by: Eli King
There are two basic types of people in this world, and two types only. The dead, and the living.
Well, duh, right? Not really. It’s true, is it not, that as a Christian you have eternal life? The term is often life in Christ. Which would imply that Christ has brought you to life, which would further indicate that you were dead apart from Him.
No, this isn’t a sermon. And, it’s not an advertisement for a funeral home, either. I’m talking about something beyond the elements of light and darkness, truth and lies. I’m talking about a concept that is essentially the most basic and foundational element of any story, any song, any poem. Any form of art at all. So basic, in fact, that it doesn’t apply to Christians alone. No, this concept applies to artists across the board, because they’re all playing on the same board.
Have you ever watched a movie and come away depressed? Read a book and felt discouraged or empty? Like there was something missing—something incomplete? That’s because there are also two types of art in this world—the dead, and the living. The interesting thing about life is that, unlike Miracle Max pretends in The Princess Bride, it’s absolute. You are either dead, or you are alive. No “mostly dead” here, and the same applies to art. An art production is either dead, or alive. No in-between fence riders.
Well this is creepy, isn’t it? Just what exactly am I proposing? Well, I don’t mean books that breathe, and I’m not even talking about the elusive concept of a “living book” we’ve all heard about—a book which is not dry and boring. I mean something quite a bit deeper than that. Something that flows in the heart and core of a story. In it’s very life blood, if you will.
There was a time in my writing when what I wrote was dead.
At the time, I was just breaking into thriller and action novels in addition to writing short stories and my first few songs. I was on my third novel, and was also co-writing a novel with a friend that was also set in the thriller/action genre as well. The thing about action and thriller novels is that they lend themselves to violence very well, and I became a very violent author. I should specify that by “violence” here, I mean fighting violence, but a more accurate term would really be “gore”. Both of the novels I was working on became intensely violent and even gory at times. My songs were very heavy and, quite frankly, dark. I remember one particular short story I wrote at the time, which ended…well, let’s just say it ended with a gunshot from the protagonist. I have no idea why I wrote that story or what purpose I found in it. The essential message of the story was “life is pointless, and if you can’t find what you want out of life, you might as well die.”
I didn’t really mean to write that theme. At the time, I didn’t think nearly as much about themes as I do now, or put nearly as much focus or value on them. I just wrote a story because I could, and it was gory because I was an “intense” and “gritty” writer. I actually even became known for my violence, and one of the readers of the co-novel was able to identify my half of the writing without knowing who had written what because of the level of fighting violence it contained.
All of this is to my shame. The most I can say in my defense is that I didn’t know any better, but really, I did. I just never took the time to stop, slow down and think about what I was doing. Praise be to God, he opened my eyes and, through the light of a friend, I was able to slowly learn about the destructiveness of what I was writing. The danger of darkness. I believe myself to have been a Christian during all this time, but I was one that had slipped into darkness.
I tell all of this to illustrate a point. You hear me talking a lot about the power of stories. About light over darkness. About how vital it is that your book shine that light. I say all of this and believe all of it not because it’s some textbook theory I’ve picked up in some dusty library or classroom. I believe this because I’ve been there. I know what the darkness can do to a person. I know how ravenously depression can feed off of dark music, dark writing and dark art in general, and I’m telling you, this is real. This isn’t a joke and it’s not a game. It’s a matter of life and death.
Art can take two forms. For the sake of this article’s clarity and brevity, we’ll stick to stories as our medium of discussion, but bear in mind that what I say about fiction applies to music and every other form of writing just as much. Every story, therefore, can be one of two things—it can be alive, or it can be dead, and that all depends on the author. What’s the difference between a living story and a dead one? It’s essentially this. A living book gives life to its reader. Hope. A living book proclaims a message of light in a dark world. Even if the theme of the book is the evil of abortion, the undercurrent river flowing beneath the surface of the pages is a fountain of life. The reason abortion is wrong is because life has value, and this value that is core to the theme of the book is a message of hope. You are worth something. Life has a point. Do you see what I’m saying? There is hope. Life. The book has a foundation of life.
A dead book, on the other hand, is one that proclaims ultimate messages of despair. Regardless of the theme, the undercurrent worldview is humanistic and breathes the lies that life is pointless, we have no hope, there is no greater reality beyond ourselves, we are just another animal, and your life is what you make of it and nothing more. With an undercurrent river of poison like that, flowing invisibly through the pages of the story in such a way that only your subconscious picks up on it, why do we find it shocking that people commit suicide? If life is pointless, and death is sleep, and you’re full of pain and then you read this stuff, then wouldn’t suicide be more than acceptable? Wouldn’t it actually make sense?
I apologize for getting so heavy, but please understand that the undercurrent of a novel is a subconscious thing. Unless you are being deliberately thoughtful about what you are reading, you will not take mental notice of the invisible worldview and ideological river streaming into your mind from behind the scenes of the story. It’s quite possible that the author himself didn’t even take notice of it. That’s because he was either (a), a dead man apart from Christ, or (b), living like I did, a saved man fallen into temporary darkness and not paying attention who what I was doing.
Which brings me to probably the most crucial point of this discussion. Christians can write dead books. We are just as capable of writing out of the old, dead man as we are of writing out of the new creation we are called to be. I know this, because I did it. I wrote unconscious themes of despair without even realizing it because I had lapsed in my walk with Christ and allowed myself to dwell on the wrong things, listen to the wrong things, read the wrong things, ect. until I didn’t even realize what I was doing.
Writing for Christ is important, but we have to be careful that we do not misunderstand this term. Just because we’re writing for Christ doesn’t mean we’re not also writing for our readers. Because, really, our readers are the ones directly effected by it. When they pick up our stories, they may never consciously process the concept, but do they find light and hope and life flowing from our hearts, onto the pages and thereby into their hearts—regardless of the precise theme of the story—or do they find mediocre lukewarmness about life? Do they find apathy? Do they, just possibly, even find traces of darkness? Of lies?
I should specify that by none of this do I mean that Christian writers should ignore or hide from the darkness when they write. We don’t hide from it, we confront it. I still write intense stories, but unlike before, I’m much more deliberate and careful about the amount, level and use of violence that I allow into my stories. Be honest about the world and how ugly it is, but spare us the details. She’s a woman and she got assaulted. We know what you mean without having to be told any details that could put sinful imagery into our minds.
A story with life is a story that looks at a situation in life, that confronts the darkness of this world and says “Yes, but there’s more!” A story that brings a message of hope and life and light to the despair of the reader. I know from personal experience that people in despair search for things they can connect to. Despair is a lonely place to be, and depression suffers no friends. A song or a story that a listener or reader identifies with and can say “Yes! That’s how it feels. That’s what it’s like!” is something they will cling too. It’s something to tie themselves to and connect with. Like an emotional crutch, of sorts. The problem with this sort of thing is that all these songs and stories usually spend all their time talking about the situation, and never the solution. So the depressed reader finds themselves essentially wallowing in their problem, and finding no hope. Only despair. Darkness. Hopelessness. Death. In other words, this story spends all its time telling them what it feels like to be hungry (and thereby giving them a false sense of not being so alone), and then gives them no food.
Be warm and be filled, brother! Yes. That’s useless. No, it’s more than useless. It’s destructive.
We can’t write like that. We have to write messages of hope and life. We have to tap into our undercurrent rivers of life that we have found in Christ and draw from those for the truths we write. To bring the light of Christ to our readers. Because, I’m telling you, that is power. A story with light can revolutionize somebody’s life and be the tool Christ uses to bring them out of the darkness. You want to change the world? Then write with life. Write with light. Write with hope. Because there is hope, we have found it, and the whole world needs to hear about it.
Please don’t allow yourselves to slip away from the light like I did. Fortunately, few people read most of what I wrote, so little damage was done. But great damage could have been done, and if nothing else, I did a great deal of damage to myself that I’m still recovering from. Never underestimate the darkness, but understand that even a little light can drive back the shadows in screaming retreat every time. We have the potential to shine a lot of light, but in order to be sure our books bleed with the blood of Christ and the hope He offers, we have to be close to Him. Breathing His truth, reading His word, seeking Him for our stories.
I apologize for the sermon. It’s never my intent to preach, but this is something I wanted to share. Because there are two types of books in this world—the poison, and the medication. Those of death, and those of life.
Let’s change the world with the brilliant light of hope we have found. Because, as the Russians say, sushi-stugit dihgdanas deersthdat.