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  • Catherine Black

Immortal Characters and The Gospel of Now


I had a strange encounter with a fictional character last night. You know by now that I love to read and write fiction (see all posts by authors in the Live Your Love category). Well, you may not know that I hardly ever cry. My husband calls me “stone cold” for good reason.

I’m not exactly proud of that epithet, but it fits. I don’t cry. At least over most things that make people cry.

But I do cry.

And last night, while reading a novel, I ran face first into a character that upset me. So much so that I couldn’t read for a moment. I was overcome with emotion, and that was just at the character’s name.


Because it was the name of a former student of mine, a student who has since passed away.

His death was not easy, it was not expected, and it was not okay. He was shot.

The Immortality of Art

So, while reading to be entertained, I saw the face of my student, perfectly before me, immortalized in a strange way by his name appearing on the page. My student who will never again smile, never again drive me crazy, never again laugh with his friends, never again get the chance to make choices or to love.

And while reading, I was struck with something I’ve always known to be true, but I felt it more solidly for the first time last night: characters in books live forever. It’s the essential art is immortal philosophy, come to life.

The character in the book I am reading will never die, in a sense. His life cannot be cut short (even if the author chooses to “kill him off” later, his character remains alive in the pages I’m in, forever). My student did not get that chance. None of us does.

The Need for the Gospel Now

Our lives are short, and they can be so much shorter than we ever thought they would be. As was the case for my young student, who died at 18.

When I read that character’s name, I see my student. I hear his laugh. I pine for the things he didn’t get to do. I mourn over the mistakes he made and the fact that he didn’t get the chance to live long enough to outgrow some of them. I believe in the Lord’s sovereignty, above all, and yet to watch a young person plucked from this earth is hard.

I was his teacher for one year. Nine months, minus the three or so he didn’t show up and the eight weeks I was out on maternity leave. Not enough time.

He was absent the day I shared the gospel with my classes.

I will always remember that. I will always wish I could see him again and outline the gospel like I did to my other students. I missed my chance with him, though I sincerely hope I poured the love of Jesus into his broken life every day I saw him, every day I pulled him aside and tried to show him I believed in him.

Everyone who knew him will remember him. But he will not return to us.

Don't Wait for A Second Chance

We don’t always get a second chance to share the gospel with someone. We don’t always get the chance to pray for them one more time. We don’t always get the chance to really show someone we consider them more important than ourselves.

Our chances to live out the fruit of the Spirit, to obey the great commission, and to honor God are not endless. We must do them now, while we have breath.

My student taught me that. His death taught me that.

When I see his name, which an unusual one, in the novel I’m reading, I can’t help but tear up. I want so badly to be able to hear that he changed his life, that he started caring about his future, that he forgave his enemies, that he surrendered to Christ as Lord. Maybe he did, in the end. I can’t know that. And I will never know it here.

Instead, I read about this fictional character, and I get to watch his life unfold. Not my student’s.

It’s unfair. But it also showed me something that is a bit strange to admit.

I want to write my student into one of my books. I can’t ever see him again, but I can, in a way, immortalize him in art.

I realize there is danger in this attitude, since his eternal soul is where it will be, forever, and I am not the sovereign God who ordained that, nor can anything I say, pray, or do ever change what happened to him. But if I write a story of the redemption of a character like him, I can feel, perhaps, like I’m finally, fully, telling him, and others like him, that I believed it was possible for him. That I truly saw him not as a troublesome student but as a boy with great potential who added so much to the world.

Though I saw much possibility in him, I also saw so much hardening by the deceitfulness of sin. No matter how hardened he was, he was not out of reach of the gospel. And part of me wants to write a character who portrays all of his flaws, all of his shortcomings, and yet show that even for one like him, there is eternal, perfect hope. No one is outside the reaches of the Redeemer. No one is a “lost cause,” though this student had seen many people give up on him in life.

He did not get the chance to live long enough to exhibit the transformational power of the grace of God. That will always bring me to tears.

Be Bold for Christ, Now

We should weep when we see people die in their sins (and I am not saying he did, because I can’t know his eternal state, but the evidence was not there in what I knew of him). What I knew of him was a boy who had been discarded by the world. He had no one pushing him in the right direction, no one at all to believe in him, save a few of his teachers, who all tried our hardest to show him his worth.

Perhaps one day there will be a book, written by me, with a boy in it like him. A boy with everything in life against him. A boy who runs from the good things in life and chases the bad because he’s been told he’s not worthy of the good things, and he believes it. But this boy will find hope. This boy will live long enough to taste redemption. To show the world that no one is without hope.

This boy will live forever. And maybe I will gain the boldness to share Christ, today, with those who will not live forever.

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