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Paul's Advice for Writers

Brad Fruhauff

Editor-in-Chief Brad Fruhauff was surprised to find advice on writing in the Epistle to the Romans.

As Relief starts considering an expansion to graphic narrative, I've been trolling the web to see what Christians are up to out there in the world of comics. Let's just say that it's not pretty.

Not unlike a lot of the standard fare in Christian fiction, graphic narrative under the banner of God Incarnate tends toward the didactic, polemic, reductive, simplistic, sappy, disingenuous, and even outright violent. My guess is there are Christian comic artists out there in desperate need of a journal like Relief. We just need to find one another.

What's distressing is that there's a lot of talent out there - people who can draw really well. The stories, however, are predictable, inane, or repugnantly self-righteous. An example comes to mind of a strip, admirably drawn in the super-hero style of DC Comics or Marvel, in which a hip-looking fellow in the company of an angel tries to convert a man in a suit he meets on the street. The suit, perhaps not surprisingly for someone approached in this guerrilla manner, rejects the curbside altar call and is spectacularly dragged to hell. One is reminded of William Blake's claim that Milton was on the side of the devils, since it's clear this comic is enamored with the representation of the demons and the man's terror.

The audience for this kind of narrative is not Christ's lost sheep but the elder sons who pass by the prodigals while they're still working in the pig sties. It is the smug and self-satisfied Christian who will be offended with God when they learn the deathbed conversions will receive the same reward as they who stayed within the fold from early in the day. (Yes I will mix my metaphors and parables.)

This seems to be the kind of thinking Paul is trying to correct in Romans. In the first three chapters he gets quite exercised about the fact that God's judgment covers all. This is where he says "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Thus none should become too proud nor too quick to judge others:

You are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

The last bit there should give us all pause. To judge another who is under the same curse of sin as us  is to despise the riches of God, to forget that it was His goodness, not our own wisdom, that led us to Him.

Christian writers might keep this in mind when dealing with both believing and non-believing characters or when treating the things of this world. When Jesus said he brought a sword, he described the effect his salvific work would have on an egotistic human nature. He wasn't giving us swords - in fact, he told Peter to put his sword down.

Paul reminds us that the consciousness of sin begins with oneself. In Brothers Karamazov, Father Zosima identifies this sense of personal guilt as the beginning of universal love. How foreign such an idea seems to American Christianity! May we pray that we are not found inexcusable. May we rather love what Christ loves - the Creation, human beings - and do our part in remaking and re-presenting the world to ourselves to closer approximate that love.