After my reflections on writing in the post I just put up earlier today, I thought I would share with you a piece I wrote about a year ago. It's a fairly simple exposition of my understanding of the Christian faith as it relates to story-telling. I don't know that it has any particular literary merit (by my own categories in the last post, it has little originality, but at least it's faithful), but it's probably worth reading. It's called, rather un-originally, "The Greatest Story Ever Told."
I love a good story. A good story will turn a mass of jumbled events and characters into a wonderful adventure, a rising drama that cuts a brilliant course toward a single purpose. It will take all of the beautiful, painful chaos of life and give it rhythm and rhyme, a sensible pattern against the cold, vacuous chasm of despair. Stories bring about resolution, a satisfying finality that all things have come full circle at last.
At times they seem artificial, trite and contrived against the apparent meaninglessness of everyday life. And yet there is something within us that yearns for story, something that cries out for a sense of meaning and purpose, an understandable direction to follow. It seems to me that this impulse, apparently common to all human beings, cannot be a mere blip of sentient evolution. Our common passions and urges direct us toward reality. A child feels hungry, and there is such a thing as food to be hungry for. People feel sexual attraction, and there is such a thing as sex. Similarly, we yearn for a coherent story to give meaning to our lives, and I believe that there is such a thing as that story.
The ageless questions assault us in all the silent moments: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where, ultimately, am I going? These are all story questions, issues of character and plot. Some cultures will ask the questions in different ways, but all cultures ask them. Throughout all of recorded time, from every corner of the globe, men and women have sought to make sense of their own existence. And the answer to it all is a story. The name of that story is Christianity.
At its heart, Christianity is a story. Some people will tell you that it is first and foremost a personal relationship with God, and it certainly is that. But to stop there is dangerous. It puts us at the center of the picture: Christianity is about my relationship with God. Aided by our natural pride, it easily degenerates into a self-centered religion. Our relationship with God becomes primarily viewed in terms of our spiritual fulfillment rather than his glory.
It would be better to say that Christianity is all about God’s personal relationship with us. This puts God at the center of the picture again. Who is this God? Why does he seek relationship with us? How does he communicate with us? It is these questions that the Scriptures slowly answer for us by telling us a story—the story of his relationship with ordinary people.
It has been called the greatest story ever told, and rightly so. Here is the tale of an unbelievably magnificent God, fully and completely glorious, who creates and loves and redeems a people in his own image. It is a story of his endless glory and of the unparalleled wonder of his grace—the undeserved love which we find ourselves receiving, delighted and amazed. And at the center of this unrivalled epic is an astonishing figure, a man who turned the world upside-down from beneath the shadow of an empire. Here the God of the universe stepped fully into his own story, turning it into a tragedy and a comedy and a triumph beyond reckoning. Here is the Christ, Jesus the Nazarene, an extraordinary character who truly and completely saved the world.
No story on earth has ever before imagined a character like him, and no other ever will. He is the scandal of untiring uniqueness, the delightful explosion of Truth into a sin-darkened world. No other man has ever done such wonders out of an unending well of love and claimed all the while to be God. No one else has ever been at once so astonishingly meek and yet so completely fixed on winning glory for the Father with whom he was one. No one else could claim to be humble and claim to be God and be convincing in both. Yet this Jesus, this Galilean peasant-preacher, has consistently won admiration and devotion from men and women all over the world, Christians and non-Christians alike. The words that echo from his mouth are absolutely unbelievable, and yet because they are from his mouth they are believed.
And though his words are wild and without equal, it is his deeds that give life and breath to the story. This is the tale of a miracle-worker, a simple man who overturned the world without ever seizing power for himself. This is the story of a healer, pouring himself out in love for the outcasts and the despised. And this is the story of the everlasting Christ, the immortal Son of God who sealed the resolution of history by offering up his own life as a ransom.
But not even death could hold down this hero. The cold night of despair could not restrain the golden dawn, and Jesus rose from the dead. We hear it so often that we begin to forget what it means. We no longer tremble with joy when the Easter-cry rings out over the earth: He is risen indeed! Here is the glory of our wonderful God, the crown of all our hopes. Jesus Christ has defeated death itself.
The indescribable wonder of the Christian life is not merely that we can know about this wildly unique hero, modeling our lives on his example and philosophy. It is that we can know him in person. More than that—it is that his very life, the overflow of his eternal joy, can spill into our hearts and transform us into reflections of him, into everything we were meant to be. We can be heroes in the greatest story ever told, men and women of action and truth who march beneath the banner of the incomparable Christ.
Though we have seen the central act and know already a few tantalizing hints of the ending, this story is still in motion. God is still at work, calling people all over the world into relationship with him. The power of the risen Christ is flooding through the earth, and already uncounted millions have been transformed in the radiance of his glory.
We have before us the unspeakable treasure of this truth: God loves us so much that he not only suffered and died for us; he has also chosen and appointed us as the instruments of his mission. We are the heroes of his story now, you and I. We have a purpose and a meaning that is infinitely beyond anything we have ever dreamed. This story defines and shapes and gives purpose to everything we do. There are no unimportant moments anymore. The glory of God is the golden thread that weaves through the tattered epic of human history, and we are a part of its triumph.
I love a good story.
Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.