A vital element of all storytelling – from any genre or time period – is the suspension of disbelief. The ability to believe that the characters and events in the story are really happening, or at least possible, is essential in order to enter in to the story, appreciate it, and enjoy it.
I’ve deliberately published this blog post today, on the day of the release of Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens – the first new Star Wars movie in ten years. I’m a huge Star Wars fan; I love the characters, I love the stories, I love the hardware, I luurrrve the music, and I love the fantasy and escapism of being spirited away to a galaxy far, far away for just a couple of hours. And I love the parables and parallels for everyday life that, despite it being a fantasy, still come across so clearly in all good stories, like in the Star Wars saga*.
Apparently, they’re going to be producing a new Star Wars film every year, so forget the annual Christmas countdown; from now on it’s going to be the annual Star Wars countdown for me and other Star Wars fans – now that’s some Bah, humbug!
And as for Lord of the Rings – well, I could easily live in Middle-Earth….. 😉
(Problem is, of course, there would be no Internet…. 😉 )
One of the lessons I have learned from being a Star Wars fan is that the ability to suspend my disbelief is actually a powerful aid to faith. Naturally, I believe that the ability to suspend disbelief is a God-given ability, enabling us to believe what can easily be dismissed as unbelievable. The idea of a supernatural, all-powerful, all-loving Being; the idea that He can make the sick well and raise the dead. The idea that He appeared as a human and came to live with us in the flesh. All mighty concepts, and all almost unbelievable.
Except that, of course, we have the ability to suspend disbelief.
Naturally, you’ll know that I’m not saying that I believe that having faith is ‘false’, as in, it’s all made up. However, I do believe that God gives us the ability to suspend disbelief so that it’s easier to believe in Him, because it makes it easier for us to believe the unbelievable. To put this another way, I mean that the ability to suspend disbelief, in order to enjoy a story (a fantasy story or indeed any other story), enables us to far more easily believe things that would be hard to grasp by the the rational mind alone. And so the reality of what appears at first sight to be yet another giant fantasy – the Gospel – is more easily grasped.
And this especially applies for people like myself who have a natural tendency – both in my thinking and training – to believe only in evidence-based things that can be proven empirically. For the straight-laced, dyed-in-the-wool scientist, there’s nothing quite like a bit of pure fantasy to enable the supernatural-belief systems to kick in as required! 🙂
And it also allows us to believe God for so much more than we see, so much more than we read, so much more than we think is possible. Our expectations of God are then limited only by our imaginations; however, God Himself is not even limited by that! “…Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” – (Ephesians 3:20)!
In some ways, it’s like when Jesus said that we needed faith ‘as small as a mustard seed’….if you like, that small mustard seed of faith can be supplied by our imagination, and God does the rest. We imagine as far as we can, and God takes over from there and makes it all real. Now that’s pretty deep, and you will need to pray that through with Jesus in order to get full understanding of it.
But the essence of all this is that our imagination, our ability to suspend disbelief, even our love for a really good story – which is all from the same roots – is a God-given gift which is there to help us in our faith.
Let’s use it!
As a postscript, you may also be interested in this article by Harvey, owner of the blog ‘Evangelical Liberal’, where he discusses why imagination is so great and why some Evangelicals feel threatened by it. Click the logo below to go to the article.
*Of course, there are many Evangelicals who would claim that the mythology of Star Wars – the Force, the Jedi Order and all that stuff – is just a thinly-cloaked pile of witchcraft, sorcery or other ‘evil and dangerous’ – well, they’d probably use the loaded word ‘dabbling’ in there somewhere. To those people, I would say that you need to get out more and enjoy life – it was made for living! The Force is just a metaphor for God, and is a parable of the supernatural gifts that are ours for the taking; maybe not in an exact Biblical sense, but there is still so much to learn about God, you don’t have all the answers, and neither do I. Relax a bit and let the people have their fun! And you might have some fun too….
12 thoughts on “Faith and the Suspension of Disbelief”
I am a big Star Wars fan, and I am very excited about the new release (reviews seem strong). I am fully prepared to be immersed in this fantasy. But it is just as story.
I think you are right that we, as believers, sometimes have to suspend our disbelief. I firmly believe in a God who loves us and his son who brings us the good news. I believe in our resurrection and eternal life. But sometimes it suddenly seems so unlikely. But that does not mean it is not true after all. Sometimes I feel the same way about gravity holding us on the surface of the earth–it seems so unlikely even though I know it is true.
Good observations Tim – thanks for them. I too believe the Gospel is unbelievable – but in a good way.
Oh and I am a diehard Star Wars fan, and I loved the new movie today. In case you (or other readers) haven’t seen it yet, I will give no spoilers whatsoever. But it’s great.
I’ll second the opinion that the new Star Wars is good. Occasionally derivative of the first movie, but better written in any event. I won’t spoil things either, but the casting of relative unknowns was also done well, as in the originals.
Just seen it for the third time, this time in 3D. For me, it has been better each time 🙂
As one who spent far too much time in my teens in a group that was threatened by all imagination – and indeed thought Star Wars and LOTR was witchcraft, I agree. I think at the heart of the fear is that once one starts thinking with imagination and reading outside of a narrow box, one might not be willing to adhere to all of the dogma, and thus lose control.
I too was in such a group, but I wouldn’t have let them touch my Star Wars likings….and I think they knew there wasn’t just a line in the sand but a bloody big wall 😉 I think your observation about the dogma and the narrow box is exactly right…it’s as if they don’t trust Father to keep us safe but instead we have to keep ourselves safe. Sure there’s bound to be lots of ‘reasons’ (excuses) like the old ‘good stewardship’ chestnut, but in essence the control issue is sadly the dominant one. They can always find the words and justification for the acts empowered by the underlying need for control.
I am also somewhat cynical. I’m afraid I think that had I not been such a good worship leader and musician, I would have been in far more danger of being persecuted by my ‘brethren’. But I don’t think they could afford to lose me. In those days, people went where there was good worship, and that was what we had.
I’m somewhat the same way, I suspect. I have lived in a “charmed” state because I am needed for my musical skills. (Everyone loves a well played violin, which means I have gotten the benefit of the doubt from the older folks when I break out the electric guitar…) I do wonder if I would be unwelcome because of my questioning if I wasn’t a key part of good worship wherever I am. So yes, a bit cynical too.
On the other hand, I think that my immersion in worship and music has been an anchor to my faith. I occasionally wonder if I would have left the faith if I hadn’t had my memories and current experience of God’s presence in music and worship to draw me back.
It’s been good to find others online, though, who seem to share the same frustrations with the legalistic and all too often hateful tendencies that plague our beloved religion, but have been able to find a God of Love through it all.
Hehe sometimes I’m surprised when I hear of old folks who get a bit disturbed when the electric guitar comes out. You’d have thought they’d have heard of them by now…. 😉
I too found my refuge in worship, during my fifteen-year hiatus from church. In a very real way, it was mainly all that kept me connected to God. But then the love of His presence has always been my mainstay in life; once one has tasted the new wine of the Kingdom, nothing else will ever come close. So it was in that time of hiatus that my other website, Vintage Worship Tapes, was born, as I tried to preserve the worship from my formative years as a Christian.
I too like that others have been so honest – because that is what I think it is with some people – that they have discarded, or at least reconsidered, the old doctrines and dogmas, and have returned to the Source. There is a new resurgence of grace, mercy and power in the Church in this day, which is taking away much of the ammunition of those who would turn away from Jesus because of these, as you say, ‘hateful’ tendencies.
What is the full name of the writer for this post? I’ll be quoting it in an essay.
Hi Alex – thanks for your question, and I have emailed you a reply 🙂
It’s interesting that something that positions itself as the ultimate truth should require suspension of disbelief at all.
Interesting point, Matt, and one that really got me thinking 🙂
I’d say that many of the best truths are hidden, and that part of the fascination of life is in finding out those truths. I’m currently drafting an article on Psalm 25:14 – ‘The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him’. Living life acknowledging the existence of an unseen Reality opens up so many more avenues of exploration into the unknown, which, as an ex-research scientist, I really love.
And believing in something unseen as ‘ultimate truth’ makes sense when you really think about it, else everything would be too obvious.
Life reveals many secrets as we live it, a bit like reading a book I suppose. And where’s the fun in turning to the last page to find out what happens?