Fiction can sometimes, like Nathan the prophet’s story of the ewe lamb, awaken parts of us that we have calloused over, due to ignorance or laziness or inattention or sin. One night, in the car on my way home, I was talking by telephone to my eighty-six year-old grandmother. She was telling me a story about the last time she saw my grandfather alive. She told me about feeling the coldness of his feet as she changed his socks in his hospital bed, about how his eyes were focused on her, though he couldn’t speak. She talked about how, when the nurses told her she had to leave, she kissed him, told him she loved him, and that she could feel him watching her as she left the room, for the last time. I knew she had lost my grandfather. I know that people die. I know “Husbands love your wives” (Ephesians 5).Read the rest.
But that story awakened something in me. It prompted me to hold my wife with a special tenderness when I walked in the door. I had imagined what it would be like to say goodbye to her in that way, and, suddenly, all the daily pressures of kids and bills and house repairs and travel just seemed to fit in a bigger context. Fiction often does the same thing. When I read Tolstoy’s Death of Ivan Illych, I gain an imaginative sympathy with something I might avoid in the busyness of life: what it’s actually like to die. When I read Wendell Berry’s stories of Henry County, Kentucky, I can gain insight on what it would be like to face losing a family farm in the Great Depression. This fiction gives a richer, bigger vision of human life.
What’s more is that fiction is, I think, very helpful for those who are called to preach and teach (which, at least in terms of bearing witness to Christ is true of all of us). Fiction helps the Christian to learn to speak in ways that can navigate between the boring abstract and the irrelevant mundane. It also enables you to learn insights about human nature. I’ve never had a problem with drug addiction. I can’t imagine why on earth anyone would take meth. Reading stories of life in Eastern Kentucky and about the motivations behind a meth addict can teach me to address those things biblically, and to see where I have similar idolatry that would be just as incomprehensible to someone else.