Gregory Wolfe, editor of Image journal, tells a story about telling stories for his kids. He describes the memorable bedtimes when he attempts to concoct a series of original tales. "My kids are polite enough to raise their hands when they have some penetrating question to ask about plot, character, or setting," he writes. "If I leave something out of the story, or commit the sin of inconsistency, these fierce critics won't let me proceed until I've revised the narrative. Oddly enough, they never attempt to take over the storytelling. They are convinced that I have the authority to tell the tale, but they insist that I live up to the complete story that they know exists somewhere inside me."(1) Children seem to detest a deficient story.
There is no doubt that our sense of the guiding authority of story and storyteller often dramatically lessens as we move from childhood to adulthood. And yet, regardless of age, there remains something deeply troubling about a story without a point, or an author not to be trusted.
In an interview with Skeptic magazine, Richard Dawkins was asked if his view of the world was not similar to that of Shakespeare's Macbeth: namely, that life is but "A tale told by an idiot, filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing."
"Yes," Dawkins replied, "at a sort of cosmic level, it is. But what I want to guard against is people therefore getting nihilistic in their personal lives. I don't see any reason for that at all. You can have a very happy and fulfilled personal life even if you think that the universe at large is a tale told by an idiot."(2)
His words attempt to remove the sting his philosophy imparts. And yet, it stings regardless--both with callousness and confusion. If I am but a poor player fretting my hour upon the stage of a tale told by an idiot, what is a "fulfilling" personal life? There is no room in the naturalist's philosophy for intrinsic dignity, human worth, or human rights. There is no room for moral accountability, right or wrong, good or evil. There is no room for the layers of my love for my husband, the cry of my heart for justice, or the recognition on my conscience that I am often missing the mark. There is no room for my surprise at time's passing or my longing for something beyond what I am capable of fully reaching in this moment. This is not the story I know.
In the words of G.K. Chesterton, "I had always felt life first a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller."
Could it be that our relationship to stories, our first love of the tale beyond us and the author beside us, conveys a deep truth about our own cosmic tale? Are not the very philosophies we carry attempts to make sense of the grand story of which we find ourselves a part?
The first words of Genesis 1 boldly claim that we are not lost and wandering in a cosmic circle of time and chance. There is a story that emerges from the beginning, and we have a place within it. Similarly, the writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith, where ultimate significance is aptly defined as being written into the story of God. God's Word places us in the timeline of a coherent history, delivering us from the deceptions of the enemy, telling us who we are, and where we came from, what is wrong with us, how we are made whole, and where we are going. We are placed within a story of which we know and celebrate the outcome, even as we wait for it through time and trial. In Christ, history's outcome-its ultimate end-is revealed. Dark days may follow, but the ending is known. It is a story neither deficient, nor untrustworthy.
C.S. Lewis fittingly describes heaven at the end of his Chronicles of Narnia as a place where good things continually increase and life is an everlasting story in which "every chapter is better than the one before." His compelling reflection has often reminded me of Christ's beloved disciple in the closing chapters of his testimony to the significance of Jesus Christ. Notes John, "If all of the acts of Christ were recorded, the world would not have enough room for all the books that would be written" (John 21:24-26). Like children, eyes widen at the thought. What a story to be a part of, a life to find touching your own. (1) Gregory Wolfe, Intruding Upon the Timeless: Meditations on Art, Faith, and Mystery (Square Halo Books: Baltimore, 2003), 81-82.
(2) Skeptic vol. 3, no. 4, 1995, pp. 80-85.
------------------------------------------------------------------- Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) "A Slice of Infinity" is aimed at reaching into the culture with words of challenge, words of truth, and words of hope. If you know of others who would enjoy receiving "A Slice of Infinity" in their email box each day, tell them they can sign up on our website at http://www.rzim.org/publications/slice.php. If they do not have access to the World Wide Web, please call 1-877-88SLICE (1-877-887-5423).
A farmer and his recently hired hand were eating an early breakfast of biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs, bacon and coffee that the farmer's wife had prepared for them. Thinking of all the work they had to get done that day, the farmer told the hired man he might as well go ahead and eat his dinner too.
The hired man didn't say a word, but filled his plate a second time and proceeded to eat.
After awhile the farmer said, "We've got so much work to do today, you might as well eat your supper now too."
Again, the hired man didn't respond but refilled his plate a third time and continued to eat.
Finally, after eating his third plate of food, the hired man pushed back his chair & began to take off his shoes.
"What are you doing?" the farmer asked.
The hired man replied, "I don't work after supper."
--René Descartes - March 31, 1596 Died February 11, 1650 Rationalist philosopher and mathematician. While serving in the Bavarian army in 1619, he conceived it to be his task to refound human knowledge on a basis secure from scepticism. He began his enquiry by claiming that one can doubt all one's sense experiences, even the deliverances of reason, but that one cannot doubt one's own existence as a thinking being. He also argued that mind and body are distinct substances, believing that this dualism made possible human freedom and immortality. His "Discourse on the Method for Rightly Conducting One's Reason and Searching for Truth in the Sciences" contained appendices in which he virtually founded co-ordinate or analytic geometry