Showing God In Fiction Via The Protagonist


Earlier this month Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees hit a home run for his 3000 hit of his career, the first player wearing pinstripes to do so. This was big news, but someone else has crowded Jeter out of the limelight, at least a little. In the stands Christian Lopez, a recent college grad with a sizable school debt, caught the ball … and gave it back.

Those in the know say that record-setting ball could have brought between $200,000 and $1,000,000 from sports memorabilia collectors. But Lopez gave it back to Jeter, saying that he knew how important it was to the player. After all, he’d worked his whole life to get to that point. The ball was a symbol of what he had achieved and rightly belonged to him.

Some fans say Lopez played the fool. Others claim the Yankees conned him out of the ball. No one seems inclined to believe that the young man acted on a set of principles that outweighed any monetary gain or fast-talking arm twisting.

I have no idea what motivated Christian Lopez, but the key point here is, people are talking and writing about him because he did something unexpected. Unexpectedly generous. One writer asked, “What does it say about the Yankees, Mr. Jeter and our society that multi-millionaires and billionaires knowingly (and happily) accept the charity of a young man in debt?”

My question is, what does it say about the young man, acting out of step with the rest of the actors in that situation? He alone, who could least afford it, acted sacrificially.

As a result, people notice. And talk. And write. And ask, what would I have done in that situation? Is there a right or a wrong in the decision to keep the ball or give it back?

But what does any of this have to do with God and fiction?

If a simple act of kindness that cost a needy young man a sizable amount of cash can generate this kind of discussion, why can’t a character in a novel do something like this?

A Christian character, who’s faith has been established, steps up and does something out of step with what society expects. And all hell breaks lose. Literally. Temptations come his way. Criticism.

Think Joseph rejecting Potiphar’s wife. Clearly he was acting in a way that was contrary to what Mrs. Potiphar expected. And probably to what most of Egyptian society would have expected, because he made a decision, not based on his hormones but based on his relationship with the Living God.

Do we not write those stories in our novels today because we think they are too unbelievable? Would such a character seem too good for most of us to relate to?

But that’s the point, isn’t it? If we want to show God, somehow we have to show good. Not in a cliched way, not necessarily with everything turning out great in the end.

Perhaps in our stories the protagonist who sacrifices needs to end up in jail. But he’s singing. Or praying. Or telling somebody else how glad he is that God gave him the strength to resist.

Maybe that’s too over the top and no one can relate to a guy willing to go that far for his love for Christ. For this same reason, I don’t think the Apostle Paul is the Bible figure most people identify with. It’s Peter because he was just as apt to do the wrong thing as to do the right.

So maybe we take a Peter and show him giving his last dime to get his high school buddy set up in an apartment — the buddy who just got out of jail for molesting his cousin when he was still a minor. Or some other self-sacrificial thing that’s out of step with society.

Wouldn’t that get people thinking and talking? What kind of a God is this jerk following? What kind of a God is this compassionate young man following?

What do you think? Might not protagonists doing the unusual be a powerful way to show God in fiction?

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For earlier posts on the subject see “Realism In Fiction,” “When God Shows Up In Fiction,” and “God In Contemporary Fiction, Another Take.”

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Published in: on July 14, 2011 at 5:36 pm  Comments (1)  
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