There once was a Father who was writing a novel. When he was halfway through the first draft, he showed it to his Son.
“Here,” he said, “Come read this story I am writing about this universe I have created, and tell me what you think. I’m trying to figure out how I will resolve the plot.”
So the Son leaned over the Father’s shoulder and read the first half of the story. He read the setting, and the characters, and the conflict, and plot twists, and the state of unresolved conflict in which it all left off.
“Wow,” he said, when he had finished. “Wow, that is amazing. You’ve made quite a world. And what’s happening in it right now… that’s just terrible. It made me cry.”
“Yeah, it makes me cry too sometimes,” said the Father. “So, what do you think I should do about it?”
“Hmmm,” said the Son. He plopped down beside his Father on the sofa. “Well, I can tell one thing, you are going to have to resolve this yourself. There isn’t a character in the story who can do it themselves; you’ve made that pretty obvious with all of them that have been trying and failing in all these pages.”
“True,” said the Father. He got out a yellow tablet and a pen to take notes on his Son’s ideas. “And I will. What do you think I should do to fix it all?”
“Well, I think you should fix it in some way that undoes what that Adam character did in the very beginning,” suggested the Son. “That was terrible. That was so incredibly frustrating. Everybody who reads this story is going to be like, ‘Aargh! I just wish the guy in the first chapter hadn’t eaten the stupid fruit!’ And I think every person who reads it is going to wonder if they would have done the same thing he did, or if they would have passed the test, and wish they had another chance. I think you should find a way to give the people in your story another chance. Like, you could create another Adam-like character who represents all the rest of the people again, and who has to make the same kind of decision to obey or disobey, and that one succeeds, and that somehow works backwards and reverses all the destruction in the beginning.”
“Hmmm,” said the Father. He took the pen and wrote down Make a Second Adam who gets a second chance and who succeeds on the yellow tablet. “That will take some careful thought. I will really have to think about where to get this Second Adam character from. I don’t trust any of the characters I have now to get it right; even if every last one of them thinks, ‘Oh, I would never have done what Adam did,’ I don’t believe they would… And it would be terrible to have the entire race plunged into destruction by a failed representative twice. No, if there is a second chance for the race, I want to give it to someone I can count on to get it right for them this time. Someone like you,” he smiled at his Son. “I would trust you in a situation like that.”
The Son blushed and smiled back. The Father went on,
“So what else? Any other ideas?”
“Yes, actually,” the Son said, flipping through the manuscript. “There was this David character, let me find it… yeah, this guy right here. I could kind of tell from the way you wrote the story that you really liked him. There was so much hope attached to him becoming king, like maybe having a good king would finally fix everything. And then it totally didn’t. The guy blows it, and then he dies and everything seems to get worse after he dies. It felt like you were really nostalgic for him after he died, actually, because it goes on for pages and pages after this comparing every other king to him, and usually lamenting that they weren’t like him.”
“Yes, I did really like that David character, and I do miss him being in the story after he dies,” the Father admitted. “I think he reminded me somehow of you.”
“Well, I was thinking, maybe you could fix the story by making a David character who doesn’t blow it and who lives forever. So that he could be king without it stopping. There could be a prophecy or something, and the people could all be waiting for the King David who never dies and whose kingdom lasts forever.”
“Hey now, I really like that,” said the Father. He took the pen and added, Make a David character who will be king forever. Fulfill prophecies.
“I really liked David’s songs too,” said the Son. “It adds to the story to have all that poetry in there.”
“Yeah, I had a lot of fun writing the songs part,” said the Father.
“Well, they’re so good, it would be awesome if they come back into the story later,” said the Son. “Like, you could have the second King David refer back to the songs that the first King David sung at all the crucial or pivotal moments of his life, and find that they perfectly described it. Or something like that.”
“Now that is getting deep,” said the Father. He wrote, Use David’s songs again at pivotal plot moments in life of Hero. “Any other ideas?”
“Yeah,” said the Son, flipping through the pages. “You have invented this incredibly complicated system of sacrifices for these people, but it’s never enough. It just goes on and on. Maybe you could resolve the plot by letting there finally be a sacrifice that is enough. Like a Sacrifice to End All Sacrifices.”
The Father wrote down on his list, Make a sacrifice that is finally, permanently enough. He looked at the list of ideas in front of him. “Great ideas,” he said thoughtfully. “I’m just not sure…” He looked at his Son again.
“What’s wrong?” asked the Son.
“I’m just thinking about the Hero that’s going to be required for all of this. I don’t think the world I’ve created produces heroes like that anymore. Or ever did.”
“So, bring him in from another world?” said the Son. “You’ll figure it out. I know you’ll do a fantastic job. I know what kind of writer you are–and what kind of Father you are, too. If I was a character in your story I wouldn’t be scared at all when the bad things happened in my world. I would know you’d always have an awesome plan to save me and make it all into something beautiful. I would tell all the other characters, ‘Don’t be scared, no matter what happens or how much you suffer. You are so lucky, because you live in a story with an amazing Author, and he has promised that this story ends happily. And I know him, and if he says you will have happy ending, you will, no matter what happens or what it looks like in the middle of the book.’”
“If you were a character in my story…” repeated the Father. “If you were a character in my story…”
“All right, I know when you get that look in your eyes,” said the Son. “What have you thought of now?”
“Suppose you WERE a character in my story,” said the Father excitedly. “I mean, suppose I write you into the novel, suppose I write a book in which the Author’s Son leaves the world of the Author and enters the world of the story and becomes the Hero and saves the world? It’s fantastic! It’s certainly original. It’s never been done before in the history of literature!”
“What characters would believe that’s what’s happening?” the Son objected. “You’re going to have me really appear in the story and walk up to people and say, ‘Hey, guess what? You’re all actually characters in a novel and I’m the Author’s Son’? Come on Dad, they’d probably just lock my character up in a lunatic asylum.”
“Well, that would definitely have to be part of the plot,” the Father agreed. “Whether or not people believed you, that would be an important part of the story. But I would foreshadow you… there would have to be lots of foreshadowing, lots and lots of foreshadowing.” He turned over to the next page of the yellow tablet and started scribbling furiously. “I would make there be prophecies about you, like we talked about, and I would write you into David’s songs, and into the system of sacrifices… and even the holidays. Yes, I could make all the holidays foreshadow something about you, and then I would make all the pivotal moments of your life just happen to happen on those holidays. Things you couldn’t control, things that only the Author of the Story could control… like where you would be born, prophecies about that… And then I could enable you to reverse the laws of nature in my world, back up what you said by letting you… oh, I don’t know, walk on the surface of lakes or stop and start thunderstorms or raise dead people, whatever you wanted. Things that would show you were a character with the power of the author. Enough to provide enough evidence for them to be convinced about you, and leave anyone who didn’t believe it with no excuses. What do you think? Do you want to be the Hero in my story?”
“Wow, Dad, I’m honored. But sure. Yes, I would be happy to help you if you want my help. You can write me into your story.”
“Are you sure?” said the Father. “Because you don’t have to. It’s up to you.”
“No, I’ll do it,” said the Son. “I’ll stick by what I said. I trust you that much.”
“It’s not going to be easy,” said the Father. “It will have to be just as challenging for you to choose to trust me in that world as it is for them. You’ll have to suffer just as much as any of them, and go through everything they go through. I can’t give you any special treatment. And the second chance thing–if you’re the Second Adam character, it can’t be as easy for you as the first one, not as easy as just not eating a piece of fruit. You’ll have to take on my villain in mortal combat. And the thing you obey about will have to be something really, really hard. Something where nobody who reads it would say, ‘Oh, I would have done the right thing in that situation. I wish it had been me’ the way they all do about the first Adam. It will have to be something where everyone who reads it is so impressed with you and so grateful to you and grateful for you that they say, ‘Thank God it was him and not me! He deserves to be the savior of the world!’”
“OK,” said the Son. “Give me something hard then.”
“I’m talking about really hard,” warned the Father. “It will definitely have to involve your death, because that will be the ultimate way to prove you are the Author’s Son. I will have the power to write into the story that you come back to life just as easily as I wrote you into the story in the first place, and I will. But you will have to trust me enough to let yourself be killed in the story.”
“You’ve never broken a promise for as long as I have known you,” said the Son. “If you say that the story will end with me coming back from the dead, I won’t ever doubt it.”
“It can’t even be an easy death,” said the Father. “The Hero will have to suffer more than all the other characters did. I’m trying to get you glory, the glory of being the Hero in my story, the glory of doing what no one else ever could or would do. I want everyone who reads this story to go away remembering you, captivated by you, in awe of you and in love with you. You’ll be the one who dries the tears, ends the tragedies, saves the world. Your life will be my masterpiece. But you’ll have to die for others, for the people who reject you, probably a torturous death–or an unjust execution–or public humiliation–or betrayal by your best friend–or maybe all of the above. So you really don’t have to do this. Can you bear it, if I write about that?”
“I’m more worried about you,” said the Son. “Can you bear it to write a story like that about me?”
The Father shuddered. He said, “I can bear it if you can bear it.”
“Then I can bear it if you can bear it,” said the Son. They held each other’s gaze for a long time.
“I trust you,” repeated the Son. “Enough to be that vulnerable before you, as much so as if I was a character in a story you were writing, and every aspect of my existence was entirely at your mercy.”
“All right then,” said the Father. He ripped off the first page of the yellow tablet and handed it to the Son. “There’s your to-do list. And I will be working on mine.”
The Son read:
-Be a Second Adam who gets a second chance and who succeeds
-Be a David character who will be king forever.
-Use David’s songs again at pivotal plot moments
-Make a sacrifice that is finally, permanently enough
-Die for others. Expect to be resurrected.
“All right, then!” said the Father. “I have to plan your birth. I’ll pick just the right family of characters for you to be born into, and we’ll have lots of exciting narrow escapes as I protect you from all the bad guys that are in this story right now. You know, all through the story you can have the confidence that nobody can harm you before the time I’ve planned for you to die. Let’s see, you need a name in the story. What would you like your name to be?”
“Oh,” said the Son, leaning over the Father’s shoulder again. “I would like my name to mean something like ‘Your Author Will Save You.’ Can you make up a name that means that in their language? Because then all the suffering people in the story will know that they aren’t alone and they don’t have to rescue themselves. That you exist and you care about them so much and that you have concocted this fantastic plan to rescue them by sending me.”
“Your name will be the sweetest word they will ever speak,” promised the Father. “The story will end with your name.”