My generation is the generation of storytellers. We may not necessarily rally ’round the bonfire to relate spine-tingling tales of fiction (although we might), and we may not all be hooked on the latest trilogy of best-selling novels (yet we probably are), but we are the ones who sit down together and say, “Tell me your story.” Social media gives us the ability to heard hundreds of anecdotes and reports a day, and we absorb them all, connect them all. What’s more — we treasure them. We greatly value hearing about each other’s lives, the good and the bad together. We prize having a voice and giving voices to others who may long have been silent.
In fact, we’re so hooked on story we view the world through the lens of narrative. Everything is part of a narrative. For example, while we may know the pertinent historical data about slavery, those data matter less than the narratives of African-Americans from start to finish — the greater story, the metanarrative, of those people. Slavery may be chapter two (or seventeen or whatever), but there are also chapters on emancipation, the Tuskegee Institute, Jim Crow, civil rights, gang violence, poetry, music, and the NAACP. It’s a story of a people, and stories convey emotion and depth history texts lack. Those kind of narratives and metanarratives are what people like me pursue.
The world is full of them. Everyone has multiple roles in multiple stories. And our culture offers a jolly good one.
When you think of yourself as an American (if you are one; if not, as a citizen of your own country), what pops into your head? What’s the (American) story? For us in the States, I’d say it’s one of an obsession with liberty. Liberties seem to have been our main concern for the past 240 years. Early on it was political and economic freedoms, but it’s shifted now to personal liberties. All of us were given at birth what my minor advisor in college dubbed an “LLPH injection” — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That became our story, our American metanarrative. The government of any country (including our own) as well as private citizens cannot interfere with our liberty, with LLPH. Anything else would be un-American. And so our story is written with an eye towards that.
Recent chapters of that story have refined the narrative somewhat. Personal liberties trump all others, even the constitutionally-protected ones. The glorification of individualism via secular humanism is the new story about liberty. Liberals and Conservatives alike are equally guilty here: one group pushes a revised (or removed) sexual ethic, the other a fear of the Other (because the Other threatens their freedom). Drugs are my choice; you can’t take my guns. I can murder my unborn child; I’m under no obligation to pay taxes for your healthcare. And on and on and on and on.
It’s the story of our people. A story of violence and hate and laughter and freedom. A story which has obtained cultural dominance, a sort of hegemonic metanarrative, if you will, one that has been retold and accepted as true again and again and again. A story which all too frequently leaves out God.
So what if there’s another story? What if there’s a counter-narrative to our cultural metanarrative?
Thankfully I know just the story. Even better: it’s a true story. Even even better: it’s a true story about an unfading, unending love.
The story of God begins in the unknown. What happened before this universe existed is best left to the realm of speculation. Once we were spoken into being, though, the fun starts. And so does the pain. One of His first creations rebelled and inspired others to join him. Later the same rebel would entice a new race of beings into rebellion against God. Yet God still loved them, those all-too-human human beings. He made covenants with them, promised to bless and care for them, and said all we had to do in exchange was to let Him be our God.
If only we could have done that.
Instead, the story went another, darker direction. Every time God brought us back to obedience and blessing and worship, we rebelled anew. We rejected Him as king and God over us, preferring instead our own attempts at rule and happiness, attempts which invariably ended in exile and horror. As C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “What Satan put into the head of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’ — could set up on their own as if they had created themselves — be their own masters — invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history — money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery — the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
But there’s a better story.
God never abandons us. He continues to love us. And so it was that, in His great, unfailing love, He came to us in the form of Jesus Christ. God put on flesh and blood. He bled and died to forgive us of our sins and reconcile us to Himself after our rebellions. He came to life again the third day to defeat death, hell, and the grave. We can share in that victory and gain eternal life.
That’s the story of God. A story which compels us to love as we are loved, to forgive even as we have been forgiven. To go and serve and help and laugh and weep and mourn and rejoice. All because there’s more to life than ourselves. More than the individual. More than the subjective. More than the story our culture tells us.
Donald Miller, in Searching for God Knows What, writes this: “I wonder if when we take Christian theology out of the context of its narrative, when we ignore the poetry in which it is presented, when we turn it into formulas to help us achieve the American dream, we lose its meaning entirely, and the ideas become fodder for the head but have no impact on the way we live our lives or think about God. This is, perhaps, why people are so hostile towards religion.”
He’s right. The love story of God isn’t a how-to guide for living out another narrative. It demands to be the only metanarrative, the only story for which we live our lives. It requires us to reorient our existence around that story, to live it out day by day until we’re called home. When we don’t do that, when we try to stop serving God and instead force Him to serve us, we lose the story. It’s not the right narrative. And people know. They know about the story of God. They know how that narrative should impact our lives. When it doesn’t? When we twist it to suit us? When we make it a secondary story and live out another instead? They get hostile. They belittle God’s story because it effectively doesn’t matter in the lives of those who profess to believe it. So they remain locked in the “long terrible story of man [sic],” a story in which nothing matters but their own LLPH.
Folks, we must tell the better story. We must live out the metanarrative of Scripture, a story of love, hope, community, sacrifice, and eternity. We must present the world with an old, old story, a tale which alone can offer them salvation. This is our story to tell; we are the only ones who can offer the Christian counter-narrative.
Let’s go be storytellers.