Like most of you, I am a product of the public school system. I think we would all agree it has its issues, but looking back I can honestly say, I had some fabulous teachers. One of my favorites was my AP English teacher, Mr. Cimino. I can’t remember precisely which book he was lecturing on, but let’s just pretend it was Lord of the Flies (because I distinctly remember being mortified by that book).
So, one, very normal, very school-type day, Mr. Cimino was dissecting Lord of the Flies and he made the point that Simon was the Christ figure in the story. Simon who was killed while trying to deliver truth to the others. For a preacher’s brat at a very public school, I was enamored. It was the first I’d ever heard of this Christ figure idea. But, as Mr. Cimino lectured on, I realized it was a concept that preceded me entirely. There were Christ figures in more books than I could count. My brain whirred and all of a sudden I had a Gru-like LIGHTBULB moment. I raised my hand, desperate to add to the conversation.
“Doesn’t the very idea that authors are keen to place a Christ figure in their story prove that there is veracity to the Biblical account of Christ?”
While I probably didn’t use the words keen or veracity, I’m certain I used the word prove. And I’m also certain that it amused Mr. Cimino to no end. He smiled down at me, the hideous fluorescent lights doing nothing to brighten the dullness of his old glasses.
“Prove is rather a stretch,” he said.
And he’s right. The presence of a Christ figure in a novel confirms nothing about history, or even about the author. These days, I know plenty of lovely authors who use the Christ figure concept to much success, but many of them are not believers and others are very conflicted about Jesus in general. Even JK Rowling, who so brilliantly fashioned Harry after the Christ ideal, admitted in an interview with Oprah that yes, she believes in God, and yes, she does struggle with it. I think many authors find themselves in the same boat and I applaud them for being willing to wrestle with the idea.
And yet, to this day, whenever I open a book, I actively look for a Christ figure. Sometimes, he’s not to be found. But, often, the storytellers of this world are drawn back to the Story of Stories. To the Hero of Heroes. Many of them do it subconsciously. Perhaps the only Christ figures they’ve ever known were Neo or Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins or Optimus Prime. But, there is something, SOMETHING about a character who would die for others that speaks to the soul of humanity. And while that in itself proves nothing, it does point to a people who crave the heroic.
As a Christian, as an author, as a lover of story, that excites me. Sure, there are things in many books that I struggle with. Things that could be offensive, that misrepresent my belief system. But in most stories I can find hope and faith, and often, I can find some representation of Christ. It comes down to the eyes I see the words with, the lens I view the author and her characters through. I do not expect every storyteller to agree with my beliefs, but if literature itself has taught me anything, I can expect most of them to agree that the Christ figure is a compelling one and a concept worth examining.
And that’s the kind of common ground I appreciate.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Christ figure in literature. A Christ figure is usually defined as a character who shares more than one outstanding trait with the Biblical Christ. For example, a character may have an astounding birth story, the ability to perform miracles, a sacrificial death, or even an experience resembling the resurrection. Do you have a favorite character fashioned after this concept? Does it make a story formulaic once you’ve identified the Christ figure? Do you make a conscious effort to look for faith-resembling elements in books you pick up? Tell me! I’d love to know!