Are you a person who sees the trees or sees the forest? In other words, do you gravitate toward individual pieces and details, or toward the big picture and overall themes? Both are valuable and necessary, but which tends to be your “default setting”?
Think about Christianity for a minute, regardless of whether you have a positive or negative response to the faith (or its followers). When you think of Christianity, does your mind go to specific spiritual beliefs and practices, or does it lean toward the big ideas of the faith (eg who God is, the nature of reality, etc)? Again, both viewpoints are valuable and necessary, but we each tend to default to one more than the other.
My hunch, based primarily on many conversations I have had, is that most of us tend to discuss, embrace or argue about the details of the Christian faith, but spend significantly less time thinking about the “big picture” of Christianity. But if we don’t occasionally take a step back and look at the whole forest, though, we might not see some of the trees that are worth looking at, and we probably won’t see how the whole forest works together.
That being said, let me take a few minutes and paint a picture of the Grand Narrative of Christianity, by looking at the Bible itself through a thematic model of four big “scenes”.
Scene 1 – Order out of Chaos – The opening scene of the Bible starts with the radical idea of a God who brings order out of chaos. The imagery is powerful – the physical nature of reality is described as “waters of the deep”, “formless and empty” – nothing solid, nothing permanent, nothing stable. Into this context the voice of God speaks and brings order; not in a mechanistic process of assembly, but rather as someone who brings something good and purposeful out of what was previously chaotic. In the first two chapters of Genesis, God is described as one who brings physical, missional, and relational order out of chaos. Today, for many modern followers of Jesus, a life transformed from chaos is not just a theological ideal, it is also a personal (and often powerful) experience.
Scene 2 – Chaos out of Order – The very next scene, though, takes a tragic turn for the worse. In the following chapters, we see example after example of humanity making a mess out of the world that had just been made “good” by God. Lying, betrayal, murder, and the list could go on, each one a logical expression of deep seated self-centredness. Even the physical world did not escape the damage. Humans, unfortunately, have a long and consistent history of bringing chaos out of order. We have a proven track record of putting our own interests ahead of everyone and everything else. If you are wondering if it still happens today, simply spend a few minutes looking through your favourite news site or watching TV. Or do an honest assessment of the patterns in your own life.
Scene 3 – Recovering Order out of Chaos – Thankfully, however, the story does not end with Scene 2! Starting with Genesis 12 (even earlier, if we look closely) and going all the way to Revelation 20, we see the story of a God who not only wants to redeem and restore the world from its self-inflicted brokenness, but also wants to partner with humanity to achieve the restoration. The bulk of the story of the Bible takes place in Scene 3, and we encounter people such as Abraham, Moses, Ruth, David, Esther, Daniel, Paul, Peter, John, and many more, each of whom wrestles with what it means to follow God and partner with him to bring redemption and restoration to all of creation. Within Scene 3, the high point is undoubtedly the arrival, presence and subsequent departure of Jesus among 1st century Jews and non-Jews in the cities and countryside of ancient Israel. It is in Scene 3 that we see powerful pictures of the partial victory over chaos – physical healing, spiritual healing, life transformation, nature miracles, resurrection, and more (while these stories seem most intense in the four Gospel accounts, they are actually scattered throughout all of Scene 3). The recovery is not complete, though, as both ancient and modern people live in a world that is simultaneously broken and being redeemed. Order is here (often expressed through the New Testament concept of “kingdom”), but it is not yet complete.
Scene 4 – Restoration of Order out of Chaos – Finally, the experience of restoration and recovery is shown to be complete and final, in the “not yet reality” picture described in Scene 4. This final act in the Grand Narrative is a scene of hope, a scene of the future, and we see it described in the last two chapters of Revelation. Here, for those who have embraced God and his desire to restore and redeem creation from its life-numbing chaos, the experience of renewed order and goodness looks remarkably like the Scene 1. Beauty. Wholeness. Goodness. Completeness. Restoration. As the pages of history turn to Scene 4, the story will be complete. Once again, chaos will be defeated. God (and goodness) will reign.
Wow – what a story! Even in a few short words, the ride is remarkable – imagine living that kind of life! A life that is all about restoration and redemption. A life that has purpose and meaning beyond our individuality. A life of transformation and partnership with God himself.
That is the journey of the follower of Jesus! By definition, the journey will be marked by both success and failure. Victory and defeat. Transformation and frustration. We are, of course, still living in Scene 3. Restoration is not yet complete.
In the Grand Narrative of Christianity, Scene 3 is here and Scene 4 is coming. You and I stand at a crossroad. Do we embrace selfishness (aka sin), digress back to Scene 2, and accelerate chaos? Or do we embrace God, realign our identity, purpose, and priorities with his, and partner with him in his restoration of the entire world? Its not really a difficult decision, is it. Dark or light? Death or life? I’ve lived long enough to experience the pain of life apart from God and his mission, so I’m with him! 🙂
What are you waiting for?