The Bible was written to inspire us in faith and conduct, but the Bible can also serve as a muse to a writer.
The short book of Philemon, in the New Testament, is a letter from Paul to Philemon. The Bible tells us that Philemon was a Christian in Colosee. We presume he was wealthy because the church met in his house, and he owned slaves. He probably was converted to Christianity by Paul’s preaching. He and Paul were close friends. Philemon probably helped support Paul financially.
Onesimus was one of Philemon’s slaves who had run away. He found his way to Rome where Paul was under house arrest. Onesimus heard Paul preach. The letter informs Philemon that Onesimus had recently become a Christian and had been helping Paul. Paul appeals to Philemon to have enough love to accept Onesimus as a brother. It is logical to assume that Onesimus carried the letter.
At the time, Roman law gave a slave owner the power of life and death over his slaves. Thus in returning to Philemon, Onesimus placed himself in grave danger. He probably expected to be whipped soundly or worse.
I spun a tale of Philemon praying about a rebellious son who would rather go sporting than to attend a church supper that evening. When Philemon is informed of slaves planning to run away during the confusion of the supper, he announces that any slave who even attempts to escape will receive four lashes from the whip. Shortly thereafter, Onesimus arrives and presents Paul’s letter. Onesimus is forgiven, but he must suffer the announced punishment. As Onesimus is tied to the doorpost, Philemon reads Paul’s letter. Philemon then orders the whipping to proceed, but steps up to the doorpost so that the whip falls upon his own back.
A crime such as running away, has to be punished, but when Philemon takes the punishment that Onesimus deserves, the rebellious son gets a glimpse of the love God has for us. He decides to stay for the church supper and sit at the feet of the evangelist. The son wishes to learn of the loving God who his father serves.
I wrote this as a short story, Grace that won 6th place in teh inspirational division of the 2007 Writer’s digest Short Story Contest. Obviously we should not change scripture, but there are many Biblical stories open ended enough to give us the opportunity to let our imaginations run. We are free to use such inspiration, but writers are obligated to remain true to the overall message of the Bible.
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible tells us of a god who is fair and equitable enough to punish all those who sin, yet who has incredible love for us. God’s love is such that he came to us at Christmas time in the form of a baby who eventually would die a criminal’s death for you and me. We are all sinners who deserve to hang on a cross in spite of the fact that God forgives us. Thus for those who believe, we find that Jesus has taken our place on that cross.
When we write a Biblically inspired story, we need to reflect such love in our writing.