One day in Jerusalem we went to the site that people traditionally identify with the tomb of Jesus. Now, I’m staking my eternal soul on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, emerged from some tomb outside Jerusalem. But from an archaeologist’s point of view, the tomb I visited is in the right place but probably several hundred years off on the dating of it. I suppose for that reason I felt reverent there, but not emotional at all.
Where did I become emotional? At the synagogue in Capernaum, first excavated early last century. When I realized that it was built by one of my personal heroes (the centurion of “astonishing” great faith in Matthew 8:5-13), and that Jesus had taught in the very synagogue this Roman man built for his Jewish neighbors, I trembled. I took a picture of the actual floor tiles where Jesus once stood to teach. I had someone take my photograph standing right next to where Jesus did.
I let myself yield to emotion there because I knew my feelings could rest securely on an authentic foundation. I could enter that story. In fact, I knew I must enter that story as I stood there.
I wondered about why some Christian fiction rings true, and is helpful and nourishing—and why other books that may mention religious things leave us feeling uneasy and dissatisfied. Could it be because we don’t feel we have a reason to believe the story? Like me respectfully standing before an open tomb and thinking, “This cave is like where Jesus was laid, but almost certainly is not the actual place,” I wonder if sometimes readers think similarly:
“This is like real life, and the characters are very close to authentic, but I’m not buying into their situations because both author and reader know it’s just a story.”
Now, a good book doesn’t have to re-tell a Bible account to be true. But if there were a formula for writing authentic Christian literature, it would be a priceless commodity indeed. And yet we know it when we see it, the story that has a foundation as solid as two-thousand-year old stone pavement.
What are some of the characteristics of such authenticity? Can you share with me any books you’ve read recently that were authentic in just the way I’ve described?