If you know me, you know I like to read, from classics to fantasy to historical fictions to YA to travel books to Christian to sci-fi to news to even research papers (ok, I only include this last one because they’re assigned, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy them). Basically, this means I’ve picked up a number of good pieces along the way.
Today, I want to share with you five thought-provoking short stories that I’ve collected over the years. Some like “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” you might recognize from the Harry Potter franchise. Others like “The Allegory of the Cave” you might have heard back in college but never attempted.
As I present them, I’ll sketch the connection between their big ideas and Christian faith. Don’t draw back just yet. I promise I didn’t choose these works, so I can surreptitiously preach to you. They’re all fascinating and valuable by their own right.
It’s just that at the time that I’d read them, I noticed a link between each story and Christianity. The links aren’t forced, if you’re wondering about that. They emerged gradually as I read, like the silhouettes of furniture in a dark room to a pair of adjusting eyes.
Perhaps as you read along, your eyes will adjust as well. Even if they don’t to my perspective, I hope that won’t stop you from delving into these short stories yourself. Thought-provoking, memorable, and quaint– they are truly worth a gander.
by Flannery O’ Connor
The storyline is as follows. Parker is a discharged naval officer whose proudest boast in life is the tapestry of tattoos that decorates most of his body. He ends up marrying a devoutly religious woman, Sarah Ruth, after a few dithering encounters and despite rejecting religion himself. To diminish his wife’s contempt for him, a sinner, he spontaneously decides to fill the entirety of his back with a tattoo of Jesus. Upon seeing his tattoo, she reacts in a less than favorable manner.
It was undeniably clear to me after reading of Parker’s obsession with tattoos that they provide a sense of purpose for him. As each additional tattoo diminishes the empty space on his skin, so he hopes that they would also shrink the hole in his heart. As the story progresses, it’s obvious they accomplish their physical purpose, but never their spiritual one.
Much like how Parker searches for purpose and a solution to that emptiness within himself through worldly means, so does the rest of humanity. Christians believe the nothing of this world, not even a permanent image of Christ inked into our skin, can offer us what only the real, living Christ can–purpose, true love, life. That’s why the author closes the story with Parker leaning against a tree (aka the cross). It signifies that our only hope for salvation from our spiritually impoverished state is in Jesus.
I recommend this article, if you’d like to continue on this vein of thought for this thought-provoking short story.
by J.K. Rowling
This was one of the most memorable short stories I’d read as a child. When I’d discovered its connection to Christianity at the time, I was literally blown out of my seat from shock.
Long ago in the middle ages, there lived a warlock of immense wealth and enviable magical talent. Given his situation, he believed he lacked nothing…until he overheard his servants mocking him for failing to attract a wife. That fateful day, a witch with fortune and skill to rival his own entered town, immediately catching his attention. After a few exchanges at a banquet, she joked that he did not have a heart. He then leads her into the dungeon of his castle to prove her wrong.
I’m going to cut the summary short there for those who have yet to read this fantastic little gem. Before you set your curiosity infused imagination loose, keep in mind it’s a children’s short story, so nothing inappropriate occurs in the dungeon scene.
There’s this verse Jesus says in Matthew 6:21 that uncannily relates to that final scene: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” If you know this story, I have one word for the both of us, “GASP”. If you don’t, read it, come back, and we can stand dumbfounded together.
Since I can’t explain my reaction without spoiling this thought-provoking story, I might as well explain the verse. What Jesus means is that what you treasure the most is what you’ll desire most (where your heart is) and what you desire most is what you’ll seek with the greatest effort. For Christians, this message should prompt us to wonder, “What do I value most? Is it treasures above with my Heavenly Father? Or treasures below, on earth, where moths and vermin destroy?”
As the question, “Where is your heart?” was relevant to the warlock in the short story, so it is to us also.
Ah, political philosophy, one of my favorite subjects throughout my entire college career. Really, it’s not as stale as it sounds. In fact, I liked it so much, I wrote a post earlier this year titled Plato’s Republic and Humanity’s Search for Salvation. If you find the “Allegory of the Cave” thought-provoking, you’ll definitely like the Republic.
It follows the dialogue between Socrates and his mentee, Glaucon. They erect a hypothetical situation where three prisoners are chained down in a cave, only able to see one wall. A fire crackles behind them and behind the fire people pass by daily, casting their shadows on the wall of the three prisoners. All day long the prisoners marvel at these strange apparitions. Then, one prisoner breaks free, where upon he discovers the outside world and realizes the cave and the shadows which he took to be reality was a lie. He returns to his companions, desiring to free them as well, except they don’t believe him and threaten to kill him if he tries to free them.
We are like the prisoners trapped in the cave, marveling at a world of shadows. What we think constitutes our permanent reality–our family, jobs, nation, wealth, social status, even our own bodies–are like mere shadows compared to the reality to come.
All those things are fleeting. Pursuing them with all our hearts is meaningless. We’ll cling to them for a few decades but that’ll be it, for “[we] will take nothing with [us] when [we] die, their splendor will not descend with [us]” (Psalm 49:17). God alone is everlasting. The new life He gives through His son Jesus to all who believes in him is eternal. For those who have truly come to know Christ as our savior, these truths are the new reality upon which we build our lives. We are like that one person freed from the cave, who now desires for the other prisoners to be free of their false perceptions.
by Horace Miner
This was another one of those “GASP” inducing short stories. When the realization of the actual premise of the story dawns on you, it’s a surprisingly pleasurable feeling, the kind that naturally pulls your lips into a smile.
In Miner’s short story, the Nacirema is this North-American tribe hyper-obsessed with the body. Much of their culture centers on it, from their fixation with the shrines in their homes designed to maintain cleanliness to the regular washing of their mouth with hogs’ hair to witchdoctors who listens to the Nacirema talk of themselves as a form of exorcism.
Bizarre group isn’t it?
The “fundamental underlying belief” of the Nacirema is that the body’s inevitable subjection to decay and ugliness requires them to constantly groom, prune, and cleanse it. I’d found their obsession with appearance thought-provoking, given that it’s not unique to them alone but true of all cultures throughout all of time.
The Bible objects to such obsession. Here’s what God had to say in 1 Samuel 16:7, “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” So, why should this concern any of us? Well, because God also said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). People’s judgement towards us, especially of our appearance, will be light compared to God’s coming judgement of our souls.
by Gina Berriault
Last but not least, “The Stone Boy”. This thought-provoking short story begins with two brothers setting out one morning to pick peas. The inciting incident occurs when the youngest accidentally shoots and kills the eldest but rather than calling on his parents he finishes picking peas and returns home, seemingly emotionless.
The grown-ups’ pride in their judgement cloud their perception of the younger brother. His own uncle sneers, “If we’d of shot our brother, we’d of come runnin’ back to the house, like a baby. Well, we’d of been unreasonable…What’s the use of gettin’ emotional about it?” The mother gave the most shocking demonstration of such pride when she refused to hear his plea for forgiveness later that night.
Eventually, when his parents do attempt to understand him, they’re too late. He’s conformed to their perception of him, having “called upon his pride to protect him from them”.
I’d recently listened to this podcast that tackles the topic of forgiveness. He warned that when people wrong us, it’s easy to focus on their sins and their pride while growing blind to the sins of contempt, anger, and pride swelling against them in our own chest.
Sin is analogous to disease. Like disease, oftentimes sin doesn’t affect just the source person but the people around them, infecting one person after another until whole families, communities, and even entire countries are touched. That is precisely what took place in “The Stone Boy”, and this is what takes place everyday in God knows how many people’s lives.
Nevertheless, God calls His people to forgive people who wrong us not just once, or seven times, but “seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). He enables Christians to accomplish this impressive feat through the forgiveness of sins we have through Jesus.
So what do y’all think? Which one of these short stories have you read, are planning to read, or find most thought-provoking? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below. Until next time.
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