Surrendering this fruitless freedom for some infinitely gentler authority.
Naomi Wood, The Godless Boys
I spent last Wednesday evening sitting on a rooftop terrace in Southwark, eating delicious food, chatting with some lovely people, and listening to literary readings. It was delightful.
The event was called ‘Eat Your Words’ and it was organised by my friends Abi (at the mic in the picture above) and Jo.
Jo is the author Joanna Rossiter (whose debut novel I reviewed here), and she had invited Owen Sheers (who I’ve also raved about!) and Naomi Wood to read extracts from their books between courses of a meal in this amazing, and almost unknown, rooftop cafe.
A friend had recently bought me Naomi’s first novel, The Godless Boys, and I’m very much enjoying reading it. It’s set in an alternative version of 1980s Britain, when the Church runs the country, and all atheists have been banished to an island somewhere off the northern coast of England. I’m still fairly early on in the unfolding story, so I can’t tell you much more (yet), but the line above really stood out to me.
I plucked up the courage to ask Naomi to sign my copy of the book, and told her how much I am enjoying it, and what a great description I think that line is.
She said she’s not a believer herself, but a friend who is a Christian had told her she’d written a really redemptive story (which she was obviously quite surprised to hear). I said I thought that line in particular was a great description of what many people experience when they decide to accept Christ’s forgiveness and surrender their lives to his authority. What they had understood as freedom, they come to recognise as fruitless – they may be (debatably) under no-one’s authority, but what is their freedom for?
In my church at the moment we’re going through a series studying what Galatians describes as ‘the fruit of the Spirit‘. This fruit – the natural product of a person submitted to the authority of Christ and inhabited by the Holy Spirit – is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”.
Freedom from this authority, as Naomi (or at least the character in whose voice she was speaking at the time) recognised, is often impoverished as it doesn’t bear this fruit. The characters on the island tend more to suspicion, fear, jealousy, deception, anger and despair than to these fruits.
Now I’m not saying that it’s impossible for a non-Christian to ever love anyone, to ever experience joy or peace, to be patient, kind, self-controlled or any of the other characteristics mentioned above. Nor am I saying that all (any?) Christians exhibit these perfectly at all times! It is worth pondering, though.
Through her novel, Naomi could have painted any picture she liked. She could have shown England crumbling and breaking down into factions and guerilla warfare, while the enlightened, free atheists flourished and prospered, but she didn’t. And I find that very interesting.