The Fault in our Souls

A review of The Fault in our Stars.

John Green’s book, The Fault in Our Stars, is not to be taken lightly. Over 10 million copies of the book have been sold to date. It is currently ranked the number one best seller on Amazon and has been followed by a recent blockbuster movie. The book’s target audience is young adults and teenagers; the theme of the book is about two terminal cancer patients who are teenagers—not exactly what one would expect to be a winning formula.

Green is a talented writer. The story is written in the voice of Hazel, a 16-year-old girl diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her life is transformed when she meets Gus, a 17-year-old boy who has already lost a leg to cancer. The plot plunges headlong into the world of the terminally ill. Hazel and Gus give no effort to make themselves or others comfortable with their cancer. They offer no apologies for who they are and want no sympathy from others. For them, life is it what it is. Terminal cancer is the card they have been dealt.

This directness is what makes the book appealing: having terminal cancer does not make someone less of a person. Green’s characters refuse to meet the expectations of other people extending sympathy to them. But for them, life does stink—at least for Hazel. Then she and Gus meet. We get to see the relationship flourish in the soil of terminal illness. These two teenagers are intellectually super-charged. They want meaning for the immediate issues and interests of their life since there might be no tomorrow. Life still stinks for tomorrow, but today brings the joy of romance, understanding, and closeness with someone in the same sinking boat.

But for Green and his two teenage creations, what is now is all that there is. For an existentialist, now is all that matters. For example, while talking about something difficult that happened to himself, Gus says:

“Not your fault, Hazel Grace. We’re all just side effects, right?” “Barnacles on the container ship of consciousness,” Hazel responds.

Later, regarding death and the impersonal god of the existentialist, 16-year-old Hazel writes this about the death of 17-year-old Gus:

“We live in a universe devoted to the creation, and eradication of awareness. Augustus Waters [Gus] did not die after a lengthy battle with cancer. He died after a lengthy battle with human consciousness, a victim – as you will be – of the universe’s need to make and unmake all that is possible.”

The Fault in Our Stars is praised for being bold and honest. It is praised because Hazel and Gus are able to know what it means to have sex and enjoy love even if only for a moment. It is praised because it is said to be real. The truth is—this book is none of these things.

The book asks the reader to exchange the truth about God for the lie of the sufficiency of creation without its Creator. Hazel and Gus are meant to make us think that they lived life on their own terms. However, this too is fiction. Life is not just what can be seen. Whether humans acknowledge this or not, they are accountable to God. Death does not end existence. At the moment of death the meaning of life becomes devastatingly clear: life is lived on God’s terms.

Terminal cancer is a stark reminder of the fragility of life. The truth is that nothing is certain about tomorrow—neither for the terminally ill nor for any of us. At birth we are all terminal unless rescued by the grace of God.  Life on earth is not all that there is, no matter how noble writers like John Green attempt to portray it.  Life without Christ is a lie. It is God who provides hope beyond our ability to dream, no matter how bleak our human condition. Don’t let Green’s distortions of reality rob your teenagers of this great truth.  Talk openly about this book. You see, The Fault in Our Stars is really about the fault in our souls—a fault that can be healed by Christ, who is the Lord of Creation.

For more helping your children build a biblical worldview see Instructing a Child’s Heart

Instructing a Child's Heart


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