I daresay we've all read Philippians 4:8-9. I know I've read it many times. I've heard it quoted. I've read bloggers and reviewers who make it their mantra . . . and occasionally I have been seriously irritated when people condemn something using this as their excuse. Because God's word is beautiful . . . but sometimes people . . . people use it as a bludgeon. Or worse, as an excuse to look only at the surface of a thing. To take the easy way out.
Last week, I was finishing up our read-alouds for the homeschool year, and Philippians was our final book. Chapter 4, obviously, our final chapter. A great way to end a school year.
Because the kids sometimes had difficulty following the New King James version of Paul's epistles, I'd been reading from The Message. Here's how it puts verses 8-9.
The two aren't terribly different, but a few words are. We have:
Of Good Report/Gracious
I think we can all agree with what Paul is saying here--that by focusing, dwelling, meditating on these righteous things, these good things, on what is holy, we keep ourselves better aligned with God. Absolutely.
Here, however, is the question--what is true? What is noble? What is just and reputable? What is pure and authentic? Lovely? Compelling? Of good report and gracious? What is full of virtue and praiseworthy?
It seems like it should be a simple question.
But it's not.
What if, for instance, you're reading a Christian book and you find something objectionable in it? To keep it only somewhat objectionable, let's say that it's mentioned that someone curses or makes a rude gesture or sins outright.
Should we toss that book aside, because it's not dwelling on good things?
I'm not actually talking about my books in particular, LOL. I'm talking about many discussions I've seen over the years. Including a statement made with what I deem infinite wisdom a few days ago: if you refuse to read anything that mentions sin . . . then you can't read the Bible.
How does God show us His light? His glory? His righteousness?
By comparing it to darkness. To deception. To sin.
How does God show us His ultimate love in the form of Jesus?
By sending him into a dying world, to be treated as a criminal and murdered.
How does God teach us how to seek after His heart?
By telling us the stories of those who did, and those who didn't, and those who mostly did but failed here and there. Or mostly didn't but then saw the Truth.
A few weeks ago, I had a Skype call with a college class that was teaching Christian fiction writing, and one of the questions they asked was, "What place do dark themes have in Christian fiction?"
I answered them with the answer I've come to after many years of thinking about. Praying about it. And trying it out.
I don't approve of darkness in Christian fiction for the sake of darkness. I don't like it for shock value or to prove a point. I don't like being left with darkness at the end of the book.
But God's light shines brightest when there is darkness surrounding it that is trying--and FAILING--to snuff it out. God's mercy is the most striking to those who have suffered. God's leading is the most meaningful when you were lost. God's healing is the most miraculous for those are sick and dying. God's grace is the most beautiful in the face of the ugliest sin.
What is true? What is noble? That there is ugliness and nastiness and sin in this world, but that God is bigger. What is just? That we are deserving of death for our sins. What is pure? That He washes those sins away. What is lovely? A sunrise after the darkest night. What is gracious? A Father who gathers His children close and wipes away their tears and whispers that He loves them, no matter what has come before. That they can rise up and sin no more.
There will be dark themes in my books--some more than others. There will be ugliness, and there will be heartbreak, and there will be sin. Because then there will be grace, and there will be redemption, and there will be change. Because that is what speaks Jesus to a hurting, sinful world. Not the picture of a perfect life that they can't relate to because it doesn't exist--the picture of a broken world made whole through Him.
I mediate on that a lot. Not on things that look pretty on the surface--on things made beautiful by Him.
And the peace of God is with me.