Back when I was contemplating writing Reapers, I asked some of my readers if they would read a story with ghosts in it, that is, disembodied spirits of the dead. Some of the responses I received illustrated the fact that people disagree on the boundaries of speculative fiction for Christian authors and readers. In speculative fiction, we ask “What if?” questions related to our experiences and how the world might be if significant factors were different than they really are.
The important issue to learn regarding speculative fiction is that authors are not saying that their stories are true. In fact, we firmly state that they are not true. We are saying “if these factors were true, what might happen?” For example, I believe souls go to an afterlife and that they likely do not wander around on earth, but what if something occurred that blocked their passage to heaven or hell? What would it be like on earth?
Readers need to understand that the author is not making doctrinal statements or stating that such a scenario might happen. It probably doesn’t happen. It likely won’t ever happen. Yet the story can be an intriguing examination into the human psyche if something like this were to happen. We can learn from it, because it would follow the basic principles of biblical conduct and eternal values.
Some biblical principles are inherent in God’s character, and some are not, and I would never depart from the inherent principles. For example, I would never write a story that shows God to be unloving, that depicts selfishness as good, or that rewards immoral behavior. A story in a Christian world view should uplift principles that will draw the reader to embrace virtues.
Yet there are truths in our world that, if altered in another setting, would not violate universal principles. For example, we know that God promised never to flood the world again. But what if an author were to write a story in which God never made such a promise? He could show the world getting flooded multiple times without violating God’s character, because in that scenario, God would not lie. The author would alter the setting but not God’s principles.
In the same way, what if an evil being were able to create a blocking mechanism that keeps souls bound on earth? There is nothing in the Bible that says God’s goodness and principles are tied to the fact that in reality all souls immediately leave the world for an afterlife. So such a scenario would not violate eternal principles or promote immoral behavior. It would merely alter a setting.
Some readers appeal to biblical truths that everyone goes to an afterlife, either heaven or hell, so we shouldn’t have stories with ghosts. The premise of the complaint is true. Everyone does go to an afterlife, but my point is that we can write a story that asks, what if that reality weren’t true? What if spirits wandered on earth for a while? Such a scenario doesn’t violate eternal principles or promote immoral behavior. It simply asks “what if?”
I could explain that the Bible shows a few ghostly appearances, such as Samuel, Moses, and Elijah, but with regard to whether a ghost story is allowed for Christians, this explanation should be irrelevant. Even if no ghostly being ever appeared within the pages of the Bible, it doesn’t violate godly principles to pose a question that alters a setting as long as eternal and universal truths are honored.
This is speculative fiction. Even if I write about ghosts, that doesn’t mean I believe they exist. I also write about anthrozils. I don’t believe they exist either. I am not pretending that these settings are real.
Yet, I am sure that some will cry foul and say that such a story is not allowed. I think they would be wrong, but I’m accustomed to handling disagreement. If people are offended at reading a speculative “what if” story because it doesn’t exactly conform to a set of realities that are true in our world, even if altering those realities doesn’t violate God’s value system, then they might want to stay away from speculative fiction completely. This genre is the realm of the “what if,” and Christian speculative fiction authors are free to ask that question as long as they stay true to eternal principles and promote a virtuous life.
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