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….