Some time back, someone asked me whether particular kinds of stories were inherently Christian stories, and I didn’t have an answer at that moment. I have since suggested, notably in considering Faust, Sorcerer, and Deals with the devil, that some stories might indeed be at least strongly if not inherently Christian. However, the questioner was not considering the Faustian story when he raised the question; he was thinking of the Prodigal story, the story of redemption, as that which is an inherently Christian story.
It’s a compelling notion. After all, one of the names often given to the central message of our faith is The Redemption Story, and thus we have good reason to ask whether all redemption stories necessarily tell of the truth in the gospel to some degree. Playing a character who fell and was then redeemed seems like it would fit perfectly into this mold, a parable of Christianity in a fictional setting.
Of course, the gospel is in a sense not that sort of redemption story; it is not about someone who fell and came back. When we say it is The Redemption Story, we mean that it is the story of how the price for our redemption was paid. What we think of as redemption stories, the restoration of individuals, is perhaps more incidental than central to this. Certainly it is why Christ died, and the consequence of that death and resurrection is that we may be redeemed, but The Redemption Story tells the universal side of that. It tells how the price of redemption was paid, not how that which was purchased worked out in our individual lives. The latter, the stories of personal salvation, is not at the center. The Redemptive Act itself is at the center, and the myriad of redemptive tales peripheral to it.
Yet that does not mean they are unimportant. There is a sense in which every person saved by Christ’s sacrifice is, individually, the central reason for that redemptive act. The parable of the prodigal son may be the only story Jesus told which fully reflects this aspect of redemption, yet it is one to which everyone immediately relates, seeing within it ourselves coming to ourselves, returning to our Father. Redemption of the individual, however it plays, is a critical part of the story of the redemptive act. The individual redemption gives the act purpose, even as the act validates the individual redemption. To tell the story of how one person was redeemed by the work of Christ is to reveal the importance of that work, in a real, effective, and personal way.
So perhaps redemption stories, prodigal son tales, falls and restorations, are inherently Christian, not merely an essential part of the Christian message but an indivisible parable of it.
Yet I am not persuaded. Whether it is because redemption is more universal than that, or because we live in a post-Christian world in which such stories have lost the impact they ought to have, it appears to me that not only do non-Christians hear such stories without thinking either of Christ or of their own need for redemption, they tell these stories completely without recognizing the spiritual ramifications they hold.
There is a grand epic known to most of the world today, which has been described by the author as “the fall and redemption” of one of the central characters. Few people would have called it a Christian story, least of all, I expect, its author. Some Christians are very uncomfortable with it, saying that it is set in a world built on pagan and new age religious beliefs, and that it teaches a number of very unchristian ideas in its central core. It may even have birthed false a religion, as there was a movement to have its mythology added to the census options of one western nation (although I suspect the majority of those claiming it as theirs are agnostics and atheists who think it a great joke). The character whose story of fall and redemption is told in this great epic is Anakin Skywalker, known even better as Darth Vader, and the story is, of course, Star Wars.
Perhaps we can debate whether this is the central story of that massive tale. After all, as it grows to six films and rumors circulate that plans are made for three more, there seem to be many stories interwoven. In the five films we have seen there is certainly the fall and rise of Anakin Skywalker; but there is equally the rise and fall of the Emperor. The growth of wisdom of Obi-Wan Kenobi is told. We see the destruction of Padme Amidala and her subsequent vindication by her children Luke and Leia. Running through all there is the heroic exploits of a small machine, R2-D2, who saves everyone at least once in every movie and risks his life to do so time and again. Besides, if it is so that this is the story of the fall and redemption of a character who dies in the sixth film, how will the denouement play out in the remaining three? So we could argue that this doesn’t count because it’s not really a redemption story.
Yet even if it is not a redemption story, it still contains one, and a very serious one. We don’t see it happening, perhaps. We see the deterioration of the eager child Anakin into the feared murderer Vader, and then we see him locked into his position of power and slavery. Yet at the critical moment, his son displays a pride in the man for what he was before he fell, and that respect from his son awakens something within him that causes him to throw off the yoke that has dominated his life and destroy the evil master in an act of love for that son. He was redeemed; it was a key element of the story.
Perhaps Star Wars is a truly Christian story, despite the fact that it was not so intended by its author and is not perceived so by the vast majority of its fans. That leaves us to debate whether the story merely being Christian will have any impact at all, apart from someone to point to the meaning within it. I have not heard of anyone viewing Anakin Skywalker’s redemption and so turning to Christ to find his own; however, I personally have not heard of anyone doing so from reading The Chronicles of Narnia, and I know those books have had tremendous impact on more than just children. Perhaps telling Christian stories is not enough; perhaps they are only aids to understanding the truth, for people who at least are seeking such understanding already.
A redemption story can certainly throw light on the truth, and open doors for discussion. To play the prodigal son has at least as much power as to play Faust, and a better foundation for that. Not everyone will get it, but if you tell the story it may rest in the minds of the hearers until God can use it to touch their hearts.
This article was originally published in November 2003 on the Christian Gamers Guild’s website. The entire series remains available at its original URL.