Last week, our book on engaging story, movies, image-bearing and our Creator published and is available here and on Amazon.com in print and Kindle editions. We’ll be posting an excerpt from each chapter to give a little taste of what you can expect (to start with the chapter one excerpt, click here).
Act 2: A Tale of Two Stories
or “how I stopped learned to stop worrying and love the redundancy”
Scene 1: One plot, two plot, red plot, blue plot
A geocentric model of the universe served as the predominant cosmological system in many ancient civilizations such as ancient Greece. Most philosophers assumed that the sun, moon, and planets circled the earth, including the noteworthy systems of Aristotle. Humans looked up in the sky, saw things moving, and assumed we were the center of the universe. In 1543, we experienced a major shift in our understanding of astronomy and adopted the heliocentric model, realizing that the earth did not reside at the center and instead revolved around the sun.
But why are we talking about astronomy?
Simply put, most of us wake up in the morning and look around with a default mode of operation that we’re the center of the universe, the narrative center around which the universe pivots. We construct a story of how everything works in revolution around “me”. It’s all about my friends, my family, my school, my problems, my virtues, my opportunities, my wins, my losses. The story is about me: I’m the center, I’m the protagonist, and everyone else is supporting cast. Even for the professing Christian, God winds up being just another supporting player or cameo appearance.
Think about even some of the testimonies you hear. We say things like “at some point I realized I was a sinner, I needed forgiveness, I needed someone to bridge the gap. Jesus did that for me, and now I have eternal life”. What I’m saying isn’t untrue or unbiblical, but you’ll notice that Jesus is mentioned once in that story whereas references to I and me are more prominent. The Son of God drops down like a literary Deus Ex Machina to fix my problems, address my felt needs, get me my eternity. He’s just another player in my solar system orbiting my place in the center. It’s a me-o-centric universe, instead of a theocentric universe. Like the philosophers and astronomers of old, we need a shift in our thinking of story. We need to realize that everything actually revolves around the Son.
A redeemed, Christian view of narrative cannot be man-centered. Man isn’t the subject, though he may be the POV (the point-of-view) character through which we engage the tale. Man as the subject and center of story is an inherently idolatrous notion, and why the Literature 101 descriptions fall short. They’re like a geocentric view of the universe, their narrative orbit constructed around the wrong center. Even if many storytellers approach their craft this way, we need to come in through the side door with a God-given lens to view it properly.
Kurt Vonnegut deserves some applause, as I believe he came closest to the mark. As we’ve spoken about a meganarrative in previous chapters, I believe Vonnegut is correct in that there is ultimately one plot: I’d simply amend it to say that it’s God’s story. By looking at God’s narrative, we examine our position in His tale—the common ground, our mission, our template—and we also see the source from which every distorted human narrative springs. Instead of Vonnegut’s “man-in-a-hole”, we begin with “the gospel”, which essentially means “God’s tale” or the “good story”. All subsequent stories resonate with, or conflict with, this true and overarching plot. It’s not “man in a hole” so much as “man’s relation to God”.
Doctor Who has been an enduring popular BBC series that now shares acclaim in America and around the world. In this series, we meet a Time Lord through the eyes of a human companion, who goes along with this mind-boggling Doctor to the ends of the universe and time, and back again. Although the human character provides us a vantage point by which we can jump into the tale, the series is not called “The Doctor’s Amazing Companion”. Likewise, you and I are part of a meganarrative in which the Lord of Time invites us to be his companion for all eternity. The story is not about us, with God as co-pilot. He’s the center and Savior who doctors us in our ill condition because again – where Vonnegut gets it right – he sees us in our hole and lifts us out.