  This is a place of healing, not judgment.  This is a place where someone should be able to say, "I struggle with alcoholism!" and find help instead of hate.  This is a place where we can say, "I'm losing myself to depression!" and be surrounded by people who love us and want to see us healed.  This is a place where one who deals with the most vile, unimaginable, disgusting sin, can confess and be loved.  

Or at least it should be.  Have we let pride get in the way?

Live in humility.

If we saw one another as we truly are, we would see each other as God sees us.  That can be a terrifying thought, but He died for sinners, and the saved are His precious Children.

God, seeing us perfectly, loves us perfectly and brings us into harmony with Him.  God sees us just the way we truly are, with all our pride, and hatred, and lust, and greed, and jealousy, and gluttony, and laziness, and He loves us.

But we don't have God's eyes.  We can't see past one another's masks.  We can only guess.  

Unless we take off our pride, and dress in humility, we cannot be loved, and we cannot truly love others.

Only in humility can we find harmony.

"For God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."  God understands that Pride will kill us, will ruin us, will destroy Churches, so He sets Himself against the proud.  But to the humble, to the ones who aren't afraid to confess and to love unconditionally, to them He gives His perfect grace.  To them He gives a taste of that coming Kingdom.  To them He shows the perfect harmony of everything working according to His will.

So please, "Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another..."

Only in humility can we find harmony.  Any other road leads to destruction.