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Foundation Truth, Number 10 (Summer 2004) | Timeless Truths Publications

The Facts About Fiction

The idea that anything having to do with fiction is wrong is a fiction in and of itself, for you may as well advocate that the ability of mankind to imagine is inherently evil. The Bible does not teach us to abandon our ability to imagine (fictional thinking), but it does teach us to cast down every imagination that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and to bring every thought into obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). It is not wrong to imagine, but it is necessary that every mental conception be submissive to truth and fact.

A little child of our acquaintance was raised by her parents to avoid any attempt to symbolize anything, as this was deemed detrimental. My daughter was reading her a poem which personified the wind and the book contained an illustration of the wind as a face in the clouds with lips pursed, huffing and puffing. To this illustration and the words of the poem, this child protested, objecting to the characterization, stating that the wind was not like that. She had been carefully schooled to think literally, and the subtleties of symbolic thought were completely out of her reach. Her parents were raising her to think in a way that they deemed advantageous, but they were actually stunting and harming a precious God-given ability, instead of guiding her to use her ability to imagine in a proper way. The Bible employs symbolic and allegorical thought. It is full of figurative and abstract thought. If we deny this, we must expect Herod to actually look like a fox (Luke 13:13) or believers to literally resemble the branches of a vine (John 15:5), to state just an extremely small sample of Bible examples of this kind.

The Bible incorporates our ability to think imaginatively in a number of ways. Consider an example of fictional thinking in the scriptures: the story of the trees as related in Judges 9:8-15. This story is a good example of illustrative fiction. It obviously neither was nor could be literally true, but it illustrated truth and was used of the Lord to deal with the hearts of the men of Shechem. They got the point, but rejected the illustrated truth thus portrayed and continued on in their wicked way until judgment overtook them.

We do not know that all the parables of Jesus were definite events that took place. For example, did a certain man actually find a pearl of great price in a certain plot of ground, or was the story an illustration of what would be likely to happen if you discovered something of great value on a certain property? As you can see, the value of the parable is in illustrating a wonderful truth, namely the desirability of being willing to sell all that you have to obtain a found thing of even greater value. The meaning of the parable is not a literal pearl in a certain literal field, but the great privilege of finding God’s great salvation and following through on your discovery by being willing to sell all that you have to possess the same. Whether the story actually occurred literally is immaterial, for the point is illustrative of something other than an actual pearl. It is figurative and allegorical. You might say that you have to think symbolically to get the value of the story. You have to use your imagination in the way God created it to be used.

There is a great deal of imaginative thinking (fiction) which circulates among mankind which is neither obedient to Christ nor beneficial to sound character. A certain minister was approached by a man who was hindered greatly in his faith. He asked the minister why he was so hindered. The minister visited him in his home and noticed his library, which was filled with all the examples of “good” fiction which he had been able to collect. He loved his collection and spoke of it with pride, but it was a great hindrance to him. The minister told him that his collection of fiction was the reason he could not have faith. His collection did not illustrate truth, but illustrated the human reach of thought not under obedience to Christ. No doubt, it was the best of human fictional imagining, but, lo, “man at his best state is altogether vanity.”* (Psalm 39:5) A story, poorly written, which illustrates eternal truth is superior to a story, well written, which does not.

Most science fiction is godless. The writers envisage a future without any form of godliness. Character is largely ignored. But here is an example that is entirely different.

Let me tell you a story. It is only a story of my own imagination, but it may give you a serious thought. Suppose the planet Mars is inhabited by people of like nature to us. They have moving pictures there as men have here. One theatrical man hears of the life of Jesus. He hears of it being the most wonderful life ever lived. He wishes to get that life on his films that he may play it out in his picture house. But he is told that the life of Jesus is a Spirit life, and he has no camera that will photograph a spirit. But he is also told that there is a people on the planet Earth who live the life of Jesus in the flesh, and if he will send his photographer to Earth and take a picture of the daily life of these people, he will have the life of Jesus.

Now we wish to ask you if you are ready to sit for the picture? Suppose you can’t get your automobile started, or the bread burns, or the clothesline breaks, or the baby is cross, or someone tells a falsehood on you, are you ready to have your picture taken and write under it, “Christlike”?

[Charles E. Orr; Heavenly Life for Earthly Living]

As we said before, most science fiction is godless. But it does not have to be. It could be written entirely differently than it is. Of course the focus then would not be science; it would be holiness. What God has permitted man to realize about the world in which he lives. How to best utilize that understanding. What happens if we do not utilize that understanding correctly. How it is all a means to an end. How all these things will be destroyed and burnt up. The fictional capacity that we have is not wrong, but it certainly can be abused and misused.

In concluding, let me quote from The Jerusalem Sinner Saved, a sermon by John Bunyan:

I will tell you a story that I have read of Martha and Mary; the name of the book I have forgot; I mean of the book in which I found the story; but the thing was thus:

Martha, saith my author, was a very holy woman, much like Lazarus, her brother; but Mary was a loose and wanton creature; Martha did seldom miss good sermons and lectures, when she could come at them in Jerusalem; but Mary would frequent the house of sports, and the company of the vilest of men for lust. And though Martha had often desired that her sister would go with her to hear her preachers, yea, had often entreated her with tears to do it, yet could she never prevail; for still Mary would make her excuse, or reject her with disdain, for her zeal and preciseness in religion.

After Martha had waited long, tried many ways to bring her sister to good, and all proved ineffectual, at last she comes upon her thus: “Sister,” quoth she, “I pray thee go with me to the temple today, to hear one preach a sermon.”

“What kind of preacher is he?” said she.

Martha replied, “It is one Jesus of Nazareth; he is the handsomest man that ever you saw with your eyes. Oh! he shines in beauty, and is a most excellent preacher.”

Now, what does Mary, after a little pause, but goes up into her chamber, and, with her pins and her clouts, decks up herself as fine as her fingers could make her. This done, away she goes, not with her sister Martha, but as much unobserved as she could, to the sermon, or rather to see the preacher.

The hour and preacher being come, and she having observed whereabout the preacher would stand, goes and sets herself so in the temple, that she might be sure to have the full view of this excellent person. So he comes in, and she looks, and the first glimpse of his person pleased her. Well, Jesus addresseth himself to His sermon, and she looks earnestly on Him.

Now, at that time, saith my author, Jesus preached about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal child. And when He came to show what care the shepherd took for one lost sheep, and how the woman swept to find her piece which was lost, and what joy there was at their finding, she began to be taken by the ears, and forgot what she came about, musing what the preacher would make of it. But when He came to the application, and showed, that by the lost sheep, was meant a great sinner; by the shepherd’s care, was meant God’s love for great sinners; and that by the joy of the neighbors, was showed what joy there was among the angels in heaven over one great sinner that repenteth: she began to be taken by the heart. And as He spake these last words, she thought He turned His innocent eyes just upon her, and looked as if He spake what was now said to her: wherefore her heart began to tremble, being shaken with affection and fear; then her eyes ran down with tears apace; wherefore she was forced to hide her face with her handkerchief, and so sat sobbing and crying all the rest of the sermon.

Sermon being done, up she gets, and away she goes, and withal inquired where this Jesus the preacher dined that day? And one told her, “At the house of Simon the Pharisee.” So away goes she, first to her chamber, and there strips herself of her wanton attire; then falls upon her knees to ask God forgiveness for all her wicked life. This done, in a modest dress she goes to Simon’s house, where she finds Jesus sat at dinner. So she gets behind Him, and weeps, and drops her tears upon His feet like rain, and washes them, and wipes them with the hair of her head. She also kissed His feet with her lips, and anointed them with ointment.

When Simon the Pharisee perceived what the woman did, and being ignorant of what it was to be forgiven much (for he never was forgiven more than fifty pence), he began to think within himself, that he had been mistaken about Jesus Christ, because He suffered such a sinner as this woman was, to touch Him. Surely, quoth he, this man, if He were a prophet, would not let this woman come near Him, for she is a townsinner; so ignorant are all selfrighteous men of the way of Christ with sinners.

But, lest Mary should be discouraged with some clownish carriage of this Pharisee, and so desert her good beginnings, and her new steps which she now had begun to take towards eternal life, Jesus began thus with Simon: “Simon,” saith He, “I have somewhat to say unto thee.”

And he saith, “Master, say on.”

“There was,” said Jesus, “a certain creditor which had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me, therefore, which of them will love him most?”

Simon answered, and said, “I suppose that he to whom he forgave most.”

And He said unto him, “Thou hast rightly judged.” And He turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, “Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss; but this woman, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint, but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore, I say unto her, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And He said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.” [Luke 7:36-48].

Thus you have the story. If I come short in any circumstance, I beg pardon of those that can correct me. It is three or four and twenty years since I saw the book; yet I have, as far as my memory will admit, given you the relation of the matter. However, Luke, as you see, doth here present you with the substance of the whole.

[John Bunyan; The Jerusalem Sinner Saved]

Following is a note about this story by the editor of Bunyan’s writing in The Whole Works of John Bunyan, by George Offor:

I cannot discover in what book Bunyan read this legend; it is not in the Golden Legend, or any of my monkish authors. It was a generally received opinion, among the ancients, that Mary Magdalene was sister to Lazarus; but the means of her conversion is not known. The story here related is possible, and even probable; but it has no foundation in the inspired writings, nor in ancient authors.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”* (Philippians 4:8)

If an imagined story is plainly identified as an imagined story and it is according to truth, then it is not misrepresentation (untruth), but a true-to-life story. This is how Bunyan used the story of Mary Magdalene to illustrate truth in the sermon he preached. He identified the narrative as just a story and made no other claim for it. The story cannot be proved to be factual, nor can it be disproved, but it does set forth and illustrate things that are true. The fictional story is honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, full of virtue and worthy of praise.

Such fiction is in total agreement with truth and illustrates the same in a very useful and helpful way. It is in obedience to Christ and is edifying and beneficial.