I recently read a post talking about “Karpman’s drama triangle” – a theory that story characters arrange themselves into Hero, Victim, or Villain roles – and how this had a negative effect on stories and society. (It’s under Point 8.)
The post writer suggested making sure all characters had “agency” – or meaningful choice – within the story. This is important, as far as it goes…personal responsibility for actions is very important.
However, when I first heard her explain “Karpman’s drama triangle”, I said to myself, “Isn’t that exactly what we see in the Bible? Don’t stories follow this pattern so often because we’re resonating with the eternal story of creation?”
The Triangle of History
This triangle, as I understood it, talked about how someone would require rescuing, so someone else would rise to rescue him.
This is what we see in the Bible.
We are in trouble. Deep trouble. Classic damsel-in-distress type stuff.
We (humanity) were born into a perfect world…but then the Villain struck! Yep – us, again.
(I didn’t say “Satan”, because that gives him too much cred. The world didn’t break because Satan disobeyed God…the whole universe broke because Adam disobeyed God! Thanks, Great-Granddad…)
So here we are (each individual human being), playing the Villain role (taking up arms against God and hurting things wherever we go) and the Victim role (hurting ourselves at every turn, and totally helpless to fix ourselves).
There’s nothing we can do to change this state of affairs. Nada. Trust me, humans have been trying for thousands upon thousands of years. We can’t patch up our relationship with God, and we can’t free ourselves from our own evil desires…just like addiction.
The whole human race is addicted to badness.
Enter: the Hero! Jesus. Son of God. Totally awesome, Lawful Good, and kick-butt (can I say that?!).
He humbled Himself, went through the famous “Dark Night of the Soul“, all that classic Hero stuff…literally died. Was dead for three days.
Then? Happily ever after! Jesus kicked death in the face and came alive again!
With the “dragon” slain, the “prince” “rode up on his horse” and asked the “damsel” if she would marry him!
So…will you say “I do”?
It’s not just the overarching story of salvation, either.
God cares about individual widows, too. Check out Deuteronomy 14 (yes Deuteronomy):
God is telling Israel about tithing – giving a tenth of your grain, your fruit, your wine, your produce to God so you remember that He gave you everything.
Then God tells them, every three years pile the tithe food in the middle of the city and let the widows, orphans, and foreigners (with no land inheritance, family network, etc.) eat their fill from it (Deut. 14:28-29).
See? Yes, God cares about rescuing his Church (Bride)…but He also cares about the “helpless” widows and orphans – the “victims” of unavoidable tragedy who don’t have the resources to help themselves.
He cares, and that’s why He commands His people to act as “heroes” in His name, extending aid to those worse off than ourselves.
Want an example from the New Testament? How about James 1:27? James’ theme is that talking the talk is worthless unless you walk the walk. (You say you believe in God? Super. The demons believe the same thing – and have the sense to be afraid of Him! Js. 2:19.)
That’s why James points out that God wants us to act out the faith we say we have by: being a “hero” to the “helpless”…the weak, tired, and alone. The “victims” of this sin-scorched world. (The “villain” being: ourselves again.)
Back to the Psychologists
Karpman wasn’t talking about God, though. He was a psychologist, trying to explain human relationships and human behavior through “Science!”.
And he’s right about one thing. When human beings try to mimic the role of God (Hero), we mess even that up.
Karpman and his friends called it things like “encouraging dependency”, “ignoring their own problems by focusing on helping others”, “taking advantage of the rescuer”, “perpetuating the victim’s feelings of helplessness”, and other things.
All of which is trying to turn something organic (a relationship) into something algorithmic (turning human interactions into a series of equations – which they’re not).
I think the Bible says it all much more succinctly:
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food…she took some and ate, and gave to her husband, and he ate. And the eyes of both were opened, and they saw that they were naked. (Gen. 3: 6-7)
There is none righteous – no, not one! No one understands…no one seeks for God! (Rom. 3: 10-11)
For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by His grace which is ours in Christ Jesus! (see Rom. 3: 21-24)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… (Rev. 21: 1)
Back to the Story Authors
I think I’ve figured out why I get all swoony over the Master Chief and Zavala (and Genos!). Because they are quintessential heroes – the definitive “good guys” – and in that way they mimic my own dear King Jesus.
So, I will proudly write stories about heroes rescuing…people who need rescuing. But I agree with the original poster that “character agency” is also very important.
After all, we got ourselves in this mess. No sneaky Devil forced us off the cliff of our own desires! We raced there all on our own, because we wanted what we couldn’t possibly have: to be God.
It also makes sense that Character Agency is important because God gave it to us! When a story denies characters agency, or denies them the reality of making bad choices or choices that matter, the story falls flat…because we instinctively know it doesn’t line up with our real experiences.
God doesn’t let us write the story, though. He is the Author of this interactive, choose-your-own-adventure we call “life”! We participate, but only within the bounds that He allows (Job 1:12, 2:6).
And this is where the sovereignty of God (fancy, church-word for “God’s the boss-man”) and free-will (not-so-fancy church-word for “we get a choice”) come together and hug and all the theologians go, “But I thought you two weren’t speaking to each other!”
Yes – God is totally in charge. AND – yes, each individual human being gets a choice in how their life will go.
How does that work? God hasn’t explained in detail…probably because our brains would explode if we tried to understand.
Just trust God that it works.
And keep trying to write stories and show how FULLY AWESOME He is…because that’s what it’s all about, m’kay?
Kimia Wood currently lives somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.
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