For the second time in a matter of weeks I was asked the same dreaded question – ‘What are you reading at the moment?’ The first time I was asked was in the context of an interview and the second was by a friend. Both times I inwardly squirmed.
As the question left my interlocutor’s lips, flitting across the cinema screen of my mind were great tomes by masters like Lewis and Macdondald. I could see the pile of theology books I’ve been meaning to read for so long. I thought of my wife who devours thick books in a matter of hours.
I wanted the ground to swallow me up. For what was my answer? Jack Reacher. Yes – the books that led to the Tom Cruise films (though why they cast him to play the 6’5” Reacher I have no idea). Affectionately known by some as airport fiction, or as the French say – romans de gare. The light reading that you can indulge in while sitting on a beach.
You see, I’m not a great reader. I can’t read nearly as fast as my wife and I feel quite embarrassed when surrounded by folk who seem to feast on the classics for breakfast. Don’t get me wrong – I do enjoy reading, I just don’t do a lot of it. I should add that I don’t think my questioners thought less of me for not reading so widely, but I silently groan at my lack of it.
However it has got me thinking. What is it about such pop-fiction that holds this attraction (and embarrassment on my part)? Are they really the literary equivalent of a Happy Meal? Or is there something more to them?
Let’s take Jack Reacher as our test case. One of the things about this kind of fiction that seems to be attractive is that you know how it’s all going to turn out. There’s no secret. Whatever the situation, Jack Reacher will come out on top. He always does. The fun is in finding out how he’s going to do it. Sure there are dicey moments, but you’re never in doubt that he’s going to find his way out of the situation and defeat the bad guys.
On the face of it this could be why some will dismiss them as cheap. Why read something where you know the ending? But I want to push back.
The book of Revelation seems to be written to a group of people who are facing opposition. It’s not necessarily overt opposition like being fed to the lions. It appears to be more on the level of being excluded from trading because they won’t bow to the gods of the guilds (sound familiar?)
What is the theme of this book to churches facing such struggle? The Lamb Wins. Over and over again, from different camera angles we see the same thing. The Lamb Wins. John wants his readers to know that whatever happens The Lamb Wins. The end is never in doubt. Jesus will triumph. It’s as good as done.
Do you see the link with something like Jack Reacher? Because of the Bible we know how the story will finish. Just like Reacher, the Lamb Wins. Life is about seeing how, time and time again that is coming true. In this way so-called airport fiction reflects the great story in a stark and mesmerising way. We’re drawn to such stories because we want that to be true. We want the certainty of victory while our hero is facing down the enemy. And that is precisely what we have in the gospel.
My wife and I have just gone through a tough year. Actually a tough 13 years when we think about it. But we know the end of this story. The Lamb Wins. God in his loving kindness has given us glimpses of how that has been true in our own story. Fun is probably not the right word for it. Painful and shattering might be more apt. There have been times when it’s felt like I’ve had no tears left to cry. What has carried us through is the certainty of how it will all turn out. And do you know what? I wouldn’t put this book down for a second.