The Christian Writer: Walking Through the Darkness

00 walk in dark

How dark can Christian fiction be? If horror exists in Christian fiction, when does one have to draw the line?

A common definition I’ve heard of a lot of Christian fiction is that it’s safe. It’s the novels written for those who want their reading to be clean. That idea can be great, and well, not so great, depending on how you look at it.

From my point of view, a lot of Christian fiction falls flat in that it doesn’t leave a grand impact on me. It may entertain and teach a few good morals, but it’s missing that something that makes it stick. It’s, in a way, sterile. But from another’s point of view, a lot of Christian fiction is the perfect alternative to their secular counterparts. It’s free from profanity, sex, and other things immoral. And I want my own fiction to be free from those as also (well, some of my characters have muttered a d**n here and there). But what about evil? What about violence? What about darkness?

This is where things get tricky. Evil and darkness are obviously immoral, yet without them, you don’t have a story. No matter what genre you write, some form of evil has to be present. It’s what gives conflict and tension and that is what keeps readers flipping the pages.

So if we conclude that violence is allowed in our novels, how much of it is acceptable before it becomes too much. How dark is too dark? And if we show too much of it, are we numbing ourselves to it?

In this day and age violence is extremely glamorized and glossed over. You see and hear about murders on the television and the news. The reporter will glance over the story, then move on to the next sports report, and we’re left feeling unbroken and numb. We’ve seen so much of this glamorized, glorified violence that we have forgotten the darkness and weight that it carries in the lives it takes. We see the destruction from a cyclone on TV, and while we may gasp and point out how bad it is, but unless we see the young child trapped and dying under a pile of debris, we only feel indifference.

So maybe it’s the other way around? Maybe we’re not showing evil for what it truly is? That reason there is why I love the author, Ted Dekker. His books are dark, often times very violent, but he shows evil for what it is and it impacts me and makes me feel anguish for those who are lost. The value of life in fiction has been greatly reduced to the point where in action movies we see random bodies fly across the screen and we’re left with no emotional response. But give weight and value to the life of another person (i.e. the main character in the movie), and violence suddenly becomes a lot more evil. And a lot darker.

I was reading a post on author Mike Duran’s blog, Decompose, and he talked about the grotesque in Christian art and literature. He talked about how Christian fiction and the horror genre should co-exist, and he also talked about the painting by Hieronymus Bosch called The Garden of Earthly Delights. This painting is considered one of the most disturbing and terrifying pictures ever painted. Bosch said that it was his faith in God’s delivering power that freed him to, “depict the full range of the grotesque.”  Without faith any grotesque work is flat and only serves to glorify evil. But knowing God’s power to deliver us back unto Himself he was free to color Hell as it really is.

Christian history was awash in horror, but today we seemed to have lost the ability to show evil for what it is, and in doing so it seems to have the opposite effect of what we’re trying to accomplish, which is to write inspiring fiction that points readers to Christ and His work on the cross. And while we mean well in saying horror is “unredeemable,” we’re sacrificing the true power of God for the feel good kind of fiction that’s fearful in showing the horrific. Maybe if we believed in God’s delivering power as Bosch did then we’d be led to paint our fiction with a darker brush. But if that never happens, will Christian art and literature only serve to paint a dim light and make us numb to the broken state we’re really in?

So where’s the line that yells at us to “Stop!” I don’t have the answer, but what I do know is that the price for our salvation was a bloodied and broken man on a tree. And to this day I struggle to take in the sheer brutality of that dark day.

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12 thoughts on “The Christian Writer: Walking Through the Darkness

  1. good points. Christian art needs to become more true to life if it is going to effect more complete change. If the characters don’t break, how can a bruised and battered humanity relate? How can they know that God redeems even out of the darkest places?

    1. Thanks Eric! You’re spot on! God can reach into the darkest of hearts and redeem even the most evil enemy. It’s at that breaking point that God can touch us.
      God bless!

  2. For myself, I would add darkness to a story only for contrast; so that the light is more visible. I’m not saying that is the only right way to do it, of course! I just think that you can have action, and life, and drama, without overdoing the horrific or creepy aspects of life.

    Also bear in mind Philippians 4:8 – 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.

    1. Hey Irish, thanks for reading and commenting! Each word is spot on! The light shines brighter in the dark, and like you, I also don’t like when the darkness seems overbearing in a story. There needs to be a balance of light and dark to make a story powerful and for it to have the biggest impact on the reader. Without darkness and brokenness, there’s no impact when Christ steps in and redeems, but with no light, you get a disturbing story no one (including myself) would want to read.

      That verse is one of my very favourites and I use it as a guide whenever I pick a film to watch and a book to read. Though I don’t believe it tells us to look away from violence and the horrific, but to not revel in them. In the beginning it says, “Whatsoever things are true.” Sometimes the truth of a situation involves evil and the horrific, like the suicide of a teen, or the horrors of war. The Bible doesn’t tell us to look away, it says not to think on them, not to dwell on them. I think we as Christians are commanded to not look away, and in doing so we come to know our brokenness and need for a savior and it gives us (at least myself) strength to fight, pray, and deny myself and surrender all to God. Not looking away also fills us with Anguish for the lost and for those wandering down the wrong path. And that’s the very trait Jesus had when he gave His life on the cross. So in the end I always ask myself “Would this film/book cause me to think on praise worthy things, or will it cause me to dwell on evil?” If the answer to the latter question is yes, than it’s not a book of film I’ll watch/read. If the answer to the former question is yes, then I might give it a go. A good example is the film, The Book of Eli. It’s about this man who takes the Bible on a journey by faith in God. It get’s violent and it’s pretty dark, but by the end all I was thinking about was his amazing faith and trust in God and it inspired me more than any movie has done in a very long time (if not, ever). The darkness and violence wasn’t even present in my thoughts by the end, just this majorly inspiring message I think all Christians need to hear. It’s one of those stories I wish I had written, haha!

      God bless you Irish, and thanks again for reading, 🙂

  3. Thank you Luc for your post, I appreciate the thought you put into these posts and the time you have given.
    I have read over your post a couple of times, and I admire your insight; there are many things through this post that I had never thought about before. You’re a deep thinker Luc! 😉

    I would like to add that the verse says “think on these things.” I find that *thinking goes even beyond see with our eyes… there will always be dark and horrible things in this world, we cannot pass by without seeing. But to willfully watch it, seek it, hear it or think about it just doesn’t seem to be the right thing to me.
    The Book of Eli is a very gory movie. Some of it sent shivers down my spine and I regretted watching it. True, it is a powerful movie with a deep meaning. I remember it well. All the gory horrible scenes… how the man died protecting the Bible, and the rest of it. I watched it, and I didn’t turn away. Now I have thoughts that can lead to quite the opposite of Philippians 4:8. Our thoughts are influenced by what we see, what we hear, and so on. But what we say or do is influenced by what with think!
    You said “There needs to be a balance of light and dark,” – the Book of Eli was mostly dark. The ten minutes of “light” ending didn’t have as great an impact on me as the rest of the movie… but that’s just me… : /

    I think if the darkness in this world no longer has any emotive effect on people, then adding to the darkness would only cause a bigger problem. In Jesus’ day, there was death. There were demons, and there were gory scenes… The light is still light, no matter how dim the darkness is! 😀

    So, how dark should we go?? The answer is, “How dark did Jesus go”?? Jesus didn’t have to point out the “darkness” – by being ONLY light, the darkness reveals itself.

    1. You’re very welcome CJ, thanks for reading, it means a lot! I like your points as well, some great food for thought!

      “*thinking goes even beyond see with our eyes… there will always be dark and horrible things in this world, we cannot pass by without seeing. But to willfully watch it, seek it, hear it or think about it just doesn’t seem to be the right thing to me.” This is spot on. The purpose of this post, and any fiction we write (including horror), isn’t to give glory to the darkness and to revel in it. As I said, we’re not to revel in the darkness, but again to willfully ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist (like a lot of Christian entertainment tends to do) is just as harmful, if not even more so.

      On The Book of Eli, it is gory and dark, as you said, that’s definitely not something to deny. But I have to respectfully disagree with it having a lesser impact because of it. (if anyone hasn’t seen the movie yet, I might give away some spoilers here) I thought the darkness was absolutely perfect in conveying the broken world we live in. Yes it’s apocalyptic, but it’s not far from the world we live in today. To know the only hope is the Bible and what it commands us to do (to lay down our lives for one another, which is what Eli did for Solara in the end) was incredibly encouraging. The world Eli lived in wasn’t fluffed up (and it even infected him with him killing and all that, but as we see, we soon learn what it means to follow God’s Word, which is to sacrifice ourselves for Christ and others, as Eli did), it was brutal and horrible, but yet God used Eli to show mercy on it and save it. To still want to save a world like that is just an amazing display of God’s love. I’ll admit the violence remained in my mind as well, but it brought me to that thought on God’s love. For myself, as you probably already know, I like to look real deep into any story (and song) I put my time in. What I do is ask the question: Why? I don’t watch movies like Eli, the Passion of the Christ, and similar gory movies often (and they need Christian values for me to even contemplate seeing them) but they’ve made a bigger positive impact on my life than most inspirational Christian movies. But hey, that’s just me, and you’re more than free to disagree 🙂 To add, I think the Bible itself is a ton worse than that movie. The Flood, The slaughter of the first born, the destruction of Sodom, the Crucifixion, and the entire book of Revelation with it’s nightmarish creatures and rivers of blood, just for example. Again we ask why. The answer: to give weight to our redemption. The cost was not cheap.

      “I think if the darkness in this world no longer has any emotive effect on people, then adding to the darkness would only cause a bigger problem.” I apologize if I’m not seeing things correctly, but I can’t remember ever saying anything like that, haha 🙂 Maybe I could have made the post a little clearer. What I meant was that we’ve added too much violence in stuff already (I mean, the Transformers films for example are nothing but mindless violence) we need to place more weight on it, show it’s ugly face for what it is. Like I said in the post, by placing emphasis on life, we are adding darkness. That’s the only way I can see how that will happen. By just adding more violence and gore, as I think you’re seeing it as, really does nothing but numb us. I had the example of the cyclone in the post because a LOT of value and weight is placed on a child’s death. When a child dies or suffers, it’s the worst possible thing. And that doesn’t even have to include violence. Violence and darkness are not joined hand in hand, as the child could die from any non-violent cause and it will still be incredibly dark. And don’t most people find Christ in times of severe darkness and brokenness?

      “How dark did Jesus go?” Jesus was only light, you’re completely right, yet he came into a dark world. And it hurt. He was scourged and crucified for it. I think to not point to the darkness is to ignore Christ’s death and our salvation from Hell, the darkest of places. Actually, Hell and the demonic seems to be a taboo idea most Christians don’t want to think about (maybe because they fear it, I don’t know) but I certainly think Jesus pointed to it more than a few times.

      To end this incredibly long post, haha, I want to offer a new idea. Well, not a new idea, but hopefully a new perspective. Christians avoid horror because they don’t want to read things that are dark, right? But could we read and watch other genres for the wrong reason as well? We may watch/read romance to stir up sexual desire and maybe to fill that void when we should fill it with Christ. We may also read fantasy, history, and Sci-fi and every other genre to escape our lives today and our trouble when we should be facing them. Just some food for thought (for the both of us :D) So yeah, to finish it off, I think the best thing to do is watch and read stuff that points us to Christ. For some like you and hundreds of other Christians, watching/reading light and “clean” stuff reveals Christ, and that is absolutely brilliant, for others like myself seeing the dark points us to Christ and His love. And hey, His Love reigns both in the good, joyful times, and the bad, dark times.

      God bless you CJ, and thanks again for reading 😀

  4. Hi guys, I can’t believe I’m commenting haha, now I’m not going to drag this out or anything I think. But how you said how dark would Jesus go? Great idea to think about. But personally, please don’t think I’m taking sides with anyone because I’m not. God says to be in the world but not of the world. The world is a DARK, HORRIBLE place. Now putting darkness in a book is nothing compared to the world, well unless you just want to have no light at all. But guys what I’m trying to say, is I don’t think God has a mark on how dark is dark. I mean look outside, the only way we could have more light than dark is to live with the Amish. But as I said. we are to be in the world and not of the world. We will be put on trial, and the trial is going to be dark, I’m going on haha. So, darkness I think doesn’t have a mark, the world is dark, darker than any book or movie. I think as long as Light is the conqueror, than who could argue. The world is going to get worse and we can’t do anything, its going to get so bad that darkness is the only thing that exists, but Jesus will come and blur the darkness out forever. Luc, CJ, i hope I have helped and not made it harder, but I just think that dark has to be in the way for the light to shine even brighter. To show people how really important Jesus is to us. And that Satan is not going to prevail. God bless.

    1. Thanks for commenting Mitch! Love what you said, especially this, “dark has to be in the way for the light to shine even brighter. To show people how really important Jesus is to us. And that Satan is not going to prevail.” Love it mate. Like I said to CJ, a book doesn’t have to be violent and gory to be dark, it just needs to show the true effect our fallen condition has on our lives.

  5. I was merely putting forth my view, not an argument. ;D We all make our personal views, that’s why God created us different from each other!

    1. Thank you for doing so CJR! The world would be a boring place if everyone agreed with me. How could I learn new ideas otherwise?

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