I’ve come to a point in my life, via many roads merging and intersecting with many ideas and experiences, where I can not only look back over my own journey, but over a sweeping landscape that goes way beyond where I began. It’s a (self) realization that ironically has taken me way past myself. What I’ve realized is the history of the world is massive. If every day this world has seen, every thought, accomplishment, and life of every human being, every town, society, and people group were a raging torrent flowing through the wide channel of time, I am, comparatively, a single cubic inch of water somewhere within it being swept along, completely affected, completely unaffecting.
To sit with that thought for a while is like honestly pondering yourself compared to the infinite scale of the cosmos. It will leave you with shallow breaths and feeling smaller than ever before. That’s a good thing. It was for me. It helps to shock you out of the illusion that you’ve ever had any power at all, or that you’re at all important because of who you are or what you’ve done. It’s like understanding for the first time that everything you see is green-tinted because you’ve been wearing green-tinted glasses.
That thought is only half good, though. By itself, it will inevitably lead to deep confusion, depression, and despair. Often, we either counter this inevitability by shaking it off and re-inflating number one, or we romanticize and even deify the giant “not me” by hoping for reincarnation and eventual absorption into whatever life force is holding it all together. As a post-enlightenment, Western Christian, the latter option certainly wouldn’t do, so I usually opted for the first. For so long, I wouldn’t really do business with the reality of a giant history behind me, so I missed the third option, the best way to understand my smallness.
The world is a story. I had always only paid lip service and very little actual thought to the fact that I’m part of a giant story. I knew the stories in the Bible about creation, the fall, Noah, and Babel. About Abraham and Lot, Joseph and his brothers, a people called Hebrew and their deliverance from Egypt. I knew there were a lot of stories about Israel and all of their judges and kings and prophets. And finally I knew stories about how Jesus, the Messiah, did and said miraculous things, and about what his disciples did to form the early church. But had I ever woven all of that together? Really? Nope. Not really, really.
What you get when you weave all of that together is a grand narrative, an over-arching, all-encompassing story that begins at creation and ends (so to speak) with new creation. The story is huge, but it can be summarized. God created, and declared creation good. His crown jewel of creation was mankind, capable of worshiping and stewarding. Man favored himself over God, however, cursing himself with an inability to worship God fully and treat creation rightly. God determined to save the world from within, first by calling a certain people to be examples of His love to the rest of the world, and then by revealing again bits of his nature to them by way of a righteous Law. This people struggled in their task, though, so God promised them a Savior, someone to accomplish the task to which they had been called. This person was the Word by which God created, the person of God like a son to the person of God like a father. The Son had to perfectly submit to the righteous Law God had revealed to mankind – since mankind couldn’t do it themselves -, and he had to make himself a man in order to do that. This submission required death, the inevitable result of man’s rebellion. Amazingly though, the Son experienced death, and nullified it by raising himself up again, accomplishing both a reversal of mankind’s first rebellion and the first act of a brand new creation. God’s new task for man is to tell this story and anticipate the rest of that new creation by living like we belong in it. The invitation to take up that task has been extended from one people to all people. Those who take up that task and live in that story are called the Church, and they are helped by the person of God who proceeds with love and power from the Father through the Son.
Now that I know the story as a whole, I’m trying to live with its power behind me so that I don’t get swept away in whatever little side-current stories I may find myself in. I’m still in that river of history, but because I know its source and its ultimate direction, I can travel it in a kayak with a paddle, instead of just being swept along, disoriented. I’ve named this blog the grand narrative because it’s within that context that I now think and write.