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The Greatest Story Ever Told: A Biblical Perspective on History

August 17, 2007

The issue of origins is an issue of context. Most people agree on the facts of right now, today. But the farther you get into the past or future the more world view becomes apparent. Since I am trying to take a big picture view on things I’m going to step from the individual science articles for a moment and hopefully give Christians a look at the big picture. The context past, present and future is important to understanding our life’s story. Because that’s exactly what it is. Life is a story. The greatest story ever told.

I originally got this idea from the book “Blue Like Jazz”. It’s a simple, everyday perspective on real life as a Christian. The way the author became a Christian has everything to do with story.

Help came from the most unlikely of sources. I was taking a literature course in college in which we were studying the elements of story: setting, conflict, climax, and resolution.

The odd thought occurred to me while I was studying that we didn’t know where the elements of story come from. I mean, we might have a guy’s name who thought of them, but we don’t know why they exist. I started wondering why the heart and mind responded to this specific formula when it came to telling stories. So I broke it down. Setting: That was easy; every story has a setting. My setting is America, on earth. I understand setting because I experience setting. I am sitting in a room, in a house, I have other characters living in this house with me, that sort of thing. The reason my heart understood setting was because I experienced setting.

But then there was conflict. Every good story has conflict in it. Some conflict is internal, some is external, but if you want to write a novels that sells, you have to have conflict. We understand conflict because we experience conflict, right? But where does conflict come from? Why do we experience conflict in our lives? This helped me a great deal in accepting the idea of original sin and the birth of conflict. The rebellion against God explained why humans experienced conflict in their lives, and nobody knows of any explanation other than this. This last point was crucial. I felt like I was having an epiphany. Without the Christian explanation of original sin, the seemingly silly story about Adam and Eve and the tree of knowledge of good and evil, there was no explanation of conflict. At all. Now some people process the account of original sin in the book of Genesis as metaphor, as symbolism for something else that happened; but whether you take it metaphorically or literally, this serves as an adequate explanation of the human struggle that every person experiences: loneliness, crying yourself to sleep at night, addiction, pride, war, and self-addiction. The heart responds to conflict within story, I began to think, because there is some great conflict in the universe with which we are interacting, even if it is only in the subconscious. If we were not experiencing some sort of conflict in our lives, our hearts would have no response to conflict in books or film. The idea of conflict, of having tension, suspense, or an enemy, would make no sense to us. But these things do make sense. We understand these elements because we experience them. As much as I did not want to admit it, Christian spirituality explained why.

And then the element of story known as climax. Every good story has a climax. Climax is where a point of decision determines the end of the story. Now this was starting to scare me a little bit. If the human heart uses the tools of reality to create elements of story, and the human heart responds to climax in the structure of story, this means that climax, or point of decision, could very well be something that exists in the universe. What I mean is that there is a decision the human heart needs to make. The elements of story began to parallel my understanding of Christian spirituality. Christianity offered a decision, a climax. It also offered a good and a bad resolution. In part, our decisions were instrumental to the way our story turned out.

Now this was spooky because for thousands of years big-haired preachers have talked about the idea that we need to make a decision, to follow or reject Christ. They would offer these ideas as a sort of magical solution to the dilemma of life. I had always hated hearing about it because it seemed so entirely unfashionable a thing to believe, but it did explain things. Maybe these unfashionable ideas were pointing at something mystical and true. And, perhaps, I was judging the idea, not by its merit, but by the fashionable or unfashionable delivery of the message.

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Writing all that out was very humbling. Reading over it made me realize how painfully obtuse my writing is. That’s really all there is to say about it. Perhaps I’ll consider my presentation before going any farther in this section… For now, maybe grab a copy of the book, it’s good, it’s honest.

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3 comments

  1. Glad Blinding Light is on the air once again.

    We can break down stories into segments which should present themselves because every good story needs to have a reason to be written. Even Seinfeld, a supposedly show about nothing, incorporated both conflict and climax into each show.

    Perhaps Miller was able to accept the “greatest story ever told” as being valid simply because he was able to see that there was a point to the whole thing. The story presented by the Synoptic Gospels combined with Pauline theology with the connection to the written Torah makes a point.

    However, to all stories, there is a point…otherwise there would be no reason for writing them. How many stories are as complex and moving as the Biblical story of God’s offer of salvation to mankind? How many of these stories are true?

    Of course, the Bible is no mere piece of fiction. It is a composite work encompassing centuries of writing. The analysis of the Christ connections throughout are impressive, and yet shallow at the same time. We know the Bible not to be the complete story of God’s interaction with mankind, primarily Israel.

    We know that Christianity really adopted only the written Torah, and not the oral. And while arguments are made for the Christ connection throughout centuries of prophecy, we also know that those knowing the real story, and who understood the prophecies best, were not the people flocking to follow after Jesus.

    In fact, we know that it wasn’t until after the theology of Paul that Christianity really took wing, as it was after him that classical mythology and acceptance of gentiles became the norm. Further, Christianity only survived as a means of uniting Constantine’s Empire. Israel was left, quite literally, in the dust.

    So, in short, I argue that whether a man comes to Christ by unfashionable faith without study, or by study and connection to the “point” of it all, the validity of the Christ story is debatable in both scenarios.


  2. The humbling thing for me is to realize the utter simplicity of the gospel and people’s ability to understand it. Now, we get so bogged down with what we “know” for certain that we totally lose sight of the most obvious. As you Joel pointed out: “we also know that those knowing the real story, and who understood the prophecies best, were not the people flocking to follow after Jesus.”

    The people he’s referring to are the Pharisees who were lifetime students of the law, knew it front and back, and who added extensively to it. They took the already complex Mosaic law and turned it into an amazingly restrictive system more and more and more do’s and do not’s. They had marked up every line of God’s word depending on their own knowledge to the point where they couldn’t even see the original text anymore.

    I fear becoming a modern Pharisee. Knowledge and analysis is nice but it can go too far. I find often the people with the deepest spiritual understanding are not the ones with degrees in theology but an old grandpa farmer who has lived their life with Christ. Or a small child who simply hears and believes.

    The evidence is available for those seeking. Facts are provided to believers who doubt. For everyone else, it is utter idiocy and will remain that way.


  3. The issue is, unfortunately, more complex than can be effectively spoken of here. The question of where to draw the line between credible and false history if difficult. What were the original words and what did they mean. I was always upset by my English teacher’s questions regarding the mindset of an author while writing. What was so-and-so thinking when he wrote this. Even modern author’s words and intentions are twisted. How, then, can words written centuries ago be questioned in like manner. It seems to me, the understanding we have, was given later, by others, who would not have known the intent in the first place.

    I don’t believe belief to be idiocy. I do however question the arguments given to support belief and must counter where I feel there is a lack of substance, objectivity, or rational thought.



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