Returning to the First
By Anthony Casperson
During this time of social isolation, I’ve been writing a novel. (I’m a creative introvert with a penchant for writing, so it was kinda inevitable.) I’d been planning since the beginning of the year to start it over the summer, but the situation at hand has allowed me to continue on the endeavor.
But a couple of weeks ago, I’d realized that certain thematic elements had fallen through the cracks of the plot. And since I believe that theme gives more purpose to a story than the plot (though both are held in high regard), this realization gave me pause.
I had to remind myself again of the purpose of writing the story to begin with. This central thought is what brought about the idea for the plot. It’s what gave me the drive to create a world and characters. The very thing that excited me to spend hours with the story before I typed a single word of it.
Returning to the theme, I realized that there’s not just a need to add in a line or two here and there, but an entire restructuring of a couple chapters. And in turn, restructuring the book as a whole. Fortunately for me, I caught the issue in its early stages. It’s not going to cost me much in time loss or, worse yet, word count.
But realizations that we’ve moved away from the thing that led us to this very point in time don’t always come that quickly. Sometimes the loss is great. And the consequences dire. This is why it’s important to occasionally step back and ask if we’ve lost one important thing in our quest for another.
The words that came to my mind immediately after this thought were “first love.” They come from the book of Revelation, while the Apostle John wrote letters to seven churches at the behest of Jesus in an awe-inspiring divine appearance. The letter in which those words appear was addressed to the church in Ephesus.
Jesus, through John, congratulated his Ephesian followers on maintaining a stance of vigilance against false apostles and doctrines of heresy. Even in the face of persecution for that action.
While followers of Jesus in many other locales required purity from false teachers, Ephesus seemed to be a prime location of these types of issues. In Acts 20:17-38, Paul sends for the leaders of the city to give them special instructions that could have been his last to them. And in verses 28-31, he prophesies that false teachers will come like wolves among sheep, speaking twisted things.
It seems like Paul’s words came true. It was a real prophecy after all. And according to Revelation 2, the leaders of the Ephesian followers of Jesus did their best to keep doctrine pure. But in the meantime, they lost the love of God that has given them purpose to begin with. The central way of life that brought about the need for right teaching. The thing that drove them to truth.
The pursuit became a drudgery because they didn’t remember to keep love as their reason for standing against heresy. Each must be held in high regard. Not one without the other.
This letter from Jesus through the hand of John was the Ephesians’ reminder to realign their stand for truth with God’s love. Some restructuring would be called for. And if not, there would be dire consequences.
I feel the need to remind us all of the same thing. The love of God that excited us at first, that drove us to serve him, often slips through the cracks. Especially when opposition to our perspective arises. And so, we need to remind ourselves of our purpose in God. Readjusting as necessary.
This isn’t to say that love is more important than truth, or justice, or any other godly motivation. Rather, love should drive our purpose for them all, working in tandem. Remember, Jesus congratulated the Ephesians for their vigilance. It was important. But losing the theme while working the plot led to a need to rework the story.