Human beings make up stories. I don’t mean that the stories aren’t true, only that we make them up. We connect things. We make sense of things. We ask what is happening and the answer is a story. When we read a history book, we encounter a story. We do not examine the facts of the 5th century in the Byzantine Empire, for the events in a small town in a single day would more than fill any book. Our stories are a selection of facts, told together in a manner that produces a narrative. We like to have cause and effect. This thing happened which caused that thing to happen which is why we now have Cable TV (or some such story). But of course, the story is not the thing itself. And frequently the story is incorrect.
On any given day, with the lives of 7.4 billion people, many thousands of millions of things take place. In any given news cycle, less than one hundred will likely be cited as news. The “news” is an exceedingly selective narrative of a tiny fraction of daily events, deemed by someone, somewhere, to be worth bringing to the attention of the world. Those few events will form conversations of those who notice, produce 100 million postings on Facebook (along with cute pictures of cats and puppies), and seem “important” to many. But this is exceedingly irrational, no matter how it feels.
Near the beginning of the 1st century, Rome was a dominant force in the lives of some 60-70 million people. Its armies guaranteed a general peace and commerce prospered. In the major cities, and elsewhere, goods from far-away lands could be purchased. Chinese items have been found in Roman archaeological sites in Britain. Augustus Caesar, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, was the uncontested Emperor, having vanquished his father’s enemies and consolidated his power. His image could be found on coins throughout the empire. It is certainly the case that very little notice (if any) was accorded the birth of a Galilean peasant child, regardless of how the Scriptures tell the story.
It is almost comical (were it not so sad) to read modern critical historians suggesting that lack of contemporary non-Christian descriptions and accounts of Jesus raise questions about his historical reality. The truth is that you don’t notice events like that until well after the fact.
But this is paralleled in our own time. The vast preponderance of everything that happens to everybody all the time is not “newsworthy.” This says nothing about its importance. Indeed, what happens to you during your day is far more important to you than most of the content of the evening news. It is simply the case that most of reality is ignored by those who are telling the “public” story. These things are not essential to their narrative. The narrative says, “Unemployment rose last month.” However, reality is that Jill and Jack and Aaron and Jaquan, lost their jobs and don’t know how they are going to explain the lack of Christmas in their homes this year. And, indeed, next month employment might be “up,” but it matters little to Jill and Jack, Aaron and Jaquan if they’re still looking for work.
The public narrative (news and history) is like watching actors in a play. However, the actors have stumbled into the notion that the play is reality. They react to each other and the narrative within the play, but the reality off-stage (which is the rest of the whole world) is nowhere in sight. We might easily conclude that the entire idea of a public narrative is absurd (and it is, largely).
But people are story-tellers. If you ask, “What’s happening?” the answer will take some sort of story form. Apparently, God is a story-teller as well. In St. John’s gospel we read:
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (Joh 1:18)The Latin translation of this verse says that the only-begotten Son “narrates” Him (enarravit). And this is precisely the case. The Christian claim is that Christ Himself is the story of the universe. He is the author and the protagonist. He is the meaning of the true story. Every sub-story (my life and yours) gains its meaning and purpose from the greater story of which they are a part. This is not the story of the rise and fall of nations. It is not the story of cultural conservation. It is not the story of progress. It is not the story of increasing liberation and ever-increasing economies.
The universe is a story God is telling. It is the story of Pascha, that God became one of us in order to free us and all of creation from our bondage to death and decay. The resurrection of Christ is the end of the story, or at least gives us a peek at the end of the story that will be the end of all stories. St. Paul tells it this way:
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death…. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all. (1Co 15:22-28)This is the story that Christians should tell each other whenever they gather. Properly, all other stories disappear or are seen in the relative state of their unimportance. God doesn’t watch the news in order to find out what some small group of people think is important. His eye is on the sparrow as He calls us each by name. What might seem important to you now may very well never be spoken of in the age to come. There, all things will be revealed for their truth, and only those things that are true will remain.
Sadly, the largely fictional narrative of the public world has become the primary story for many people, including Christians. Who someone is, who we judge them to be, what interests them and forms their associations and so much else, are defined by their relationship to the public narrative. It becomes something of a public “gospel,” telling us what we should value, and establishing the arguments of our lives. The Christian gospel itself is often co-opted by this public story, allowing itself to become a subset of the other. This submits Christ to the world and distorts the truth as it is made known in Him.
I once had a conversation with a friend about monastic hermits in the desert. He dismissed them as of no relevance. “Who even knows that they’re there?” He asked. Of course, I could say the same about any number of average people anywhere in the world at any given moment. That they may be “known” by some tiny circle of friends seems hardly greater than the loneliness of a hermit. But that is only true if we use the false standard of the public narrative. God knows the hermit is there. The devil knows it and trembles at the sound of his prayer. For all we know, God withholds his judgement and extends His mercy at the urging of this unknown monk.
There is an unfolding story. It is not on your television. It cannot be googled. By it, the universe is moved in the blessed unfolding of the will of God.
Christ has made it known.