There are two kinds of writers: those who can sit down in front of their keyboards or with their pad and pen and simply start writing, letting the story and characters go where they go. I hate them. I’m the other kind, the ones who outline because we have to know where the story is going or else we’d get lost. Me viewing my life through the lens of a writer had implications on how I viewed the Bible. I started to read it as a storybook, a collection of stories. The story of God’s interaction with His people and a collection of stories I choose to live my life by.
A story has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. With the Bible, the beginning starts with … the beginning, the creation. The act of creation provides not only the setting, but also the characters. But who is the central character, the protagonist? Who is the hero of the story? God? Humanity?
So we start with God. I believe that there are things we can’t/haven’t measured, a spiritual transcendent dimension to our reality. There is something wholly other, a complex other. If you’ve ever tried to get to know someone, you know that it requires work, trust, intimacy, and time, and that’s for people. God is ineffable (beyond words) and incomprehensible. God would not be God if this were not the case. And we’re handicapped by having only limited perception.
There is mystery and paradox, involved in getting to know him.
If there is a God, he has to have revealed himself or else he might as well not exist. We would end up endlessly wondering what “the Universe” wants. On faith, I believe Christ is not only the bridge to that other, but also the full revelation of that Other. But I’m skipping ahead in the story.
The protagonist (for that matter, all the characters) has a long-term goal for the duration of the story, so in this case, it is God interacting with humanity for a purpose. God creates, for the same reason we echo in our lives, because he has to. It’s a well spring of who he is. The Creator loved world he made, wanted to look after it best possible way so he created care-taker creatures modeled on Himself, embody his characteristics (though not fully).
The action that propels a story is some sense of conflict, in the form of the Fall: the sin of Adam and Eve. Moving beyond a literal interpretation of the story, let’s look at what the sin represents. Adam’s sin represents man seeking his own way. Sin becomes its own undoing. We’re left with a fear of death and end up spreading further sin and destruction in light of that fear. Our pursuit of what we hope to create out of rebellion (the lie of independence), attempting to write our own stories; all the while ignoring the grand story of which we’re a part. The Fall also gives us the main themes of Story. Relationships are broken and look at what we arises from this conflict: man vs. man; man vs. God; man vs. self; man vs. Creation. One of the things that makes suffering so bad is the sense, the part of us that knows, that things aren’t as they’re supposed to be.
In a way, the story is part romance, about God wooing humanity back to him. Meeting us where we are, messy and broken. And I mean romance in the best sense of the word (and wouldn’t it be great if Bibles came with covers of Jesus with a half ripped open pirate shirt or something?)
Yet with any good story, something stands in the way of the protagonist achieving his goal.
The story of God putting things right, isn’t that he just woke up one day, decided to pay attention, and suddenly decide to do something to fix the mess by condemning Jesus to a cruel fate to satisfy some blood thirst. Nor would his passion to put the world right, fulfilling this idea of justice involve swooping in, waving a magic wand, and cleaning things up. That would be him forcing himself on us. Instead, His plan has always been to work through people. From Abraham and Israel to Christ and the Church, he stirs our spirits and acts from within creation.
So the story builds to a climax. The climax is the point at which the story goes from being an interrelated, deliberately arranged, set of scenes to a cohesive story. It provides a fundamental meaning to events. That’s what the incarnation (birth in human form), life, death, and resurrection of Christ did for human history.
I’m not a God apologist. I can’t argue philosophical points. I can only speak to what forms my faith. I tend to subscribe to a “something happened” brand of apologetics. Christianity is the story of something that happened, centered around to and through this Jesus of Nazareth person. Something happened more than a guy coming along laying down some moral guidelines and teaching or else we’d see people worshiping Oprah.
Something happened which changed the course of history. I know that Jesus was not the hero they were looking for. Those waiting on a messiah were looking for someone to overthrow their Roman oppressors.
Something happened which caused massive transformation as people saw that they could be saved from an empty way of living, if they choose to accept that. That we may be lost, dying, and in need of new life, resurrection could be had. That the rule of death had been broken, freeing us to live for others. Something happened which gave them the sense of mission to the world to be a blessing.
It’s a story of big ideas with big characters who often make big mistakes. It’s a love story of a Creator rescuing his creation from rebellion, brokenness, corruption, and death. It’s a story we’re a part of and a story we’re invited into. It’s the story thus far, as we live out and work toward the ending. We propel the story, invited to become fresh, new characters.
And that’s the point of the story. We’re invited to join in God’s mission, to be a part of reconciling the universe. We’re called to heal it, to bring restoration, redemption, and reconciliation. We needed a new way of life and living to fix it and Jesus modeled a new way of living and people chose to conform their lives to his example. We need to be continually renewing this example, because it’s easy to fall back into old patterns and old ways of living. We need to be a part of the solution, not the problem. What good is faith if we don’t put what we say we believe into action, living it out as best we are able.
Where there’s a story there’s a plot, there’s a plotter. Not the best proof of the existence of God, but it works for me. We connect with story because we’re a part of a grand story. The story comes full circle as Christ undoes the way of Adam, showing a new way (as high priest and intercessor), and recreating community and relationship with God. In short, He redeems Creation. In turn, we’re all called to live in light of this story, aligning ourselves with this truth.
The one true overarching story of Christianity is that all stories are finally brought not only to fullness and completion, but redemption in Christ. In Christ, all stories are finished. If I had to guess Wrath’s reaction, it would be to say that what I’m saying is that I cling to a fairy tale I hope is true, because what I’ve said isn’t logical. And he’s right. It’s as logical as falling in love. You can’t help who you fall in love with, you do have a choice about what to do about it.
Me? I’m just a man searching for truth and trying to work out his faith. Stories can take you to a deeper reality. My stories are one way I work out my faith. The world is good, but broken, a paradox stories can help us understand. I see the reality of evil and darkness. Sometimes I see how love and relationships can become twisted and selfish. I look into the heart of humanity, into my own heart, and find it wa
nting. I question, I doubt, I often miss the point, and I fail.
Faith is confidence in the goodness of God remembered on how he has shown goodness to you in the past. Remembering and re-experiencing the way God has touched your life. It leaves you with a sense of hope, that you have a future. Doubt is useful for a while … but we must move on. We can deconstruct our beliefs all we want, but after awhile, we have to construct something.
I have hope and I cling to it. Darkness may win battles, but light win the war. Justice is real, if sometimes slow in coming. Love, true love, forgives, heals, and triumphs. And humanity, even me, can find redemption.
Stories can show us possibilities. Stories can let us have glimpses of a future hope. Stories can encourage and sustain us. For me, it comes back to the recognition that “we are imperfect people living in a very imperfect world and worshiping a perfect God in an imperfect church.” What I want is to truly experience, the true prayer of my heart, is to truly feel God, to truly know God. Until then, I can only cling to my faith and continue to pray my favorite prayer found in the Bible:
“Lord I believe. Help me with my unbelief.”