As a writer, I’m hypercritical of books and movies. It’s hard to read a book without editing or rewriting it as I read, and it’s hard to watch a movie without calling out vapid dialog or flat storylines. But my biggest pet peeve is something all my literature and writing instructors drilled into me: A properly written story should be character-driven, not plot-driven.
The idea is that different people, if put into the same situation, will respond differently. They shape their experiences and are, in turn, shaped by their experiences. If Catherine from Wuthering Heights were to visit Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy of Little Women, let’s just say Louisa May Alcott’s world would take on a decidedly acrid flavor.
This concept is of no concern among the males of my household, who love books and movies with pain and pyrotechnics at their core. Character development? What character development?
In life, we think of people as the products of their experiences. This generally translates to using experiences as an excuse for conduct. (“Others have excuses; I have my reasons why,” as Nickel Creek sings.)
“The poor thing can’t help herself. She never had a good relationship with her mother,” we say dismissively. Or, “Go easy on him. He’s a victim of affluenza.” Oh, don’t get me started.
In the Bible, however, life imitates art. God’s stories are shaped by the characters He divinely puts in key positions. Joseph maintains his virtue even when unjustly imprisoned and becomes an instrument for the preservation of the Hebrew people. Mary faithfully submits to the Lord’s will for her life, one that could result in her death by stoning, and becomes the mother of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Paul gladly suffers for Christ and becomes the author of much of the New Testament as well as the greatest evangelist of all time.
“As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” – Proverbs 27:3
“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.” – Luke 6:45
John Wooden famously said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” Who you are is often revealed in your times of trial – self-inflicted and otherwise. Yes, an otherwise good man can commit an evil deed. Why? Because we are all sinners, and even believers battle flesh.
“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this is what I keep on doing.” – Romans 7:18-19
Every trial, therefore, presents challenges as well as opportunities. The sanctified Christ-follower may ponder the challenges but will embrace the opportunities. This is the good that God intended.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28
Let your character define your life, not your life define your character. You are far more than the product of your experiences; as a Christ-follower, you are a child of the King of kings; you are a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5); you are more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37); you are a co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17). Live accordingly.