Updated: Nov 30, 2021
1 Corinthians 9:19-23, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”
Realism is something many writers strive for, but man, is it difficult to nail down. Some argue over what’s realistic and what isn’t. Other times we debate whether or not getting everything accurate in a story is more important than simply making it entertaining. Even then we never seem to reach a consensus over either question. Still, most everyone wants some level of realism in their fiction, and some franchises are applauded for not pulling any punches period. One such franchise is the ever gritty Game of Thrones television series. Based on the book series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, this show prides itself on pushing the envelope on life’s unfairness and power’s corruption. The series itself was even heavily influenced by the War of the Roses that waged from 1455 to 1487. However, it’s shows like that which remind me, Biblically speaking, how unfiltered ‘realism’ can go too far - even if well intentioned.
Let me be honest. I am not a fan of Game of Thrones. Neither do I encourage others to watch it. I acknowledge its masterful world-building. I appreciate the stunning skill of its writers. I even respect its willingness to discuss harsh topics. However, the show’s woefully unashamed concentration of cussing, nudity, LGBTQ agenda, and over-the-top gore outweighs any positive reason I’d have to fully indulge it. Most characters die horrifically. Happy marriages are non-existent. Men, women, and children are slaughtered, crippled, burned, and poisoned on a daily basis, and aside from the Starks, very few nobles aren’t backstabbing their own families figuratively and literally. Now, I’m not typically all that against such negative things in fiction, but this constant, concentrated level of it gives me pause. Many writers consider Game of Thrones as this grand example of fictional realism, but I’m not so sure it’s an example worth following.
Now, to Game of Thrones’s credit, it’s inevitable for a series about political power plays to include such awful ends. I’ll admit. It’s a realistic look into a familiar scenario and all of its consequences. For that’s the core of fictional realism: acknowledging consequences. Many people think deciphering realism is about deciding whether real life equals constant misery, perpetual sunshine, or a combo of both, but if you really think about it, that’s silly. What individuals consider realistic is fully dependent on what they personally expect out of their life. No. It’s about whether a writer is willing to legitimately follow through with their characters’ choices - no take-backs allowed. Because choices lead to good and bad consequences. In Game of Thrones’s case, when greedy people vie for control, brutality is inescapable, so I can’t fault the series for not being honest. Still, just like drinking too much water, any good thing can become unhealthy. I value truth and the cautionary tale as much as the next guy, but all that blood spilling, clothes stripping, and gut cutting shouldn’t be necessary to get its lessons across. Should it?
Writers and fiction fans aren’t the only ones who argue over this. I distinctly recall when the Christian community had similar pow-wows over 2004’s The Passion of the Christ. This retelling of the Easter story portrayed Christ’s gruesome crucifixion so genuinely, it earned itself an R rating and polarized viewers. Some considered the gore needless, distracting, and counterproductive to the Biblical principle not to dwell on such things. At the same time, others appreciated it. They believed the Scriptures shouldn’t be sugarcoated and that showing exactly what Jesus suffered for us magnified His love. ‘Besides,’ they’d argue, ‘the Bible itself gets pretty graphic too.’ Now, there’s merit to both sides of the debate. Too much harshness is damaging and unhelpful. Then again, being unwilling to deliver ‘uncomfortable’ truths at all leads to self delusion and ill-preparedness. The trick is finding the right balance.
Apostles like Paul, Peter, and John needed to find the right balance too whenever they witnessed about Christ. They understood their duty included delivering the truth. At the same time, they had to consider how they delivered the truth. Factors they needed to consider entailed how much of the truth to give and at what times and to whom. You see, Jesus’s message was a stumbling block to the Jews. They were familiar with Him, but He upended their understanding of God’s laws. To the Gentiles, however, Jesus’s message was pure foolishness - a far-cry to their traditions and way of life. The Apostles, thus, couldn’t afford to be insensitive with the Gospel. Throwing it in people’s faces without a care would repel some listeners into rejecting God’s message altogether, and I believe that’s where Game of Thrones and other fictions like it fails with their unfiltered realism: insensitivity.
You can’t please everyone, but lacking tact with the ‘truth’ you’re giving cuts certain people off and undermines the points you’re trying to make. Doing so segregates, and it lacks love. To the Game of Thrones creators, shocking audiences with their ‘realism’ mattered more to them than the meaningful messages their tale had. Christians have acted the same way too, sadly - including me. Because the second telling the truth itself trumps the reason I’m sharing truth in the first place, my words suddenly become less about loving the person I’m talking to. It becomes about proving myself right. This game of realities is easy to lose, but whether you’re creating a story or having a conversation, if your reason for offering uncomfortable truths is in line the discerning and sensitive love of Christ, then you’ve found a smart, reliable measuring rod to know where to start and how far to go.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”