Why Are So Many INFJs Obsessed With Fictional Characters?

Every once in a while, I go through the list of search terms that WordPress says leads people to my blog looking to see if there are any topics I haven’t covered. This is one of them. It’s no surprise that search term led to this blog, though, since I’m an INFJ bloggers and the number of posts I’ve written about typing fictional characters (both here and on my Star Wars Personalities blog) shows that at least this INFJ is obsessed with fictional characters.

That doesn’t answer the question of “why” though. Nor does it explain why my posts about fictional character types were the most popular posts on my blog last year. It’s not just the posts about INFJ characters that are popular, either. All of my “7 Fictional Characters You’ll Relate To If You’re An ___” posts get a lot of views. We might not all be obsessed with fictional characters for the same reasons, but it seems that at least some people from every personality type feels an interest in and an attachment to fictional characters.

For INFJs (and perhaps other types as well), I suspect this obsession with fictional characters comes from a few different sources. Part of it is likely because INFJs so often feel alone and misunderstood in our real lives. We struggle to find belonging and acceptance, and so we search the stories that we love for people who seem to be like us. Many INFJs feel as if they find themselves in their favorite stories, and they may feel that the characters they find within fiction could understand them better than the people in real-life do.

This last part leads to another possible reason why INFJs are obsessed with fiction and fictional characters. We have very active imaginations and often talk about our “rich inner world.” Our minds are peopled with interesting places, people, ideas, and storylines that we encounter in fiction and real-life alongside all the imaginings we come up with on our own. Fictional characters give us fuel for the imaginative lives we lead inside our thoughts.

INFJs are also a type that loves people, but often finds interacting with other people in real-life challenging. It’s not that we avoid spending time with people, but we’re selective about who we spend time with and for how long because we have a limited amount of social energy. Reading well-written fiction or watching a well-acted film gives us the opportunity to “interact” in a non-social way with a wider number and variety of people than we’d typically get to see in real life. Fictional characters are not by any means a substitute for real friends, but they can help fill an INFJ’s hunger to learn about as many different people and perspectives as possible without wearing themselves out.

So there are the three reasons why I think INFJs are so often obsessed with fictional characters. We find connection with characters, we enjoy the way fiction fuels our imaginations, and we learn about people from stories.

Do you have any other explanations you’d add to this list for why we’re obsessed with fictional characters? And if you’re not an INFJ, do these reasons resonate with you as well or are there other reasons that you enjoy engaging with fiction?

If you’d like to know more about personal growth tips for the INFJ personality type, check out my book The INFJ Handbook. I’ve updated this second edition with a ton of new information and resources. You can purchase it in ebook or paperback by clicking this link.

Featured blog image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Learning More About Covenant Grace

There’s a fascinating relationship between God’s grace and the covenants He makes with people. Until the 5th century (when theologians brought Neo-Platonic philosophy into their interpretation of scriptures), Greek and Roman literature and early Judeo-Christian writings saw charis (grace) as something both relational and reciprocal (Schmidt, p. 201-202). The idea of “grace” as a free gift that God is obligated to give without having any expectations of the recipients was not originally part of the Greek language or of Christianity. Rather, there was a fuller, richer meaning to charis that Jesus, Paul, and other Bible writers used.

I’ve been reading a book on this topic by Brent J. Schmidt, who holds a PhD in classics, called Relational Grace: The Reciprocal and Binding Covenant of Charis (2015). His scholarship on the original meaning of charis is fascinating, but even without that background we can still see that grace comes with expectations. For example, Jesus said the one who “endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22, WEB) and that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20, WEB). We’re saved by God’s grace, and then He expects us to act in a certain way (with His power supporting us, of course).

The Bible talks about Christian conversion as a process and tells us that relationships with God require continued faithfulness. Yet the popular definition of grace in many modern churches still says grace is unmerited favor that God gives without expectation of anything in return. Trying to make these two ideas fit together is confusing, and it’s a problem first-century Christians didn’t have to deal with because they had a different definition for grace.

Ancient Understandings of Charis

Several centuries before Christ’s first coming and until at least the 4th century after, charis was understood as something that involved obligation and reciprocity (Schmidt, ch. 2 and 3). This meaning infused Greek, Roman, Jewish, and later Christian society to the point that everyone knew “receiving charis implied entering into reciprocal covenantal relationships” (p. 63).

Jews knew about covenantal relationships from the Bible. Every commandment was a covenant with God. Several stories, including Joseph, Moses, and David, associate the concepts of grace and mercy with covenants. Greek-speaking Jews lived in a culture that depended heavily on reciprocal relationships and understood what charis meant. When Paul taught them using the words charis, they would have understood that by accepting God’s grace they were making covenantal obligations.

Brent Schmidt, Relational Grace, p. 64

When Jesus Christ came to earth, one of the things that He did was establish a New Covenant on better promises and with a different sort of sacrifice. The Old Covenant was “completely unable … to perfect those who come to worship” (Heb 10:1, NET). In contrast, Jesus took away sin completely, giving us an incredible gift for us that we could never deserve nor repay. When we accept this “charis,” we enter a covenant with Him and His Father.

For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy. And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws on their hearts and I will inscribe them on their minds,” then he says, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no longer.” Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 10:14-16, NET (OT quotes bolded in this translation)

Grace is so closely connected with covenants that treating “the blood of the covenant ” as “an unholy thing” means someone has “insulted the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29). Covenants and laws don’t vanish after Christ’s sacrifice–they move to a heart and spirit level. We can see this in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, where He talks about the deeper, spiritual, enduring applications of God’s law. Paul also talks about this shift from flesh-level to spirit-level in detail when he’s talking about law and covenants.

Grace in Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Shifting our definition of grace to align with the one Paul and his audience would have used gives us a better idea of how to properly interpret Paul’s letters. One of the best places to see that is in Romans 6. Here, Paul talks about how we are “not under law but under grace” (v. 14, NET). This verse and others like it are often read out of context, but if you read the surrounding text the reciprocal and obligatory aspects of charis are easy to see. This is a very long quote, but I think it’s important to look at the whole thing to get enough context to understand Paul’s words.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not! Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, and having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness. (I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.) For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free with regard to righteousness.

So what benefit did you then reap from those things that you are now ashamed of? For the end of those things is death. But now, freed from sin and enslaved to God, you have your benefit leading to sanctification, and the end is eternal life. For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:12-23, NET

Many translations use the word “servant” instead of “slave,” but doulos is best translated either as “bondservant” or “slave.” Being bound to serve the Lord in this way was seen as an “honor and a privilege” in the Jewish mindset (NET footnote on Rom. 1:1). It’s a very different sort of thing than slavery in the modern sense. In fact, at the time Paul was writing, the “asymmetrical social relationships between patron and client and between master and salve were founded on the reciprocal notion of charis” (Schmidt, p. 95). When Paul talks of slavery, he’s talking about us being obligated to God for His gifts and bound in a covenant with Him that has expectations.

Living by God’s Spirit

When Jesus healed a man in Bethesda who’d been sick for 38 years, He told the man, “Behold you are made well. Sin no more, so that nothing worse happens to you” (John 5:1-14, WEB). It’s similar to what He told the woman caught in adultery (a story that’s not in the earliest manuscripts but is traditionally included with John’s gospel): “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way. From now on, sin no more” (John 8:11, WEB). In one case, Jesus provided physical healing and in the other He freed her from being condemned to death. After giving these gifts, He told both people that they should respond by doing something specific: stop living a life of sin.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4, NET

The Father and Son have given us incredible gifts. They’ve saved us from sin, adopted us into their family “with full rights of inheritance” (NET footnote on 8:15), and offer continued forgiveness so long as we do our best to follow Them and repent when we miss the mark. In response, “we are under obligation” to live a life lead by God’s spirit (Rom 8:12-14, NET). Being in a reciprocal covenant of grace is not about earning salvation or trying to pay back an impossible debt. It’s about having the right response of thankfulness to the incredible things God has done for us by welcoming us into His family. The more we can learn about that, the deeper relationship we can have with Him.

Featured image by José Roberto Roquel via Lightstock

“Almost A Bride” Book Review

I’m always excited to receive a new Jody Hedlund book to read and review before its release. I’ve read and enjoyed the first three books in her Bride Ships series: A Reluctant Bride, The Runaway Bride, and A Bride of Convenience. This final book, Almost A Bride, was a disappointment for me. There’s some really good character growth, but overall I didn’t enjoy this story nearly as much as I did the first books in the series or her other novels I’ve read. This might have something to do with my own personal experiences, and I’ll be sure to talk about that in this review so you can decide for yourself if I’ve judged the book too harshly.

Kate Millington has no trouble finding potential husbands. Staying engaged, however, is a problem. She arrives in the frontier mining town of Williamsville intending to marry her latest fiancé, only to panic and back out of their deal. He’s the fourth man she’s failed to marry — two back home, and now two more since she arrived in British Columbia on a bride ship. She longs for true love, but she’s also frightened of trusting any man with her heart.

Zeke Hart barely remembers Kate from their childhood. Back then, she was just the little sister of his best friend. He’s sure she couldn’t have good memories of him, considering how he left things back home. Falsely accused of a crime, he ran away to the new world and turned his back on God. Now a prosperous owner of a gold mine and one of the most powerful men in the area, he doesn’t see a need for faith. But meeting Kate again convinces him he has a powerful need for a wife. If only she wasn’t so hung-up on that whole issue of him not being a Christian.

In the background of Kate and Zeke’s personal struggles and ill-advised romance, there’s another threat building. A jealous ex-fiancé stabs Zeke. Someone sets an explosive charge in his mine, nearly killing him. He receives anonymous threats. Perhaps the question of whether or not they should be together isn’t the only thing these two need to worry about.

Read more

Learning From Others’ Spiritual Temperaments: Book Review of “Sacred Pathways” by Gary Thomas

A couple weeks ago, in an article titled “Psychology Isn’t Enough, but It Sure Helps: The Need for Personal, Spiritual Growth in Christianity” I talked about a book by Gary Thomas called Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path To God. I originally read it back in 2017 and I’d planned to write about it here on the blog but for some reason (which I don’t remember now) I never got around to it. So I reread it, and now I’d like to share some thoughts.

Book Overview

Thomas proposes nine “sacred pathways” — spiritual temperaments that describe how we’re most inclined to worship God. In the first chapter, he discusses that in the Christian churches we often expect everyone to worship God the same way. The example he uses is the “quiet time” that became a staple of church training and discipleship programs in the 1970s and ’80s. It involved spending 30 to 60 minutes each morning in prayer, personal worship, and Bible study, then having an accountability partner to check-in that you were keeping up with your routine. Prayer, worship, and study are all good things, but it’s not good if we reduce worship to “rote exercise” or assume everyone has to worship in the exact same way all the time (p. 14-15).

I’ve heard the idea that everyone else should worship “our way” voiced more or less directly by a variety of people in churches I’ve attended. Some think churches that don’t encourage dance are not worshiping Biblically; others worry about the people who aren’t committed enough to follow their example of reading the Bible through every year. I’ve voiced my own frustration with song services that have all the enthusiasm of a funeral dirge, saying we need more life in our worship to make it meaningful. Complaining about those who don’t  worship the way we think they ought is a common thing. But perhaps it betrays a wrong attitude. Read more

“A Bride of Conveience” Book Review

As a Jody Hedlund fan, I was thrilled to receive a copy of her newest book A Bride of Convenience to read and review before its release. This is the third book in her Bride Ships series. I’ve also reviewed the other two: A Reluctant Bride and The Runaway Bride.

Pastor Abe Merivale has no intentions of getting married during his five-year mission to spread the gospel in British Columbia. Not even to beautiful Zoe Hart, a former mill-worker among the women to arrive on the latest bride ship. But shortly after their meeting in a hospital, one of Abe’s parishioners shows up and extracts a promise that they’ll find a good home for the infant daughter he hasn’t been able to take care of since his native wife died. Zoe takes to the baby immediately, and Abe finds himself taken with Zoe almost as quickly.

After a series of impulsive decisions, the two find themselves agreeing to a marriage of convenience. Marrying Zoe gives Abe a way to sooth his recent heartache and fulfill his promise to care for the baby, and marrying Abe protects Zoe from a less-desirable match while making it possible for her to keep baby Violet. Abe’s Bishop doesn’t approve of the hasty marriage, though, nor of the half-breed child. Tension and attraction in Abe and Zoe’s relationship rise as they discover this marriage might not be so convenient after all. Read more

The Enneagram Types As Fictional Characters

One of the things I like to do when studying personality types is find examples of the different types in fictional characters. It helps each type make more sense to me if I have some example to link it to. While I was reading The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, I started having fictional characters come to mind as I was reading. The types “clicked” as I realized I understood them well enough to relate each to a fictional character.

Much has been written in books and online about the numbers on Enneagram, and today’s post is not going to re-tread that ground with complete profiles of each Enneatype. I’m just going to give a brief example of each type using a fictional character that I think is a good example of that type. I’m still an Enneagram beginner, so don’t take everything I say as the definitive view on the Enneagram. But I hope to give a overview for others who, like me, are trying to get a better sense of how the Enneagram shows up in real life using examples of fictional people. I’ll be quoting from the book I mentioned earlier as well as type profiles from The Enneagram Institute®.

Ones — Steve Rogers

These types are perfectionists who follow rules to the letter and are deeply committed to the concept of fairness. They tend to believe that their way is the right way and they’re very sensitive to criticism (both from other people and from their harsh inner critic). Ones have a mind that naturally compares things and makes value judgements, but as The Road Back To You points out, they tend to be shocked that other people see them as critical. They’re “The Rational, Idealistic Type: Principled, Purposeful, Self-Controlled, and Perfectionistic” according to The Enneagram Institute. Read more