By Brett Berger
Faculty, College of Theology
Worldviews come to us through stories. We do not form our most basic beliefs and assumptions about the nature of the world through a set of propositions. Neither do we come to these most basic convictions through a comprehensive analysis of all the evidence. Our lives are storied. From our earliest days, we are told stories and these shape our view of the world. Our parents may have read us the “The Little Engine that Could” to reinforce the principle that we can do anything if we believe it but our exploits on the Little League field may have more persuasively confirmed or denied that principle in our minds.
The Bible is the same way. It comes to us largely in stories, poems and parables not mere propositions and commands. In my post during the Christmas season, I attempted to show how the advent of Christ was the climactic moment of the story of the world. Contrary to the naturalist story in which the world starts with an explosion, blindly evolves and ends in burnout, or the pantheist narrative of a world cycling eternally through a process of death and rebirth, the Christian narrative begins with God’s purposeful declaration and in response to human unfaithfulness progresses toward a redemptive telos (or goal). That is, it begins with “In the beginning God, created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) and ends with “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… ‘I am making everything new’” (Revelation 21:1,5).
When the Christian thinks about salvation, it is most commonly in terms of the question, “How do I get to Heaven when I die?” (In fact, I just came across a tract left in a gas station restroom informing me this is the most important question!) We can see this in story form. We were born, we live this life, we will eventually die, and then what? For many, it involves some kind of disembodied experience of some spiritual realm we call Heaven (or Hell).
While our individual destiny is obviously a very real question, it has surprised me that it is not the primary question in the Bible. The primary concern is for what God has done and is doing. The question for the individual is “And, what will you do in light of it?”
Consider Paul’s speech in Athens:
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands…Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us… In the past God overlooked such ignorance but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:24-31).
The Bible calls us not to think of our salvation as up but as out, looking forward through the death and resurrection of Jesus to see God’s day of justice when God comes in both judgment and salvation to make all things new. The Bible calls us to prepare for this day through repentance and faith. The Bible calls us to bear witness to this Good News through our words and deeds.
All of us, whether consciously or not, are living out a story. It may go something like “We are born, we try to have as much pleasure as possible, and we die (full stop).” It may be more like “We are born, we try to be as good a person as possible, and whatever happens on the other side is a mystery.” Maybe, “We are born, we try to be a good person, and my spirit will go to Heaven because I am generally pretty good.”
God’s redemptive story calls us to shake off these false narratives and have our lives formed by the biblical story. God is working all things toward a day when he will set the world right in judgment and salvation. We find that our story wrapped up in the great story and we are to let that story be the shaping influence on our lives.
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