What’s the Big Story (Part Two)

Our life-stories are special to us. A T-shirt slogan puts it this way: “I am starring in my own soap opera!”. Some details we can’t remember. Some we remember fuzzily. Some we remember with clarity as if they had happened yesterday. Some we will never forget as long as we have our faculties. 

We locate ourselves in the stories of our lives, stories with a beginning at which we were present but cannot remember and an end which we know will surely come one day but we cannot usually anticipate when or how it will be. We are somewhere in between, we know not exactly where, and this has led some to talk of our human perspective as being both “middled” and “muddled”.[1]

Not only are there stories all about us, our own middled muddled stories and those of other people meeting, interacting, overlapping, and developing day by day, but we find that these our stories are parts of bigger stories, stories of communities and traditions, of people and races. Where does it stop?

We need a Big Story to make sense of all our little stories. Without a Big Story, we are left looking out into nothingness. We are like those in folk-singer Joan Baez’s ‘The Hitchhikers’ Song‘ of whom she says that they are “the orphans in an age of no tomorrows”.

There are many Big Stories that directly and indirectly shape the way we think and live. There is, for example, the Big Story of human beings all on their own in a chance universe, working their way up from nothingness, ever making progress in their understanding, needing no power beyond themselves. Life is getting better all the time as we learn more and can do more.

But is this story true? Yes, we know and understand many things that our ancestors didn’t. Our mobile technology gives us instant communication across thousands of miles even when we are out walking on a mountain slope. Our medical techniques save us from illnesses of which people lived in fear even a few decades ago. A few clicks on the computer keyboard give us access to masses of information formerly stored on many miles of library shelving. But is life really getting better in all respects? Are we human beings on our own making progress towards perfect harmony in our relationships, mastering our selfish impulses, or finding a way of coping with the inner despairs and dreads that haunt us in the dark hours? I suggest not.

But that’s a story in which many people live and move and have their being, the story of the “Ascent of Man,” the story of optimistic Humanism. (A very deformed mutation of it can be found, I fear, increasingly in the western world, in the Big Story of white supremacy.)

What great story is adequate to provide a true and meaning-giving context to the stories of our lives? I believe it has to be the Big True Story of God, the Christian meta-narrative. This is a story that is bigger than all of us.

The Bible comes to us not in the form of a textbook of theology but as a narrative, as the Big True (and amazing) Story of God and his world. The form is primarily that of a story and, even where it isn’t, the context of its poems and letters is still that Big Story of God and the world he has made, the world of people like you and me. Even our statements of belief in our creeds are retellings of this story, of movements of characters and events in space and time.

There are lots of stories in the Bible but they are all set in the context of a Big Story that begins with God himself. He made everything. He made us. But we disobeyed him and we chose to go our own ways. As a result, we were sent out of his beautiful Garden, no longer able to walk and talk with him as his children.

The focal point of this story is the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Cross is the hinge of history and the body of Jesus was broken on that hinge. But we come through to the other side—to life that shall never end! Death is not the end because death itself is defeated by the one who came back from death and will never die.

Jesus will return and make everything new. There will be “the promised new heavens and the promised new earth, all landscaped with righteousness.” (2 Pet 3:13, The Message).

This is therefore not only a story of what happened in the past. It tells of what will happen in the future. The best is yet to come! But it is also a story of what is happening now! The kingdom of God is here already, it is within us if we are open to him. It is both now and not yet.

Heavenly Father, help us to live, move and have our being in your Big Story. Help us to be better story tellers and to tell your Big Story, that best story of all, in all we do and say. Amen.

(This blog is adapted from part of a chapter in Bible-Shaped Teaching, a book I wrote a few years ago. The whole chapter and other selected contents can be found online in Google Books here.)

[1] The first to do so seems to have been David L Jeffrey in his People of the Book (p. 143).