Writing with Honesty

I was disturbed recently to read a very conservative opinion of Harry Potter [Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick, by Richard Abanes], which condemned the series not only for the magic, but also because there is no logic of good and evil: good deeds do not always lead to good, and wrong decisions don’t always lead to evil.

The example given was that Harry’s sparing of Peter Pettigrew’s life eventually led to Voldemort’s rise. And I’m still finding it difficult to put my visceral reaction into words. Harry’s mercy towards Pettigrew was a beautiful moment in the series. Who cares if anything good happened from that good? That mercy almost becomes deeper and truer when you consider that it didn’t immediately change Pettigrew. What is mercy without risk? 

To be fair, Abanes, was writing before Deathly Hallows had been published, and didn’t know that that mercy was in fact returned. In a way, Rowling followed the moral equation of good to good and bad to bad. As satisfying as that moment was… would Harry’s mercy have been somehow invalidated, or a bad example, or untrue, if it had never been reciprocated? 

Abanes has a picture of fiction as a place to struggle with the world as it is, but far more as a place to paint a picture of the world as it will be, a world where everything works out perfectly and there is always a clear relationship between our actions and the results. It’s an untrue picture of the world now. I’m not convinced it’s a true picture of the world as it will be. Jesus rejects the idea that our actions will be suitably rewarded or punished in this life (Luke 13:1-5). Eventually rewarded or punished? Absolutely. Jesus calls for repentance in the Luke passage; He knows that our way of life has consequences. In this life, though, this consequences aren’t always there.

And I find I’ve written myself into a corner, because I totally hate books where everyone is left in misery and nothing good has happened or been resolved. I’d like resolution as much as the next person. I think what I’m trying to say, though, is that I don’t enjoy books where the resolution is perfect, like a math equation with everything summed up perfectly and everyone getting exactly what they deserve down to a decimal point. 

I believe in a God who works with the imperfections of the world, who doesn’t tie everything up with a neat bow and a suitable reward of a 9-5 job every time. The world isn’t that neat. God works with what’s there. Sometimes that’s abuse, or a good deed that goes far, far awry and is never put to rights, or the mercy to not be given what we deserve. Sometimes that’s sitting in darkness and trying to live with awful things you’ve done or been subjected to. Sometimes that’s good people dying for no good reason, or mistakes and sin that are never addressed. That’s life, and that’s where I’ve found God.

And that life is what I love to see reflected in the stories I read. That life is the kind of life I want to reflect in my own writing, whether that’s a nonfiction piece or a fiction piece. I want to reflect the complexity and darkness and struggles of real life, not some glorified, white-washed version of reality that may teach us what’s right but certainly doesn’t teach us much about life or God. I want to write honestly. I want to be honest about life and God both. I want to write things that feel real, because that’s what inspires me and connects with me as a reader.

That doesn’t mean that I’ll write stories that are full of despair and evil. But there may be a lot of them. I seriously doubt there will be much moral arithmetic. But those places of evil and despite and injustice are where God is. It’s where we are. How could I write honestly about life, about God, and ignore them?

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