Tuesday, February 27, 2007

And They All Lived Happily Ever After

There's a story about a woman whose next door neighbor would come over every Monday morning and ask to borrow a book. The next Monday she brought back the book. When the lady asked her how she liked the book, the answer was always the same, "It was just so wonderful. They got married and lived happily ever after."

The woman started to suspect her friend didn't read the books at all and possibly couldn't read. So, the next time she came by she gave the woman a Bible. Sure enough, a week later, her friend was on the door step smiling. When asked how she liked the book, the woman said, "Oh, this one is the best one yet. At the end they got married and lived happily ever after."

Considering the book of Revelation, that is true, but there's a lot of horrible things that happen before that event. Which raises the question of happy endings in Christian literature.

There was a time in Christian writing that everything had to end on an upbeat note. The sinner got saved. The couple married. The sick person was healed. The farm was saved from foreclosure. Frequently, this occurred through a literal deus ex machina with God performing a miracle making everything turn out good.

This formulaistic, pollyannaish writing began to wear thin on many Christians who demanded a more realistic treatment of the world around them. They knew in the real world the sinner didn't always get saved. The righteous widow often lost the farm. The gravely ill person died. And a new "gritty realism" in Christian writing began to appear. In some cases, the stories were quite dark indeed. It is perhaps an extreme reaction against the unrealistically optimistic view of Christian literature of the past (and, in most places, the present.)

In time, we will likely see a balance resulting in realistic optimism or hopeful pessimism or some other good literary term. However, that is not the point of this essay. What I am considering is the question of the happy ending. Can there be such a thing as a Christian tragedy?

One woman on a Christian writing list argued that happy endings are realistic because things always turn out good for the Christian. Initially, I was tempted to dismiss the statement as a symptom of comfortable Christianity experienced by Christians living in America. I remember reading Fox's Book of Martyrs and needing to take periodic breaks in the reading because of the descriptions of the gruesome tortures inflicted on the Early Church. Yet, when I thought about it, I understood something of what she was saying. Even a "tragic" ending for Christian only leads to his or her heavenly reward.

Yet, it is disingenuous to write stories in which everything always works out all the time. Sometimes no matter how hard you try to make someone understand about the free gift of salvation, if they choose not to accept it, there is nothing we can do to force it upon them. Some will be lost. Can we avoid talking about that particular tragedy and still be true to scripture? When a person stands strong in the Lord and exercises personal and professional ethics she or her won't always get the promotion. Sometimes the ethical worker will be fired by an organization which asserts an "anything goes" policy for making a profit. Sometimes, a Christian will die for the faith. It is happening as you read this blog.

So, what is the balance? Do we only write despairing stories to effect a type of sanctified gritty realism? I don't think that's the answer either. Christian literature needs to have some element of hope even in the darkest story. I like the story of Stephen in the Bible. He is tried and taken to be stoned. As the rocks fall on him he looks up and sees the Lord. There is no miraculous rescue, and none is required. He had finished his course with honor.

Whether it is a simple story of a future Christian business executive fired because he won't exploit the primitive people of an alien planet or the story of a martyr in some future dystopia which persecutes Christians, there needs to be some sort of nobility found in how they meet their fates.

Still, I must say, I do like a happy ending. It's just how we define that which counts.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home