We all live our life by some narrative, even if it’s only “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.” The narrative frames the activity and gives it meaning. Of course, most of us have lived our lives without thinking carefully about the narrative that drives us. We go to work because everyone else does…and because we have to. We keep the house at the standard of the average in our community. We wear the things that seem appropriate. It’s all activity driven by a narrative given to us from the world we live in. And it’s amazing how many of us are dissatisfied with the narrative of our lives, whether it’s the burned out senior executive or the frustrated mother or the disillusioned youth. It’s unsatisfying because it’s a treadmill, because there’s no sense of why it matters. Cut the grass…so that you can cut it again next week. Clean the kitchen…so that you can clean it again next week. Pay the bills…so that you can pay them again next month. The activities are all there – including many good ones – but the narrative is unsatisfying. Why?
CS Lewis said something very interesting in his sermon Learning in Wartime:
“I believe that our whole life can, and indeed must, become religious in a sense to be explained later. But if it is meant that all our activities are to be of the kind that can be recognized as ‘sacred’ and ties are to be of the kind that can be recognized as ‘sacred’ and opposed to ‘secular,’ then I would give a single reply to both my imaginary assailants. I would say, ‘Whether it ought to happen or not, the thing you are recommending is not going to happen.’ Before I became a Christian I do not think I fully realized that one’s life, after conversion, would inevitably consist in doing most of the same things one had been doing before: one hopes, in a new spirit, but still the same things.”
Why are those things unsatisfying to us? They are unsatisfying because we can’t connect them to the great narrative, the Big Story, the story of what God’s doing in the world. The astounding thing about the Bible is that, for all its variety, it has a plot – a narrative.
A good and glorious creation, pronounced “good” and then “very good” by God, was ruined by a tragic fall that vandalized it through and through. But God did not leave the world in that mess. Instead, at just the right time in the plot God came, as a man no less, to redeem that creation. And time looks forward to when He will come back to make all things new, to make them what they always were made to be. As Dorothy Sayers once wrote (paraphrase), “If this is boring, then please tell me what on earth is exciting!” It’s a simple structure: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation. It’s a narrative, and we live in the midst of it.
The audacious claim of the Bible is not that it has this structure, these four movements. That would be granted without offense. The audacious claim of the Bible is that this structure is the structure of the world – and of each of us – and that it’s true for each of us whether we acknowledge it or not. Then how could you find the narrative that will make life make sense, the narrative that will bring meaning to the mundane, that will actually satisfy?
In short, we will never find a narrative that will ultimately satisfy unless we can connect our personal narratives to the grand narrative of the world we were made to live in. How would anchoring life in those four words – Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation – how would it provide the narrative that makes it all make sense? That will be the focus of Missio for these next nine months as we explore the narrative of the world together and get a sense of where we fit in it – how the world’s narrative gives us ours.