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Romanticizing Christ?

Apr 11, 2011

Romance for the "13-year-old soul"

I read an interesting, though late, review of Twilight by science fiction author (and former fiction columnist at Writer’s Digest) Nancy Kress. In it she criticized the story for its romanticism:

I was put off by that very excess of romanticism; real love does not occur instantaneously; other people and pursuits do matter; no love is unconditional, and shouldn’t be. Edward now seems to me not romantic but creepy: breaking into Bella’s house to watch her sleep, obsessing over her every move, all but stalking her. She seems to me immature in her disdain for everyone but Edward: the “friends” she makes at school, the father who gives her a home and tries to please her, the entire Olympic Peninsula. The vampirism, in fact, seemed to me more believable than the relationship

Her remarks encapsulated what I’ve heard from others, but they also made me wonder: In a similar way, do we Christian writers romanticize Christ?

It’s hard to do, He being perfect and all. How do you make perfect look better than it is?

Perhaps His very perfection makes it daunting for authors to put Him in their stories at all, even in their fantasies. After all, characters need to be three dimensional, the writing experts tell us. We need to show strengths and weaknesses if a character is to be realistic. Putting a perfect Christ-figure into a story, then, would break all the writing rules (even the ones that don’t actually exist 😉 ).

Maybe this is why Aslan and Narnia are so popular. Lewis showed Christ, depicting Him as strong yet loving, still without fault and clearly believable — hence, no hint of romanticism.

I suspect, however, that the problem for most Christian fiction isn’t in romanticizing Christ — because, quite frankly, He isn’t in most Christian fiction, not even in a lot of speculative fiction. Rather we might be romanticizing our relationship with Him.

Christ, like His unseen Father, might be talked about and even talked to. Occasionally characters might hear His voice, though not audibly. And yet this relationship seems perfect. It changes people inside out and heals hurts, provides answers, lifts burdens.

Are there no rocky times? Do characters ever say no to the voice of God? Do they, like Jonah, ever head in the opposite direction, knowing that they are the cause of the disaster that befalls them? Do we only show David defeating Goliah, never him deserting to the Philistines?

And after characters say yes to God, do they ever split from their ministry partner like Paul did from Barnabas? Do they ever act the hypocrite as Peter did with the Gentile Christians when the Jewish ones showed up?

Yes, those last things might happen in our stories, but do we show them as part of imperfect human relationships or part of an imperfect relationship with Jesus?

And in the end, do we resolve the struggle in a way that suggests it is forever resolved?

Fairytale love stories ended, And they lived happily ever after. Is the same ending the implied promise of Christian fiction?

And how, since we know that there actually is an ultimate happily-ever-after ending which comes from our relationship with Christ, do we depict the not so happy here and now that a character must face even after meeting Him? If we leave that part out of the story, are we not creating a romanticized version of our relationship with Christ, one that ends up actually looking immature if not a little creepy to someone on the outside?

Rebecca LuElla Miller

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky has been working as a freelance writer and editor since 2004. She has covered high school sports for a Los Angeles area newspaper group, published articles and short stories in several print and online magazines, and placed in the top twenty-five in the 2006 Writer’s Digest Short, Short Story contest. She currently blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. Her editing credits include non-fiction and fiction alike, most notably four titles in the Dragons in Our Midst and Oracle of Fire series by Bryan Davis. You can learn more about her editing services and read her weekly writing tips at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.

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48 comments on "Romanticizing Christ?"

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Morgan Busse

Great post and great questions. I lean more towards letting my characters be angry at God, lose their faith because of everything going on around them, confronted with the need to forgive and choose not to (and the consequences of that).

Real Christianity is not easy. Life hurts. Its where you end up at the end of those questions that makes you stronger or causes you to walk away.

Michelle R. Wood
A thought (or two!) First, I find it interesting that in the reviewer’s quotation, she remarks casually no love is unconditional, and shouldn’t be; yet isn’t Christ’s love unconditional, in that While we were still sinners, Christ died for us? Yes, mortal (or in Edward’s case, imperfect immortal) characters do not have the ability to love as God does (at least not in their own strength). But if we’re making comparisons, I think the unconditional part of His love is an important distinction, because God’s love is perfect, beyond our understanding. I think the best speculative representation of that supreme,… Read more »
Sally Apokedak
Wonderful post. Edward WAS creepy. 🙂 I love the “happily ever after” endings, and I’m not sure they aren’t good for us. We will live happily ever after and as we walk here and now, most of realize we aren’t in the “happily every after” stage. We have not reached the climax and gone on to the denouement and then closed the cover on our earthly existence and entered “ever after.” But I agree that during the story there has to be rocky times in the characters’ lives. There has to be real struggle. Otherwise the book is boring. Whether… Read more »
Kaci Hill
On Twilight, just to get it out of my system. To be clear, I have never, nor do I intend to, read book four. I was put off by that very excess of romanticism; I contend it wasn’t a romance. Sure, she idealized him, but there was nothing romantic about their relationship. Edward now seems to me not romantic but creepy: breaking into Bella’s house to watch her sleep, obsessing over her every move, all but stalking her. Edward had potential that’s never reached. I still contend he’s no Christ figure. Meyers had something interesting going when she started the… Read more »
Amy Rose Davis
I’m going to save myself a lot of time and just say “ditto” to what Kaci said. That said… I did write in a whole vision quest thing into my current novel where one character ends up having quite an extensive sit down with a guy who turns out to be the Christ-figure (and for whatever reason sounds a lot like Liam Neeson in my head). Not sure I’m going to leave it in, though–primarily for the reason Kaci alluded to: I’m not sure I got it right. Plus, I don’t want people thinking I did my own version of… Read more »
E. Stephen Burnett
Michelle, I almost addressed the unconditional love line in my post, but I thought it would sidetrack me from my central point. May have more thoughts on this great discussion later, but it occurs to me that it could be confusing to folks, Christian and non-, to say that God/Christ has unconditional love. In one sense that’s true, yet in another sense the condition of God’s love is also very true: we must obey His Law and be perfect! Yet Christ Himself kept that Law and fulfilled it — and thus for those who believe, God’s law is now unconditional.… Read more »
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