Christian allegory has a long and venerable history from Piers Plowman and Pilgrim’s Progress to the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. I like allegory because of its narrative structure. The writer has a story to tell, and as with Lewis’ books, the story can stand by itself on its own merits. (Lewis was, incidentally, adamant that his most famous works were not allegorical but suppositional. I think he protests too much). Because the writer is Christian, allegories can be read at a deeper, spiritual level. Puddleglum, one of Lewis’ most interesting characters,  has a lot to say about our own struggles as Christians in dealing with a world of powerful inducements to doubt on the one hand, and equally powerful penalties for stubbornly adhering to faith on the other.

A second kind of Christian fiction is that exemplified by Ben Hur, which in its original publication was subtitled A Story of the Christ. There are plenty of these kinds of books on the market: David and Bathsheba, When Joseph Met Mary, and so on. They are an attempt to fill in the Biblical narrative by providing additional information gleaned either from historical sources, or the writer’s own imagination. The purpose seems to be to provide some wholesome Christian reading and give readers more evidence for their faith. I don’t find either of these reasons sufficient. The Biblical stories are briefly told and sparse because that was the Holy Spirit’s intention. He didn’t want us living these lives; He wants us to live our own lives, to write our own narrative of faith. Dwelling on the minutiae of Esther’s life won’t help us to be like her. Living our own life with similar courage will.

A third kind of Christian literature is an account of one man’s journey to heaven to meet God face to face. Again, this has a long lineage, dating back to Moses’ prayer to see God, and refered to again in the New Testament in Paul’s vision of heaven. However, these were actual events, not fiction, and they are blessedly uninformative about the personhood of God and His paradise. Even John’s account of heaven in his Revelation is clearly heavily symbolic and not meant to be taken literally. Which is how it should be. God gives us the hope of dwelling in His perfect presence, where ‘all tears will be wiped away.’ He had no intention of telling us what was for breakfast when we got there. Nor do we need to know.

Because such works have the intention of showing us a view of God and of heaven and this is the central purpose in the book, the narrative line is usually weak. It was just a way of getting the reader to the main point, which is ‘what is God actually like.’ The story has a tendency to be sentimental and superficial, which is where I struggle. I like a good story, and narrative is important to me. Books (and movies) that don’t have a strong narrative are just not that appealing to me.

Certainly there is plenty of room for spiritual imagination about the nature of heaven. But that is precisely the point. It is my imagination, not yours, that is engaged, and it is only valid because it is imbued with my hopes for the conclusion of the narrative that I have been living for the past sixty years. It is not valid for you. Sure we share some things in common, but this is uniquely my story, just as your story is uniquely yours. For me to take my view of heaven and declare in a work of fiction that it is THE view of heaven, would be wrong. God has deliberately left some things in the Bible in sketchy detail, because it is not the details that are important, it is the spiritual truths that can be drawn from what He does provide. When we try to fill in the blanks for Him, we often go astray.

Advertisements