Over the last few years, I’ve been trying to read more Christian Fiction. Since some of what I write would fall into that genre, I wanted to give it another shot, despite having been scared off years ago by its excessive “preachiness.” Unfortunately, the preachiness is still there, in varying quantities, but there is another trend I noticed: a lack of joy.
The works I’ve recently read range from Christian Fantasy to Christian Romance to Christian “Experimental Fiction,” and they were all published in the last ten years or so. The characters supposedly had moments of happiness, of peace and tranquility and bliss. It’s just that we, as the readers, didn’t get to experience those moments. We were told about them, but they weren’t shared with us.
Instead, we had one unending narration of struggling: how the characters were struggling to trust God, how they were struggling with their feelings for each other, their feelings of unworthiness, their confusion, their frustration, etc. Even in Tahn, which I just finished reading and genuinely enjoyed, the book was all about struggle. There were no joyful moments of fun, where we just got to enjoy the characters being themselves. We are told they go on a fishing expedition and on a picnic, and we get to see a tiny bit of that, but for the most part, the experience is all that of struggling while trusting God to handle the problems of life.
When I compare this to earlier works of Christian Fiction, I’m puzzled. The Lord of the Rings, for all its darkness and overshadowing dread, had light moments, where danger receded and there was nothing but joy. Phantastes was the same way, even to the point of losing the plot entirely. The Chronicles of Narnia had these same kinds of interspersed moments, with humor and mirth, scenes that were just fun to read.
This isn’t to say that all of recent Christian Fiction lacks joy. Donita K. Paul managed to smuggle in a fair amount of delightful humor into her DragonKeeper Chronicles, but she also has quantities of angst. Frustration, a lack of surety, and the omission of scenes where joy might be found—most notably, in her case, in the romance of the major characters—seemed to be the prevailing mood of her books as well.
And I don’t understand this trend. Why, if Christian authors are possessors of Christ’s joy, are the books so lacking in that dimension? Why do the characters who say they are trusting God for their future spend so little time enjoying their present? Or, if they enjoy it, why do their authors steer us away from those moments?
The only reason I could come up with was that Christian authors feel so much for the lost characters, the characters who are yet-to-be converted, that they cannot have a moment of enjoyment until those characters are saved. This side of heaven, everything is suffering and struggling as the protagonists work to save the lost.
Yet this seems to imply that the work is ours, rather than the Holy Spirit’s. If we are to be living epistles, than those around us are affected by seeing God in us—not by hearing the gospel message crammed down their throats (there was a bit of that in Tahn, which was frustrating; he would try to leave, but another character would following him around, explaining why he needed to change and how God loved him).
If the Holy Spirit is the one who convicts those in need of salvation, then of what avail are all our struggles? If the Christian characters are truly trusting God for the salvation of others, they shouldn’t be tied up in knots about the efficacy of their efforts, nor affected by the progress they do or don’t see. If the goodness and kindness of God leads the lost to repentance, perhaps our “passions for the lost”—our own rhetorical attempts to make someone believe—just get in the way?
Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren