A Case for Fiction: East of Eden

“In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself…I see with a myriad of eyes, but it is still I who see.”
― C.S. Lewis

Truth is a constant, powerful light. It shines down to us from our Father and illuminates all that it touches. From beyond the dark and hazy present, bright rays break through to remind us of our Heavenly City, and our unveiled encounter that awaits with Truth himself.

This is why I love to read great fiction. As the sun’s light reflects differently upon our mountains, so the great story of life is cast in shadow and light across our many tales. Though they can’t be counted upon to portray truth entirely, great stories remind us that God’s grand narrative is ever unfolding. They awaken and inspire our imaginations. In an age of skepticism, stories help us believe that invisible things are real.

Many of the minds that remind of these things are themselves blind to the person and work of Christ. Yet, humans made in the image of God are unable to escape the age-old rhythms that point to our creator. It is the universal insights into these rhythms that may stir our hearts and minds into worship. As a fictional child becomes aware of its breath, we then become aware of the God who gives life. While an imaginary father despairs that his son is following his fallen example, we may think of Jesus who was perfect in his Father’s business. Melody is added to rhythm, and with our God-given creativity, we may sing along in time.

One example of such insight comes from the mind of John Steinbeck. In his classic novel, “East of Eden”, Steinbeck tells the story of two families that, try as they might, could not outrun the fallen patterns of our ancient ancestors. Many asides are woven into the story to give shape and meaning, but the following seems one of the best.

“...Samuel could remember hearing of a cousin of his mother’s in Ireland, a knight and rich and handsome, and anyway shot himself on a silken couch, sitting beside the most beautiful woman in the world who loved him. ‘There’s a capacity for appetite,’ Samuel said, ‘that a whole heaven and earth of cake can’t satisfy.‘”

In a way this tells the story of a broken world; an eternally thirsty people lapping at the bottom of their empty cisterns. There is an insatiable desire at the core of humanity, and many spend their entire lives searching for satisfaction. We could let this brief story rest at that lowly point, or we could imagine joy everlasting. There are rivers and bread that satisfy always; there is a God who does not leave us wanting. It’s the greatest story ever told.