There was a great post over at Desiring God recently reflecting on why J.R.R. Tolkien, the famous author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, didn’t “waste his life” by writing fanciful stories (some might say “escapist fiction,” a waste of time for heavenly-minded Christians). I highly commend the article to you.
But the writing of fiction is not what I’m concerned with here. I’m rather interested in the reading.
Is Reading Fiction a Waste of (Precious) Time?
After all, there is much gospel work to be done in the world and so little time to do it. Why waste your time reading fiction? We might say, “At least read some theology” or “At least read periodicals so you can better relate to the current world around you.”
I won’t labor on with hypothetical rambling. My simple answer is, “Yes, read fiction.”
When reading fiction you enter into the world from somebody else’s perspective entirely. You are treated to the authors world: perhaps mid-20th century British academic culture in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy or the fields of the battle of Gettysburg in Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels. You are also treated to the perspective of the characters these authors create: you walk in their shoes, experience all they experience, and you experience it inside and out (yes, I’m stoked for Pixar’s next film).
Brief side note: watching movies can have a similar effect with less strain on your time, but entering into the mind of a character in a movie is more difficult (and rarely pulled off well), hence the general disdain for book-movie adaptions.
“But You Haven’t Experienced Enough of Life!”
One of the unavoidable difficulties of beginning anything is that you don’t have much experience yet. Duh.
Often times as a pastor it is difficult to relate to people of different generations, the opposite sex, different ethnic groups, or simply people who “haven’t gone through what I’ve gone through.” My wife and I know the pain of this all too well when well-meaning people have said silly things to us when we lost our first child (in the womb). They had not experienced what we had.
Sure, you might not have been in a war and do not know the real pain a devastation it wreaks in the life of the veteran you’ve been given to shepherd. Read fictional, historical, or biographical accounts from veterans (or good authors/historians) and you can begin to come alongside and bear the weight of the veteran.
Have you ever lost a child, been depressed, been a house wife, been black in the segregated south, been black in 2014 America, or faced a life or death situation? If you answer no to any of those questions then there is a book with your name on it, waiting for you to enter into the mind of the other to better know their grief, joy, worldview, or trauma. (I’ve written elsewhere about the real benefits of narrative)
Fiction helps you step outside yourself so that you might better know yourself, the people you rub shoulders with every day, and the God who knows the depths of our hearts and still loves us.
Reading fiction isn’t a waste of time. Our Lord left his throne and entered into our world to bear all of our heavy burdens. With fiction, we can begin to do the same.