Saturday, March 30, 2024

The Good Story

[Originally published in the Monroe News on March 29, 2024]

We need a renewal of good story-telling in our society.  So much of the new stories being portrayed have been overly modernized and have lost the values and virtues that we used to hold near and dear.  More and more we are being given stories that blur the lines of good and evil. We get stories that no longer teach or uplift.  We get as many anti-heroes lifted up as we do true heroes.  

What we need is a return to a good story.  And what is a good story?  It is one that brings together our families and communities in ways that help us grow stronger together.  A good story is one that inspires creativity.  A good story invites imagination.  A good story lauds and teaches right values and virtues. A good story should portray good and evil clearly and properly.

A simple example of this is a classic children’s story I grew up with: The Three Little Pigs.  With each pig we learn simple life lessons and virtues in the different ways they built their houses and the failures learned when the wolf comes.  In the Big Bad Wolf we have a character whose very name tells us what we need to know about him.  He is the clear villain and antagonist of the story. The three little pigs must beware of him.

Good stories also deal with the complexities of life and the brokenness we each face. Good characters don’t always remain good.  They make bad choices.  They deal with hardships. They can fall from grace.  Take the character Edmund from the classic Chronicles of Narnia series from C.S. Lewis.  In the great first book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe we meet Edmund as one of four siblings.  They come from a well-meaning family. Yet Edmund makes decisions to betray his siblings and he makes an ally with the White Witch who is the clear villain of the story.  What is good about this story is the redemption that comes for a fallen character like Edmund.  There is a path for him to be redeemed from his brokenness and be restored to the good.  Great stories teach us how to handle our fallenness by showing us the good news of a path to being redeemed and restored.

A major problem in stories is the blending of good and evil.  In some cases there is an effort to create sympathy for the evil or to justify it.  An example from Amazon’s vaunted new series “The Rings of Power” comes to mind.  One of the storylines in the first season of the series was of a band of orcs who are looking to establish their own land. A Tolkien fansite recently described this as “the plight of the orcs.”   The orc characters were an original creation of J.R.R. Tolkien in his famous “Lord of the Rings” books and they were very clearly on the side of evil.  The Rings of Power series depicts them in a way that invites the viewer to offer some sympathy for them. While still evil, they are characters who just want their own place in this world and we should understand that and even grant that.  This confusion is an issue when the deeds of evil at some point become justified.  We might justify evil because a character has no other choice.  We might justify evil as a character is from some sort of oppressed group.  In the end this confusion leads to one big problem: it justifies evil.

Rather than justifying evil, good stories, like the example of Edmund in the Chronicles of Narnia, need to depict the struggle with evil.  Yes, good stories can depict a beloved character’s fall from grace.  Good stories can depict otherwise good people making bad choices.  But these are also part of the lessons that the stories teach our families and communities that we might grow and learn from them.  Good stories teach that good characters are on the path to be redeemed from evil or avoid it entirely. Sometimes the best storylines come from the most unexpected places.  Moments when the greatest villain of all time are suddenly redeemed.  

I give you one more geeky fantasy/sci-fi reference. 
"I have to save you..."
"You already have."
Arguably one of the greatest villains of all time was Darth Vader from the original Star Wars.  He is clearly the embodiment of evil.  Yet his story doesn’t end with evil.  Quick 1983 spoiler alert.  Vader’s story ends with his being redeemed before his son Luke.  Vader turns on his master, the Emperor, he destroys him, and he saves his son’s life.  He is restored to good, a twist for the ages.  Story-telling at its finest.  Good triumphs over evil in the end.

In the end, a good story is one that ultimately reflects the one True Story and that is the story of salvation history through Jesus Christ. It is the story our lives are living out right now.  We need the life lessons from good stories to help our families and communities on their way.  The Scriptures warn against those who would confuse this path and mingle good and evil.  Isaiah 5:20 “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness…”  St. Paul likewise bids his readers to keep these paths straight “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. (Rom 12:9)”  

Our paths have plenty of brokenness.  We need good stories, especially the True Story of Holy Scripture.  We need them to help guide us on the right paths in life.  We need them to shine light into the darkness of evil.  We need them to remind us of the hope of restoration and redemption when we fall.  We need them to point us to Christ.

To God be the glory.

Mark Witte is the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church.
You can contact him at

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