While it’s easy to bring up discussion about the edgier content that usually isn’t ‘allowed’ in Christian fiction, there’s one in particular that I noticed people don’t talk about much: Redemption. Maybe it’s because as Christians, we assume that Christian fiction should have redemptive themes and redeemed characters by default.
But this isn’t really true, is it? The expectation is true, but is the reality true? Can we call it Christian fiction if the unsaved characters don’t find and accept Jesus by the turn of the last page?
I received a two star review a few years back for the first edition of the second book in my Black Earth series, Black Earth: The Broken Daisy. One major thing that really stuck out to me in the review was the reader's disappointment with the direction one of my main characters was going in the series.
In the same reviewer's honest analysis of the first book in the series - Black Earth: End of the Innocence - she made complaint that my character, Cynthia Ruin - or Sin to her friends - hadn't found complete redemption by the end of the book:
"Also disappointing was the story line for Sin. I would have liked to have seen her evolve more, and truly regret her actions. It felt like she started to regret them a little, but never truly asked God to forgive her."
In the review for the second book in the series, this reviewer continued to voice her frustrations with Cynthia's character development:
"I had hoped to see Cynthia really regret her bad behavior and find redemption, she was leaning towards that at the end of book one, however she ends up seducing Nathan and not regretting anything."
My intention isn't to argue with the review itself. These were the reviewer's honest opinions and she's entitled to them. I appreciate her taking the time to do the review. But I think it reflects an attitude prevalent in a lot of readers who read Christian fiction.
I guess it would be fair to give a bit of background on my character in question: Cynthia Ruin. The first book in the series opens up on the night of her high school graduation. Instead of participating, she instead opts to spend time in a local night club. Throughout most of her high school life, Cynthia is inconspicuously known as the Pink Rabbit, a high school slut who sleeps with and does favors for the guys of her school. With each favor she performs, she stamps a pink rabbit on the body of the male, giving him a particular elite status regarded around the school. It's even rumored she has done favors for females.
In other words, this isn't a character your mother would want you to bring home. But that's Cynthia Ruin.
Cynthia is raped the night of her graduation by an angry individual who was once turned down by the Pink Rabbit. Throughout the story, Cynthia begins to regret her actions. The rape that occurred at the night club strikes fear and vulnerability in her and causes her to question why she does what she does. But she isn't exactly ready to embrace a loving God. Not just yet.
Cynthia eventually crosses the path of the main protagonist of the story, Nathan Pierce, who is a born-again Christian but struggles with his own ideals of religion and faith. By the end of the first book, Cynthia redeems some of her actions by saving someone's life, but this still doesn't bring her to a point where she's going to drop to her knees and worship God.
In the second volume of the Black Earth series, the world falls into darkness and because of this, Cynthia reverts to her old ways of dealing with life - drinking and sexual promiscuity. It isn't until the end of the second book that Cynthia starts to really have a desire to clean up her act. But even at that point she still doesn't come right out and seek forgiveness for her deeds.
So this brings me back to my curiosity: In Christian fiction, has it become expected of the characters to find redemption and turn to God in repentance? Maybe not all the characters? Any? Isn't the point of Christian fiction to be inspirational, to showcase themes of redemption? Maybe the point is to reveal the character of God to a fallen world? Maybe it's to entertain?
I guess it all really depends on what message you're trying to convey in your writing.
Isn't it a bit presumptuous to assume that characters in Christian fiction - or even those we know in real life - are always going to see things the way we see them, or even how God sees them? This is a fallen world - as is the world in many fiction novels. Darkness overshadows the land, filling it with murder and hate, destruction and chaos. Vices run rampant - sex, drugs and alcohol, among dark and deadly things. But in the world we live in, and in our fictional worlds, there is also light and redemption and salvation. Even though these things exist, not everyone wants to take hold of them. Especially in a world falling into darkness, many simply want to party until the planet implodes. Such as in life, evil does win sometimes, and good isn't always accepted by those we love.
So, I'm wondering if some people just automatically expect happy turnouts for the characters in the stories they read. At least in Christian fiction. Then again, I wonder if when Christians refer to fictional redemption they are actually referring to two different things –
1.) Redemption as an overall theme in a book, showcasing Christ's redemptive power in a dark world.
2.) The redemption of individual characters.
Is it possible to showcase the redemptive power of Jesus without having our characters turn to God or Christ? What if our stories end on a low note? What if they lead off into darkness as the last flickers of light vanish from this world?
What if the point of our story is to showcase how dark this world is? What would be the point of such a novel if we didn’t also reveal the light, the solution to the darkness? Would we be taking readers on a journey into madness without offering them a way back?
I’ve always sort of sat on the fence in regards to these questions. I think a novel as a whole needs to have some undercurrent of redemption bleeding through its pages, otherwise how can you even call it Christian fiction? However, I don’t believe each and every character we write about – even the ‘good’ characters – need to find Christ by the end of the novel. To be honest, that’s not realistic.
We all have friends or family we have encountered who have not accepted Christ. Some ridicule us for our faith, others eventually come around and realize who Christ is, what He did, and this revelation causes them to repent and find redemption in the arms of the Almighty.
But not all are so willing. Many hearts are clouded by darkness, bathed in sin since birth, and that darkness does more than just create a haze, it also corrupts the mind and heart and causes people to look to God as their enemy. The grim truth is, they may never turn from sin. They may never greet their savior here on Earth. They may never find redemption.
Reading stories of characters who never find their redemption and continue to travel down their wayward roads actually makes me appreciate my redemption even more. It nudges me closer to Christ, it shows me the answer to the ‘What if I hadn’t accepted Christ?’ It forms an alternate reality, if you will, that showcases where sin would have lead me had I let it.
I think in this aspect, Christian fiction that contains characters who do not find redemption, who do not come to repentance, can make for intriguing stories but moreso sobering lessons in life and faith.
What are your thoughts? Is redemption a required staple of Christian fiction, and if so, in what regard?