Finding our place in God’s huge story.
I imagine having an out-of-body experience. As I gaze down upon an ancient table, I see a large book before me, bound in leather with silver clasps and edges. As I open the book, the words on the pages come to life, showing story after story of lives being lived concurrently. The stories, at times, are independent of each other, but most of the time, they intertwine with other stories to make a complex and much bigger story.
Oh, there is my story! In chapter 758! Just a small part of that chapter. But as I read it now, I see how it is connected to the other stories and is part of the bigger story. My story is not just my story. It is part of the story of the faith community in which I dwell. It is also the story of my local church. It is part of the story of the lives I immediately intersect, and the waves of my story ripple out into the stories of others that I know and further out into the stories of people I do not know. And most stunningly, the stories of others ripple into my story.
And as I look, I realize that my story is not really my story. In an age of individualism, in which we are taught that everything must revolve around “me,” including “my personal relationship with God,” I realize that my story only has meaning when it is in relationship with all these other stories. I realize that my story is not as important as I’d like to make it. It is humbling to realize that God’s story is much bigger than my own, and that my story only has relevance because it is in this grand book – the story of what God is doing in the world.
This gets my curiosity going. What is this huge story? I turn to the front of the book, to the table of contents. It is marked as five parts, full of many chapters, telling lots of mini-stories that make up God’s big story.
Part 1: The Wonder of What God Has Made
Part 2: The Heartbreak of Man’s Rebellion and of Creation’s Brokenness
Part 3: The First Advent of the Son of God, the Redeemer of Rebellious Man
Part 4: The Wonder of What God is Re-Making
Part 5: The Second Advent of the Son of God, the Restorer of What God Has Made
I see the chapter in which my story is found, or rather, in which my church community is found. But now I see it in context. There. In Part 4 – in between the “First Advent” and the “Second Advent” – in the chapter titled, “The Wonder of What God is Re-Making.”
Part 1: Wonder
Part 1 has a chapter telling the story of Adam and Eve, the pinnacle of God’s creation. But it also has chapters about all the wondrous things God has created. God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—can clearly be seen, being understood from what has been made (Romans 1:20). From the majesty of the mountains to the little Alpine Forget-Me-Nots that bloom on their slopes. From the grandeur of a 200 ton Blue Whale to the tiny beauty of a two-inch Neon Tetra fish. From a huge nebula seen in outer space to the splitting of cells in a petri dish.
Part 2: Heartbreak
But the story takes a terrible, ugly turn in Part 2, as those who are the pinnacle of the good creation turn on the Creator. The results are tragic. Chapter after chapter of ugly and disgusting events. Of murder, lies, betrayal. But also, through it all, a thread of hope: the promise of a new chapter to come. The Advent of the Son of God.
Part 3: First Advent
In Part 3, I see even more chapters of murder, rape, brutality, oppression, and bondage. But, thankfully, I also see, interwoven throughout, the story of God’s redemption being brought into the world through a simple nation of people. Their prophets promise that God will fulfil redemption through the coming Christ. The last prophet, John the Baptist, proclaims, “Prepare the way for the Lord” and Part 3 climaxes when Jesus Christ comes into the world to bring redemption to all who will believe. He dies for the sins of the rebellious, and raises to new life to initiate a New Creation.
Part 4: Wonder Again
That’s when Part 4 begins. In gold embossed letters, Part 4 starts with an interesting quote: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). I find chapters of God remaking the world. There are stories about famous people, like Paul and Peter, but there are even more about people I’ve never heard of. There are stories of new believers submitting their lives to Jesus Christ. And there are interwoven stories of how these Christians work together, hand-in-hand with others in the Church, to bring new creation into their workplaces, their neighborhoods, their cities. And they, like John the Baptist, are preparing the way of the Lord all over again. They are living lives of restoration in preparation for the Second Advent. My seemingly insignificant story is there, in chapter 758, connected with other seemingly insignificant stories. But they intertwine to make quite a magnificent story. And as I look, I see something truly amazing: This chapter is actually being written as I look upon it. Stories are coming to life right before my eyes. This chapter has not yet been finished!
Part 5: Second Advent
I know it’s cheating to turn to the end of a great story to see how it ends, but I can’t help myself! I turn to Part 5 and find that the Lord Jesus does indeed return! I see that God restores the Creation, making a New Heavens and New Earth. I see God coming down to dwell with humanity. And the church that was living in preparation for the Second Advent are rewarded with eternal life with God. I see a big party, like a wedding feast, and I see chapter after chapter of joy and rejoicing.
Where does your personal story and your church’s story fit into this grand story?
As Len Hjalmarson writes,
“It’s as we inhabit the larger story that our own stories have meaning. Until that happens our lives drift, and we sometimes mistakenly try to make ourselves the center. We need the big story to orient by — like a north star that helps us navigate.”