I love fiction. I have hundreds and hundreds of novels in my house and on my Kindle and can’t thank authors enough for their imaginations and the wonderful world of words which they create. I love novels which can also teach me things (much of what I know about glass-blowing, merchant banking, gemmology, geography and history comes from novels which incorporate these subjects into the works of fiction), but I have to remember that fiction is not fact.
The present series of ‘The Crown’ on Netflix has created a stir recently in re-telling the story of the Royal family in the UK in the 1980s with a disarming combination of facts and fiction. The problem is that we, the general public, don’t know which is which and also we can be remarkably influenced by fiction that is presented as fact. Fake news, another current topic, is another area where it can be hard to discern fact from fiction. How can we know what is true and what is invented?
This problem is not new. In Acts 21:17-36, we see Paul finally arriving in Jerusalem. There, he faces the dilemma of being viewed suspiciously as a man subverting people from following Jewish rules and customs. People ‘have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs.’ (Acts 21:21) This was not true, as Paul’s subsequent actions indicate (he was willing to undergo Jewish purification rites and to pay the expenses of four others who wished to do this; he recognised the differences between Jews and Gentiles even if he taught that the way of salvation was the same, through faith in Christ Jesus.) Later, problems occurred in the Temple area because Jews, having seen him with the Greek believer, Trophimus, in the city assumed he had broken the law by taking him into the inner Temple area, from which Gentiles were barred. (Acts 21:28-29) All of these problems were rooted in the simple truth, ‘why let facts get in the way of a good story?’ The Jews didn’t care if what they were saying was true or not. It made a good story, a good basis for outrage and disapproval.
Ultimately, we can see that it is extremely dangerous to build our lives and actions on fiction. Generally speaking, we call people who do this insane and, in extreme cases, lock them up to protect society from them. Paul’s very life was in danger because of these mob assumptions, half-truths and misinformation, and it took the intervention of the commander of the Roman troops to stop murder by the masses. (Acts 21:30-36)
What will it take today to make us sift the truth from fiction? It’s so easy to be swept up in the rumours, the gossip, the assumptions which mingle fact and fiction with no regard for the difference between the two. We need to be rooted in the truth of God’s word and in the truth of God Himself. Jesus said He was the Way, the Truth and the Life. (John 14:6) Every fact and every fiction needs to be measured against this plumb-line.