How is fiction useful? Is devoting our lives and careers to it appropriate?
Most of us have wrestled with these questions. For some, concern has been posed by parents, who want to ensure that their children spend their time constructively and seeking truth. Others have sensed unspoken skepticism from the culture around them, as if writing couldn’t possibly be a meaningful pursuit on its own.
Shortly before graduating high school, I began bumping against these questions again and again in my own mind. While trying to find answers, I buried myself in writing, which fulfilled me so deeply that I concluded it must have eternal value. But, before dedicating a large portion of my life to writing fiction, I needed solid reasoning that was rooted in theology. Without that, I couldn’t step forward in faith.
If we take ourselves and our writing seriously, we all face this internal struggle. What am I hoping to achieve with my writing? And does it expand the kingdom of Christ?
The search begins, as all quests for truth should, with God.
Understanding the Nature of God
First, we need to examine two specific attributes of God that form a foundation for the rest of our convictions:
1. God is self-sufficient. Distinct and apart from His creation, He exists in a timeless state of perfect self-communion and glory. Nothing adds to Him or detracts from Him, as He revealed to Moses through the burning bush: “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Symbolically, this is further supported by the flames that licked at the branches without any fuel.
2. God is creative. I don’t mean inventive—as if God is constantly adjusting His ways. The act of creating is an intrinsic part of His being. This is evident in several Scripture passages, the clearest of which are Job chapters 38–41. Since I lack the space to adequately unpack that breathtaking symphony of God’s creative power, I will quote more familiar words from John 1:3: “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”
When we compare these two attributes of God, we realize that the purpose of creation cannot be utility or necessity, because God has no need for anything external—He is self-sufficient. Yet we can be sure that creation has a purpose, because it surrounds us.
This leads us to ask: Why is creating worthwhile? Before we can unravel that, however, we need to establish one final principle.
Understanding the Nature of Man
We are made in God’s image. Notice two details about that sentence. First, we are “made.” As derivative beings, we contrast with God’s self-sufficiency. We have our genesis in someone other than ourselves; therefore, our every deed is contextual to our relationship with Him. Second, as bearers of “God’s image,” we are gifted with a creative faculty. The Bible’s literary artistry proves this, but man also exhibited creative ability during the construction of the Tabernacle. God chose Bezalel and Oholiab to execute the wondrous design of His dwelling place (Exodus 31:1–6). Being filled with the Spirit enabled these men to create art, which shows a strong correlation between human and divine creating.
Without a doubt, God’s creativity and ours are on completely different planes. As Christian storytellers, we cannot breathe life into our imaginings, but the characters and worlds we build on paper are echoes of God’s nature being displayed through us. We create artificial realities that exist in a third plane referential to our own minds, similar to how we exist in a second plane wholly referential to God’s mind (the first plane of existence).
The disparity between God’s creating and ours is unmistakable. But the assumption is that both originate from the same source (God Himself) and carry the same purpose—just as the moon is an expression of the sun’s light, though it is only a reflection.
Understanding the Purpose of Creation
We’ve let the enigma rest temporarily, but now is the time to resolve it:
Creation is for glory.
All of nature shouts praises to God (Psalm 19:1–4). Not because of its usefulness to Him, but because of beauty. In accordance to His design, every mountain, blade of grass, and furry critter magnifies God as Creator and Sustainer of all things (Romans 1:20).
The exaltation of beauty and truth glorifies God.
God’s instructions for the priestly garments includes the simple yet wonderful phrase, “for glory and for beauty” (Exodus 28:2, 40). The garments were not intended to be practical (though all of God’s creations are supremely useful). Treating this phrase as a mantra for human creative endeavors might be imprecise hermeneutics, but considering it in that light is powerful. Beauty’s transcendency cannot be explained except through God’s truth.
The chief purpose of human creating, then, is to glorify God by exalting truth and beauty. To prevent us from losing sight of the deeper principle we rely on as storytellers, I’m intentionally differentiating between the creation and creating. As Christians, we’re confident that creation’s greatest purpose is to glorify God. But, as storytellers, we need to remember that the greatest purpose of any creating is to glorify God. This puts our sub-creation, our storytelling, alongside creation itself in terms of purpose and function. While we must be careful to make clear distinctions between God’s creating and our own, recognizing the significance of storytelling is perhaps more important.
This should both sober and excite each of us to the core.
Understanding Our Calling
If we think of ourselves as little gods creating our own universes, that will disconnect us, ideologically, from the broader presence of God that should encompass our lives. We’ll keep turning inward until our creating reflects ourselves more than God. So, rather than little gods, we ought to view ourselves as imitators of the Original. We’re sub-creators striving to align our imaginations with the framework of cosmic reality: God’s storytelling. Like the Israelite craftsmen of old, our pleasure and duty is to rework the raw, consecrated material (truth) into designs that reverence God through their splendor.
What drives us to create the unreal? Can we bring glory to God and edify readers through those words on the page?
Our identity as image-bearers compels us to create, and the opportunity to impact readers with fiction is an immense privilege and responsibility. This creating is useful because it exalts truth and beauty, which glorifies God by extension. Therein is the legitimacy of our creative pursuits.
Martin Detwiler is mostly normal. For a writer. He is, like most of us, a mess of paradoxes. Dreamer & cynic, philosopher & clown, hopeless romantic & grim realist—if there’s a contradiction, you’ll find it in him somewhere or another. But at the heart of it all, Martin is a man made new by Christ, the Author of that cosmic tale we call history. He has had a passion for stories from his earliest teen years, and the transition from reading others’ stories to writing his own seemed a foregone conclusion. His greatest inspirations are C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, both of whom stirred a passion for stories that combine the aesthetic and the true in such a way that the reader is given an experiential glimpse of God’s reality.
Martin lives with his wife in South Carolina, where she keeps his sky-high hopes and dreams firmly rooted in the humble yet beautiful soil of reality.