If That’s Not All Part of God’s Plan: On Faith in Fictional Characters

This weekend, my husband and I caught up with the world/my tumblr and twitter friends by binge-watching Daredevil on Netflix. We enjoyed the hell out of it (haaa). There’s some unnecessary leaning on tropes, especially where some of the women are concerned (Preeti Chhibber has a great post on this), and the world doesn’t always feel fully realized in weird ways. But there’s also much to love: the Matt/Foggy friendship, the well-timed and engaging flashbacks, the gruesome and kind of beautiful fight sequences, CLAIRE. It was, as one of my friends had said, very reminiscent of Angel the Series, which we love–dark and grim without being “grimdark,” fun group dynamic, lots of delicious moral struggling.

In fact, one of the elements of the show I felt most drawn to was the way Matt Murdock deals with his moral struggles. I’m such a sucker for a superhero who’s trying to do their best with a murky sense of that means, and I’ve rarely met a hero–or any character ever–in that position and not immediately welcomed them into my poor wasted heart. But Matt is different from many of those characters in what is, to me, a really significant way: Matt is worried about what God thinks of his ethical dilemmas. Matt sorts through his morality in a confession booth, over coffee with a priest, in the shadow of a cross. Matt’s world is on fire, and he feels compelled to act and react accordingly, and he wonders what his actions and desires mean in light of his belief in a God who has a plan for him and for the world. 

I grew up in (protestant) church, and have believed in God for as long as I have memories. I’ve never been in situations as loaded as the ones Matt is constantly in, and have never had to make decisions about myself and my actions that carry such heavy consequences. But I have always measured my choices and actions against my faith; my belief in God affects the way I believe about everything else. I’ve absolutely struggled with questions about God’s plans, what He wants from me, what He wants for the world, how He must think and feel about the way things are. I don’t know the answers, and I didn’t expect or want to get them from season one of Daredevil. But it was really cool–relieving, actually–to see that a fictional character I loved was thinking about his life in connection with God.

Since we finished the season, I’ve been trying to think of other times God shows up in the stories I love, especially in the YA I read. I’m not necessarily trying to come up with characters of Christian faith, but any character who mentions faith or lack thereof as part of the world in which they live. Because it makes sense to me that in a charged, dangerous, post-Avengers world, Matt Murdock would look to God–and one of the central tenets of YA is the idea that high school and adolescence are similarly charged and dangerous, if not usually in such a stark, hooks-in-stomachs way. I was confused about everything as a teenager, constantly changing my mind about things and constantly looking for reassurances of plans and reasons, wanting to feel not-alone. I’d love to read about young characters with all that swirling around in their heads. A few titles come to mind: Bryan Bliss’s No Parking at the End Times, which is about a rapture-prepared family after the rapture doesn’t happen, and which is high in my TBR pile, for one; Sara Zarr’s Once Was Lost, narrated by a youth-group-attending pastor’s daughter, for another. (Zarr’s novel was re-titled What We Lost for a recent re-printing. Her thoughts on what that book is about are so interesting to me, in light of all of this; “Mostly, I just hope it’s a good story!“) Tris in the Divergent series by Veronica Roth comes from a praying family, and I’ve always been interested in her relationship with that background and how it plays out in her dystopian life, but that might be better explored in a separate post. There’s a line in Fiona Wood’s Wlidlife in which a character thanks “the God I don’t believe in.”

And then there’s this amazing line I just read this week in Courtney Summers’ All the Rage: “…teenage girls don’t pray to God, they pray to each other. They clasp their hands over a keyboard and then they let it all out, a (stupid) girl’s heart tucked into another girl’s heart.” The context is sort of spoiler-y, but basically Romy, the protagonist, is referring to an incriminating email she sent to her friend–“I needed someone to hear my prayers.” I love those lines, love the idea of girls praying to each other, telling other girls the things they feel and want and dream and need, just talking, needing to get the words out. Because that’s what prayer was for me, when I was a teenager; that’s what it is for me now, much of the time. I loved reading about this admittedly unconventional and ill-fated form of prayer in the pages of an incredibly well-written and powerful book. But at the same time, I wondered what Romy thought of God himself, if she was angry at Him because of the things that happened to her, if her belief or unbelief in Him was changed because of the things that happened to her–I wondered if anyone prayed for her; I wanted to pray for her. I don’t think that the story is lacking any of these things just because they’re not there, if that makes sense. It would have been out of place, probably, for Romy to dwell on those questions. But I’ve been dwelling a little. She mentioned prayer and I grasped at it and it made me wonder.

This is not meant to be a complaint against books or shows or anything where faith isn’t an element of characters’ lives; it’s just something I’ve been thinking about, lately. Partly that’s because I’ve read a few times recently that readers assume characters to be Christian by default, and I was surprised by that–how can someone be assumed a Christian if their faith never comes up at all? Thinking too hard about that assumption and about the real-life implications of it is not what I’m here for. Maybe another time. But I’m interested; I’m interested in finding characters who pray or who don’t see a point, and in characters who aren’t sure what their parents believe works for them (in all sorts of directions), and in characters who are angry at God, and in characters who are in love with God. I’m interested in seeing it come up because it’s a big deal, right, to be a human being in the world and to figure out what you believe to be true about that experience, and it seems like God must be a part of that to some people. So I’ll be keeping an eye out because I’m sure there are more creators exploring this in their work than I’m aware of–if you know of any or have favorites of your own, please let me know in the comments!

In the meantime, I’m glad there’s Matt Murdock. I’m glad that Daredevil has left me with so much to think about–I always love that–and I’m glad that part of that is whether God put the devil in Matt, and part of it is some probably-cheesy musing on walking by faith, and part of it is the story of the good Samaritan and Fisk’s incredibly badass delivery of “I am the ill intent!” in the finale. I’m grateful that Matt’s faith and doubts were included as part of his story, and done so in such a casual, respectful way.

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4 thoughts on “If That’s Not All Part of God’s Plan: On Faith in Fictional Characters

  1. I was on the fence about Daredevil, now I have to watch it.
    By the way, when I think of books & faith for youth, Are You There ? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume comes to mind. I read it at age 11. As a person of faith going through the hormonal preteen stage, it was a comfort.

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    • Oh, that’s a great rec! My mom was actually reading that the last time she visited and left it for me (“This book is right up your alley, have you really not read it?”). And yes, I absolutely think Daredevil is worth a shot! I hope you like it!

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