Saturday, January 16, 2010

Message in a Bottle

"So will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They'll do the work I sent them to do, they'll complete the assignment I gave them." (Isaiah 55:11 The Message)

I recently read Nicholas Sparks' novel Message in a Bottle and it led me to research real cases of messages found in bottles. I discoverd the story of Chunosuke Matsuyama, a Japanese sailor, shipwrecked with forty-four shipmates in 1784. Washed up on a Pacific coral reef, Matsuyama carved a brief message on a piece of wood and sealed it in a bottle. All forty-five sailors died on that shore, but Matsuyama's message survived. Legend follows that the bottle washed ashore in 1935 in the same village where Matsuyama was born. Matsuyama never returned home, but his words did.

God tells us that His words are powerful and active. He also tells us that His words will not return empty-handed or void. So how can we, as Christian writers, get God's Word into our stories? How can we do it without sounding super-spiritual or preachy? I came up with a few ideas I've seen used in fiction:

Quote Scripture in the body of your work or as chapter headings. Christians expect to see it there and non-believers will read over it even if they think they aren't absorbing it. This can be a mini-lesson on how the truth of scripture plays out in everyday life.

Make your character the messenger in a variety of ways. Have characters refer to or use Scripture in dialogue. The seeker or new believer in your novel can refer to Scripture by asking questions of mature believers. Christian characters can offer advice by using Scripture. Don't feel obligated to put the reference. You can sneak it in there--kind of like I sneak cauliflower into my kids' mashed potatoes.
Another way I've noticed authors getting the message into the book is through an on-fire Christian who spouts Scripture in an almost "in-your-face" way. Gilbert Morris often includes a character who repeatedly asks other characters "Do you know Jesus?" While the method in real life might be lacking, this tactic exposes your reader to Scripture in a humorous and non-threatening way.

Let the preacher do the talking. One more way to let the character be the messenger is through scenes involving a church service or sermon. A struggling Christian or non-believer reading your book may be experiencing the same questions as your character. Observing a character dissect and internalize a message speaks to our spirits as well.

As Christian writers, we wield a mighty weapon in the form of the very words of our God. Isn't it amazing that He would trust our fiction to reveal His truth? What are some other ways you use scripture to get across the message God has given you?

By Nikki Studebaker Barcus


  1. Good stuff! That is among my favorite scriptures. Thanks for sharing:)

  2. I appreciate the intent of this post, but I have to respectfully disagree with it on pretty much every count.

    Every single one of the things listed above on how to "sneak Scripture" in, or work the word of God into a story, makes me cringe. I think it's FAR more powerful to have your characters living out God's will in their lives, and by all means have them give God the glory IF IT COMES NATURALLY AS PART OF THEIR CHARACTER. But when characters start quoting Scripture in books, as a rule, I set those books aside. It always sounds shoehorned in, and in some instances, it's downright embarrassing.

    IMHO, if you feel you have to "put" God's word in your story, you need to seriously consider what your story really IS. Superimposing Scripture into a book just so a questioning/seeking person will have a question answered, or to "proclaim" the Word through your work, you may want to ask yourself if you're truly writing stories at all...or tracts. There's nothing wrong with writing either one of these--but they shouldn't be mixed. I know when they are, I feel preached at--and I'm already a Christian. :-)

    My take,

  3. Oops...I meant to say "If you're superimposing Scripture..." in that sentence. That's what happens when you edit the first part of a thought, and not the last part! :-)


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  5. I have seen scripture used both effectively and ineffectively in each of these ways. I really think it depends upon the skill of the writer.
    Great discussion and absolutely something that every writer needs to thoughtfully consider!

  6. I really enjoyed your post Nikki. I printed it off to think on again.