"Let Me Tell You A Story": Finding Yourself in God's Story, Pt. II
"Let Me Tell You A Story" by Rev. Charles R. Biggs
Introduction: "The Story of My Life!"
What do we mean when we say: "That's the story of my life!" Usually it is a reactionary phrase of response that means that a certain event, or certain happening or occurrence is a consistent or recurring reality in our lives. We may not think about, or unpack this phrase much when we say it, but what we are really revealing about ourselves is that whether we acknowledge it or not, we are "actors" or "players" in a narrative world, or narrative universe.
Allow me to introduce my thinking on the importance of story, or a storied context in which we all live. I would like to focus on this "narrative world" in which God the Father wants all of us to imagine ourselves in the Bible as Christians. The Bible teaches us the true story of creation, fall, redemption and new creation. We are to see ourselves as people in this Grand Story that God has communicated in his holy inerrant and infallible Word.
[Note: I do not use the word "imagine" in this 'WOE' to imply that it is an "imaginary world" in which God calls us, in the sense of "not real", but a place of truth where are imaginations are actively engaged with and by God's truth (a "narratable world"- Robert Jenson, 'How the World Lost It's Story', First Things, 36 (Oct. 1993): 19-24).
Let Me Tell You A Story...
God's promise to Abraham and His seed is a promise that can be covenantally summed up in the phrase "like father, like son". The father's story, written by God, might then be the story passed on to the next generation and become the son's (and daughter's) story by faith as well (think of the Scriptures where the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law say that they are Abrahamâ€™s children (seed)! The importance of knowing God's Story and passing it down to succeeding generations is because it is so easily forgotten and it is truly the truth that will set us free from alternative myths and stories of our own making! This is why in the Proverbs (particularly in the first nine chapters), you have instructions from parents to son, or children to remember the story of which they are a part as covenantal people.
Each of our lives has a storied-narrative that is "read" or the plot revealed as we live each day of our lives learning about ourselves and our world. For instance, as a Christian, you are a worshiper of the living God, the True Creator, and you who participate in His Redemptive-Action "for you" in Christ, you are a life-character in this great story and narrative of His! Your story is understood in light of His Story and HIS STORY is important for us all to realize each and every day of our lives.
You could say that all creatures either begin each day living their own made-up, individualistically created life-story (you know seeking to â€œreinvent oneselfâ€ or to be whoever one wants to be by perceiving themselves a certain way and wanting others to perceive them this way to!), or we rely on God's Story in Christ to inform and enlighten us, giving us wisdom, and serving to reveal our true identities as those who live and move and have their begin in Him!
Whoâ€™s Story are You Living?
The story of the Christian finds meaning in worship, loving service and community with other participants, or characters in God's story. As Church, we are not merely passive spectators (as some would act and portray in many worship services around America), we are active actors and active participant-players whereby we hear God's Story preached and read, then we respond as those living in His Story. Each worship service as the covenantal community of actors reminds us of our identity and explains how we "fit into" each chapter of His story.
The plot/narrative of God's story is guided by and written out in historical pages by His providence and divine guidance. He guides or directs the plot/narrative to His divine ending that is beyond your imagination and belief!
As the new world, the new creation has dawned in Christ, the volume of grace has been written and is being written in the story of your life (this too is the already, not yet). If you look within your family, neighborhood, or congregation, you will see other important characters in God's story.
But as there is a protagonist in every story (a Divine protagonist in the case of this unique Divine story), so there is an evil antagonist. The antagonist is the Evil One, Satan who would attempt to cause you to exist outside His Story, and tempt you to create or write your own. He is not in any way equal with God Almighty as some ancient Greek teachers might imply. Rather, Satan the Evil One is a created, but fallen angel and servant of God. In God's divine wisdom, he uses the Devil or Satan to fulfill his divine decree, although this is a great mystery (see Job 1-2).
The Evil One's story is the kind of story when your mom asked you: "Are you telling me a story?" This question asked my "Mom" implies a lie, a kind of story that is made-up, not true, and unreal, yet might be believable. The story the Evil One would have us believe started in the Garden of Eden: â€œHas God truly said?â€ (Gen. 3). Satan, the Accuser wants creatures of the living God and Creator to â€œbelieve at lieâ€. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 1:
ESV Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
The Evil One, Satan is a deceiver, a liar, and he tells a story to creatures that is not Godâ€™s truth. He says for instance that â€œall roads of faith lead to Godâ€, while Jesus says he alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through him. Satan tells the story that each of us are to seek our own good in this world, knowing that one day we will die, and so while we are here we need to â€œeat, drink, and be merryâ€, while Christâ€™s story of truth tells us all that we were created for Godâ€™s glory, and in seeking the glory of our Creator, we find meaning, hope, and one day resurrection in Jesus Christ.
So there are two opposing stories ultimately, and we need to be reminded of Christâ€™s words in John 8:44 when speaking with the Jewish Pharisees and Teachers of the Law who had forgotten their story of redemption from Egypt, and were not believing Messiah and His Kingdom that was present with him (cf. Matthew 12:23-32):
ESV John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
The power of the True Story is revealed whenever we have conjured up an â€œalternate realityâ€ or false story of how we got here, who we are, and where we are ultimately headed that doesnâ€™t really satisfy our souls and make sense, then we are given ears to hear the True Story, eyes to see the Kingdom has arrived in Jesus, and we are able to begin the slow transformation of taking all of the conflicting â€œalternate realitiesâ€ and false stories or myths we have been taught and bring them under the Lordship of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
Remember the Story!
Every covenant community of God's people in congregation is a chapter being written in God's Divine Story, living in His Story as the plot progresses toward His divine ending (As in Greek history, we do not believe in cyclical history (histories), but we believe in linear history, that is a history with a beginning at creation and an end-consummation in the renewal of the all creation). As people of the covenant community, we must never forget this great story that has been written, and is being written in our own family and congregation. But we all must remember the story. That is, the story that God reveals is capable of being forgotten and even lost by each family.
The Israelites were also part of this story and they were to tell this story to each generation of sons and daughters in the covenant community. In fact, before Moses died and the people entered into the Promised Land given to them graciously by God, Moses reminded the elders and fathers of Israel in this way (Deuteronomy 6:1-8; 20-25- Read slowly and carefully):
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
20 "When your son asks you in time to come, 'What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?' 21 then you shall say to your son, 'We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. 23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. 24 And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. 25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.'
In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses constantly reminded the people of God to remember the words he had spoken to them for these words would be their life, literally their "life-story" and hope of the future (Deut. 4; 27-29; cf. Deut. 30:1-6).
In John 8:31-59, Jesus is there to offer the promised redemption to the Jews who would believe (John 3:16-18; 8:30-31), but the covenant community has grown apathetic to Godâ€™s promises and are relying merely on physical and human descent from Abraham ("Abraham is our Father"- John 8:33, 39). Forgetting that many within Abrahamâ€™s own household did not believe, and so being a â€œson of Abrahamâ€ did not guarantee oneâ€™s place in Godâ€™s Kingdom (cf. Matthew 3:7-12).
The Hymnbook of Israel and God's Story
In the Psalms, the "hymnbook of Israel", we get a glimpse of how this story was to be passed on from one generation to the next. Notice particularly how important this story of slavery in Egypt was necessary for each generation to understand God's redemption in the past, the redemption to come fully in the future, and how the people were to possess in their storied-imaginations an understanding of God's faithfulness always! Read from Psalm 78 this important story (but there are many more examples). Notice how the people "forget" the story:
Psalm 78:1-11, 40-43, 51-58: Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! 2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, 3 things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. 5 He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, 6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, 7 so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; 8 and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God. 9 The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle. 10 They did not keep God's covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. 11 They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.
Notice first the importance of a re-telling of God's story to every generation. The purpose of which is: "that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments." (verses 6-7).
Yet notice the sad reality spoken of in verse 11, although the people of God in the Old Covenant were to preserve the story of God's redemption in Egypt, "they forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them [in the Exodus from Egypt]. But the tragedy does not end there- - the rebelled, tested, and provoked God as well!
40 How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! 41 They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel. 42 They did not remember his power or the day when he redeemed them from the foe, 43 when he performed his signs in Egypt and his marvels in the fields of Zoan.
The Great Redemption-Story continues in Psalm 78:
51 He struck down every firstborn in Egypt, the firstfruits of their strength in the tents of Ham. 52 Then he led out his people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. 53 He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid, but the sea overwhelmed their enemies. 54 And he brought them to his holy land, to the mountain which his right hand had won. 55 He drove out nations before them; he apportioned them for a possession and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents. 56 Yet they tested and rebelled against the Most High God and did not keep his testimonies, 57 but turned away and acted treacherously like their fathers; they twisted like a deceitful bow. 58 For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealousy with their idols.
The sad reality is that the Jews who possessed and were called to preserve this story (Romans 9:1-6), had forgotten their story! Jesus is speaking with those in John 8 who have forgotten the important covenantal story they were to pass on to each generation: that they were in bondage and slavery in Egypt and that God redeemed them!
[The Jews] answered [Jesus], "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free'?"
The Teachers of Israel had forgotten the great Exodus story that defined their very existence as the people of God. In fact, the Exodus redemption story was to be passed on to each generation, declaring how God has worked to save and redeem them as his beloved people. Yet when Jesus the Messiah came to reveal the Kingdom of God to Israel first, they had forgotten this important story and were not interested because of the story of their own making (that was in conflict with the True Story Jesus wanted to reveal to them!). They had re-written themselves into a story of their own making, writing themselves out of the Biblical story that God had revealed to them in time and space. How can we also as the people of God today avoid the same thing occurring in our own families, and how do we avoid forgetting the story of our redemption in Jesus? Has God provided any guidance or help in this?
Seeing Yourself in the Story
One of the purposes of the preaching and participating in the sacraments as a covenant community in Christ is that we might hear the Author's voice in the preaching and reading of God's Word, and that his voice might continue to guide the plot and allow us to find ourselves in his storied world/storied-narrative. The purpose of the sacraments is to remind us that these are signs sent from the Author of the other world that we await, and these are to capture our imaginations so that we will see our lives in the context of His Story.
God has given us covenant communities where the story might be re-told to each generations! Don't forget the perhaps subtle point of Psalm 78- -the people of God not only sung of God's Story and faithfulness in redemption, but they also sang and read of the forgetfulness to which all of God's people are susceptible. We must remember this great story and the purpose who we are as the covenant community to hear, pass on, and never forget God's Story as it informs and influences our lives!
As New Testament professor Joel Greens says particularly concerning preaching (although sacraments would be implied):
"The Biblical narrative is present as an alternative framework within which to construe our lives, and so challenges those who would be Christian by calling for a creative transformation of the stories by which we make sense of our lives and the world...
...[The Christians'] task is to make our lodging the Genesis-to-Revelation narrative so that our modes of interpretatino are conformed to the biblical narrative, so that this story decisively shapes our lives." ('The (Re) Turn to Narrative' in 'Narrative Reading, Narrative Preaching').
What Are You Reading?
Think about the importance of stories for a moment and how they engage, enrich, and enlighten all of our lives. Since it is almost "summertime", many will be looking forward to days of long reading, perhaps at the beach, the boat, or in the bed, so it is good to think experientially if not existentially about what stories and reading mean to us.
When people read, they are in a story while reading, a storied context, an alternative narrative universe if you will. We are at the doctor's office awaiting our appointment, we find our marked place in our book, in our story, and we slowly find ourselves among the characters of the book, being guided along by the plot and narrative, then we hear our names called....
And suddenly we are out of the story, we place our bookmark back in it's place and we long for the opportunity to get back "into our story" as soon as the opportunity arises. When we read we are in a story, then when we finish our reading we go on to live our lives outside the story. But our lives outside the story are shaped by the story itself. We learn lessons, are filled with interesting ideas, visit places that we may never visit in person, and bump into all kinds of neat and fascinating characters who are like, but not exactly like ourselves and the people around us in our world.
Characters you may recall in the stories of great civilizations (and some not so great), such as: Achilles, Odysseus, Beowulf, Virgil and Bernice, Hamlet, Claudius and Gertrud, King Lear and Cordelia, Macbeth, Gulliver, Faust and Mephistopheles, Hester Prynne, Ahab, Ishmael, and Queequeg, Billy Budd, Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina, Dmitri, Alyosha, and Smerdyakov, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Aunt Polly, the Widow Douglas and Jim, the Compson Family, "The Misfit", Lucy and Aslan, Dorothy, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, and Scarecrow, the "Great and Terrible Oz", Elmer Gantry, Nick Adams, the Great Gatsby, Frodo and Bilbo, and many more!
These great stories that we have read, or hopefully will get the opportunity to read, have both protagonists and antagonists, good and evil characters, some marred by their own sins, and yet heroic, yet all of these characters have an impact on our lives because we have lived with them in the narrative in a strange and way that is inexplicable, yet real.
If we are reading a good story, we anticipate the next chapter, the plot yet to be revealed and the dramatic conflict, and we come to look forward to sitting again, pulling out our faithful bookmark which locates us in the story at a particular point, and reading more as the story engages and captures our imagination once again.
As readers of stories, we vicariously participate in the surroundings, the scenes, the life-setting, and see through the eyes of the characters, experiencing the thrills and the chills of the plot, as well as the mistakes, misfortunes and mischief, the bravery, brilliance, and bravado of the characters.
The other day, an elderly woman was talking with a few people in our yard. Her husband was helping me to chop down a vicious poison oak vine that had tightly grasped a tree in my yard. She said we need to watch out, or it will be like the axe head that fell off and floated. I knew the narrative world she was speaking about. Elijah and the floating axe head. But the others in the group did not understand this common language, or vocabulary. In fact, they remembered a particularly violent episode on television of a man with an axe and that was brought to their memory because they were not part of the Greater Narrative of Scripture.
The very slippery trick the Devil has pulled on us all is that he has over two generations caused many people to be biblically illiterate. He has separated the creatures from their True Story found in the Bible.
The metanarrative (or "Great Narrative") is no longer comprehensive known or told, but created as an insular enclosure for each individual "to create one's own reality" or to author one's own life by "doing it my way!"
I find this loss of a common and Biblical story sometimes challenging when preaching or teaching in different contexts. In order to preach from many texts in the Bible, you have to have a certain knowledge of context and understand the flow of the Redemptive-Story. I attempt to make this known, but sometimes those who are new to the Bible will not "get it" because they are unfamiliar with the drama of redemption. They are biblically illiterate.
Yet if I throw in a story of my own making into the sermon, or a scene from a film, or a television program, or a popular commercial on television, everyone wakes from their "dogmatic slumbers" to discover how Jesus fits into this or that story. This shows that those who profess to be Christians are not as part of the Greater Narrative or True Story as they should be! What is needed is for Christians to find themselves, their true identities, their meaning in Godâ€™s Story revealed in Scripture. What I mean by that is that Scripture makes us and our stories relevant and interesting; we do not make the Scriptures relevant and interesting. They ARE relevant and interesting by virtue of the fact that they are authored by God Himself!
Think about this, as New Testament scholar Michael Pasquarello III writes:
"In the self-assured world of modernity, which encouraged us to believe that each of us authors our own story, the primary task of preaching was to provide insight and inspiration to assist anxious, stressed, and bored church members and seekers to make sense of the Bible on terms compatible to their world.
Adherents of this kind of preaching often point to numerical evidence that suggests its "effectiveness," but often neglect a much larger and enduring theological and pastoral task. This is to articulate the necessary wisdom [through Scripture] to see, or to make sense of ourselves, as people created and destined to know, love, worship, and serve the Triune God." ('Narrative Reading, Narrative Preaching: Inhabiting the Story', pg. 180).
Finding Our Identity in the Story
How do we gain our identity from the Story found in Scripture? Let us first think about all of the different individualistic stories (metanarratives) we hear around us that tell the story of the people among whom we live! (These examples below are what we call â€œstereotypesâ€ for a reason- -and the stories listed are true to many people who have never thought or rather read outside their own story).
There are "corporate stories"- -"I am the UPS guy" (by the way the company logo is an attempt to create a story through an identity, for instance, all those who wore shirts that had IBM on them in the late eighties and early nineties were proud of their identity association because they were part of a greater, larger â€œstoryâ€ of IBM).
There are "family stories"- - "Have I ever told you how I met your momma?" 'Big Fish' is an excellent book, and now a film by Tim Burton that shows the importance of family stories and the passing on of these stories to each generation so that each member of the family will have the same storied-identity. [Note: Highly recommended book and film! If time permitted, I would love to analyze this particular book/film-story in light of what I am arguing for here].
There are "regional stories"- - "I'm a Southerner and proud of it...I miss the moonlight and magnolias of the "Old South". "I'm from the West...I love to watch a good western and be reminded of the heroic, individualistic way that through true grit and determination we won the West from the Indians".
There are "national stories"- - "American...my country right or wrong!"
There are "religious stories"- - "I am Buddhist and am learning the way of consciousness from the Buddha's writings.â€
There are â€œindividual identity storiesâ€- -â€œI am blonde and therefore must act kind of dumb.â€ â€œI am unique and like to dress differently than everyone else; I am a non-conformistâ€ (even though they donâ€™t realize they have conformed to non-conformity).
Every generation must preserve and propagate the true story, lest other stories will fill the vacuum of our imaginations and so we will come to have false identities, or at least we will not know fully or truly who we are as the creatures of God, living and moving and having our being in his world. As Christians, we must continually submit the Story, or the stories of our imagination to Godâ€™s Story and how we find our identity, meaning, purpose, and understanding of ourselves in Christâ€™s Story. Allow me to give you some examples of how this might work itself out for good and how our individual stories become part of Godâ€™s Greater Narrative or Story (Godâ€™s â€œMetanarrativeâ€)
Corporate stories â€œin Christâ€: â€œI am a UPS guy, but I serve God wholeheartedly in my vocation, loving God and neighbor by Godâ€™s grace.â€
Family stories â€œin Christâ€: â€œLet me tell you how I met your Momma and how we serve the God and Creator of all things. We have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, and our larger family is the universal church.â€
Regional stories â€œin Christâ€: â€œIâ€™m from the Southâ€¦the Westâ€¦the Eastâ€¦New Englandâ€¦etcâ€¦but my identity is now found in baptism in Christâ€™s Church, and now my ultimate meaning and purpose is to see the Church made up of all regions, every tribe, language, tongue, and peoples.
Individual Identity stories â€œin Christâ€: â€œI am blonde, but I am not dumb (contrary to what the cultureâ€™s story tells me). Rather, God made me this way, and I seek to do his will and follow wherever he leads me.â€ â€œI am unique because God created me this way, and I am not going to live before the whole world trying to act out a part of a greater play. Rather, I am going to be the salt and light of the world Christ has called me to be, and to take up my cross daily and follow him wherever he leads.â€
Preservation and Propagation of God's Story "to Us"!
As covenant people, we must be about the preservation and propagation of God's Story. This is why the covenant community should all work together as "Fathers and Mothers" in the community to pass on this important narrative. We preserve as well the "language" and the "vocabulary" of the story as well lest it be lost. If there is not a conscious effort to preserve language and the vocabulary of a people, then it will be lost.
It is like losing one's accent. My friend is from Ireland, but having lived in Maryland speaks like someone from Maryland. I was born and bred in Georgia, yet because I have taken communication classes to train my voice for announcing, lived in Pennsylvania, Maryland and now Virginny, my accent has changed. The only time my accent returns to me is when I revisit my parents and I reflect the accent, the language, and the vocabulary of my story.
We want to preserve and propagate the "accent" of God's story to each generation, lest we end up speaking the language and vocabulary of the world.
By recognizing ourselves in the true story of God's Word-Revelation, we can truly read alternate stories/editions (not "additions") and have the wisdom and discernment to avoid the "tall tales" and "old wives' tales" of the Evil One. He tries to come into the covenant community to tempt us to laziness, sloth, or apathy with regard to passing on our Story and finding ourselves constantly within God's story.
This is what Jesus means in John 8:36: "If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed." Free from what? To know the truth of reality, God's Story, so that you may live your life as you were created to live- - in God's presence, for his glory, and for your enjoyment.
Comedy and Tragedy Stories
Remember something important: the greatest comedy story ever written was also the greatest tragedy story. Every comedy and every tragedy was based on (albeit unintentionally) this Great Comedy/Tragedy revealed by God in His Story. The great comedy as well as tragedy is the Story of Redemption.
Let me say a few words about what I mean when I say "comedy" or "tragedy". When one thinks about comedies or tragedies these days, one usually thinks of comedies as like "sit-coms" or Charlie Chaplain, or Lucille Ball, but comedies classically understood were stories where a character or protagonist might have experienced a tough life, but his life turns out happy and rewarding in the end. I think of the example of the "fairy-tale" story of 'Beauty and the Beast'. The prince is transformed into an ugly beast, yet finds love after all, and a love that loves him for his strengths of character, and this releases the prince from the wicked witches spell, and the couple "live happily ever after". Many Disney cartoons are comedies and other cartoons such as 'Shrek' come to mind.
A tragedy classically understood was where the main character or protagonist, who may be likeable and is usually strong, powerful, and gifted, allows his/her gifts or his/her sins to be his/her undoing. The reader knows that the character will fall and the ending will be sad, but the bleak conclusion of the character/protagonist's life was inevitable, yet the character/protagonist doesn't realize it, or see it coming. How would this understanding of comedy and tragedy help us to understand God's Story?
God the Great and Might Protagonist promises redemption to Adam and Eve after their fall into sin. What begins as tragedy in the killing of Abel, the One through whom the Promise of God's redemption to Adam and Eve would come (Gen. 3:14ff; Gen. 4), ends with comedy, where all things are renewed and God's people are redeemed and again in his presence in Revelation 21-22 despite the efforts of the evil antagonist.
What begins as a great comedy ends with a great tragedy. As God promises hope in Messiah as comedy (in the classical sense of the term), ends in a tragedy, the death of Messiah, the hope of God to the world's salvation.
Yet both comedy and tragedy meet on the cross in the Person of Jesus Christ.
For in Christ on the cross, the unexpected and "happy" ending or conclusion to God's Story is found in suffering and tragedy, where the Great Protagonist in the flesh (God incarnate) submits himself to the comedic abuse of his creatures. But in the tragedy of the cross, the Great Protagonist in the Flesh defeats the works of the Foolish and Terrible Antagonist Satan and puts all things under his feet to judge and rule over them for eternity.
The Author enters his own story- - in the flesh!
The comedy is that God's promises are kept and man has hope in Jesus regardless of death because of the resurrection, yet the great tragedy is that many today still reject him!
How about you? Is this story of God's redemption in Jesus your story? You are either part of the comedy-story, and the unexpected, joyous ending and hope that will come when Jesus returns , or you are part of the tragedy-story and will experience God's judgment and this tragedy will cause you to realize that the joke is on you!
Your Own Comedy and Tragedy
None of us can merely "shut the book" of reality, of the story we are living. We must face the fact that we are either living in God's Story and part of the comedy-tragedy, or part of the tragedy-comedy where the joke is on you! In other words, you either are part of the Protagonist's Story, or your world is part of the Antagonist's story, but you are part of one of these stories! Don't forget this!
There are many "tall tales", or lies as substitute stories of which we are to be aware. "Has God really said?" (Genesis 3:6ff). Do you realize that God has authored your story whether you realize it or not? The question is your relationship to the Author.
Will your life turn out to be a comedy, a "happy ending" of bliss because of your faith in the One who caused comedy and tragedy to come together in Himself on the cross?
Or will your life turn out to be a tragedy?
A life that through all of your pursuits of goodness and happiness actually can end up as a failure that everyone can see who has read Godâ€™s Story but yourself! God knows the ending of your story, but you do not. To avoid the terrible tragedy of being separated from God for eternity, turn to the Author now by calling out and believing upon the Lord Jesus Christ. No tragedy you have read, no ghost story of blood-curdling fear that you have heard, will be as "tragic" as your own story when you face the wrath of God without a Mediator.
Do you remember the formal definition of tragedy? Tragedy is (in my words) the slow, vicious circle, of downward spiraling events, that lead to the inevitable in a character's life. The reader of the tragedy sees the terrible end coming, but the main character does not. The main character's own sin shields them from seeing the truth. If you are not allowing God's story to inform who you are and create your identity, you are part of a story, but it is a tragic one. Remember two important scriptures concerning this:
2 Corinthians 4:3-6: And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 11:13-15: For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
This is real and frightening tragedy. To think that those who know God's Story have tried to tell you, yet you were blinded from seeing your condition by the Evil Antagonist, who masquerades as an angel of light! You are dancing with a masqerading devil who knows the end of his story and wants yours to be the same! How much more tragic could your situation in life be?
Parables for Postmoderns
One genre in Scripture that is helpful to understand our lives in God's Story is the genre of "parable". When Jesus taught these parables, they were to veil the truth, but allow the True Story to inform the lives of those who had ears to hear. Parables are essentially Jesus' stories rooted in the real world of people that would inform the lives of those who had ears to hear, and reveal the truth of the Story of God in the coming of His Kingdom in Christ.
These parables would raise the curtain, to shift metaphors to the play, in order for the world to see the stage on which all people are players and portrayers.
We ought to remember Shakespeare and Wilde's comments:
As Shakespeare said: "All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; and one man in time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages."
Yet Oscar Wilde said: "The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast!"
We live in a time known to many, and labeled by some as postmodern (no one really knows what this term means, but we realize we are in an unenviable position historically. We can define the symptoms of "our time", but it is difficult truly to name it, so let's use the term for lack of a better one!). Modernism was a time that believed that there was objective truth and that people could come to a knowledge of truth and of their lives through gaining understanding and rightly ordering their lives according to an objective pattern or standard. Modernism was a time characterized by science and in order to know and understand something, you first must have proof of it.
In contrast, Postmodernism is a time characterized by individualism which means there is no overarching metanarrative to guide us; no overarching objective truth to which we individually conform. Individuals now make up our own stories and find others with the same stories and form groups or societies in which they may live and face reality. In Postmodernism, truth is what you make it. Each of us is autonomous. We no longer read novels and literature to gain an understanding of what the author meant, we are the â€œdeconstructive discoverersâ€ who invent the meaning ourselves, because we are the authors who determine meaning. We see this in the idea expressed thus: â€œTo me, I think (or better) feel it meansâ€¦â€
In Postmodernism there is a primacy of feelings over thinking. So, we as Christians have to find a Biblical, yet fresh way to communicate to people who see themselves not in an orderly universe, with real and absolute truth to which they must conform themselves. Rather, we must seek others in stories. We must learn once again to tell stories to our generation of Postmodern people. We can learn this great storytelling ability from our Lord himself! We must learn to focus the gospel to this generation in characters, plots, acts, and stories. Parables are just what we need!
Postmodern People cannot â€˜deconstructâ€™ these stories in parable, but the stories in the parables deconstruct them, by Godâ€™s grace!
The Story of Your Life...
What story best defines and tells the "story of your life"? Is it merely a family story, a regional story, a vague religious story, or a national story? If you have realized cognitively that God's Story is THE STORY, is God's story merely a preface to your own story, the story you are trying to individualistically author on your own? "I wrote it my way!"
Is God's Story just a mere chapter in your great story to make a name for yourself? (Look at all of the scriptures concerning those who want to make a name for themselves beginning with Genesis 4; also 11:4ff). Or are you a part of the family story of Abraham, who by faith believed that God would make his name great? God says in Genesis 12:2:
And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
Or is God's story, in all its epic fullness told in creation, fall, redemption, and consummation (new creation) the story you find yourself in as an important covenantal character, who knows the Author (by name as â€œAbba, Fatherâ€), who knows the ending, and identifies yourself as one for whom He loved and died?
Do you make up your own story based on merely family identity? This was Israel's sin in John 8 when Jesus came as the "End of the Story". Is your story merely in your calling, your job, your company, your title, your parenthood, or your region? Or are all these "chapters" of your story, the call, the job, the company, the title, etc. part of the story that God is telling on a cosmic scale?
Is God's Story your story?
Perhaps you are new to God's story.
Allow all the other self-created/self-written stories to be redrafted as you submit them to the Great Editor,
who will reveal to you the true and final draft of His Revealed-Story.
Learn from the story of the Jewish leaders in John 8 who were blessed to be in the covenant under the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, and visually partakers in the sacrifices and other visible practices that God had given the people to strengthen their faith, yet had forgotten that they had ever been in slavery to anyone! These Jewish leaders in John 8 were blessed to see the incarnate living Word right before their very eyes and rather than submit to His Story, they had in reality rewritten their story to suit their own desires.
Scripture is God's Story-Witness
Scripture is God's Story-Witness. It is God's story of eternal life in God's Son (John 5:39a). It is one covenantal whole because in the Old and New Covenant Scriptures you have the complete drama of God's salvation and man's redemption that is part of the Covenant of Grace that God made with His Son before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:1-14).
The Son was to be the hope of God's people; God's provision for salvation. The Old Covenant people were to pay attention to the revelation of God so that as he brought all things to an end in Jesus, they would be prepared for such a great and climatic ending.
God becoming flesh (John 1:14-18) in the fullness of the times was not exactly how the people of God were expecting God to consummately and climatically end his story!
Never in their wildest imaginations (although it was revealed in Moses and the Prophets) did the people ever think that God's Story would end with the Author coming into the Story itself to save!
Though many tried to understand God's great ending of His Story:
1 Peter 1:8-12: Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
This was a story awaiting a climatic conclusion, but many were not anticipating just how astounding the end would be. So Jesus comes to tell the ending, to be the ending, to fulfill the wildest imaginations and hope of God's people. This is why God's story in Scripture bears witness to Christ (5:39b) and it is a story that reveals God's love and is preparatory for the Coming of Christ (5:40-44). In other words, the Old Covenant is the background scenery for the drama of redemption fulfilled in Jesus.
How is Jesus the End of the Story?
Jesus is Creator/Greater than Moses/Seed of the Woman, Seed of the promise to Abraham/Tabernacle, Temple, and Presence of God/Jesus the One who redeems us from more than slavery to Pharaoh and in Egypt, but slavery to the Devil and our sins/Jesus the Law-Giver/Greater than all the priests of the Old Covenant combined/The Final and Once-and-for-all sacrifice for sins/One Greater than Joshua as the Commander of the LORD's Army/Greater than all the judges-deliverers who were less than noble, but powerful by God's Spirit!
Jesus is Greater King than David/Greater than all the Prophets and God's Final Prophetic Word/Jesus is the Great Singer of the Psalms/Jesus is the Embodied Wisdom of the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes/The Lover of our souls greater than the Song of Songs/The Suffering Servant of Isaiah/The fulfillment of the Last Days hope of the prophets/The Son of Man of the Book of Daniel/The True and Faithful Israelite/The Elect One/the Alpha and the Omega!
And these are just the beginning of our understanding of the ending!
For Further Reading and Thinking on this Subject:
Joel B. Green and Michael Pasquarello III, editors, 'Narrative Reading, Narrative Preaching: Reuniting New Testament Interpretation and Proclamation'
Robert Jenson, 'How the World Lost It's Story', First Things 36 (Oct. 1993): 19-24.
Soli Deo Gloria!
For Further Reading
D. A. Carson, 'Gospel According to John'
H. Ridderbos, 'The Gospel of John: A Theological Commentary'
L. Morris, 'The Gospel According to John' (NICNT)
J. Calvin, 'Commentary on the Gospel of John'
R. Brown, 'Commentary on the Gospel of St. John'
J. Dennison, Articles on John's Gospel at www.kerux.com
J. Boice, 'Commentary on John's Gospel'
Ryken, Longman III, et al, 'Dictionary of Biblical Imagery'
This 'Word of Encouragement' and all of the content is copyrighted material. Copyright 2006-2007 Biggsman Productions