Two Questions about Story

Unknown-3Story draws us in. When life becomes too difficult or we need a break from its monotony, we escape to some other story (hence the strength and all-pervasiveness of the entertainment industry). For me, it is a real treat, after a long day of teaching, relating, studying, and writing, when I pick up a book or Ipad and lose myself in Gilead, Iowa (Marilynne Robinson), medieval Germany (Novalis), or modern day Gotham (following the exploits of a younger James Gordon and Bruce Wayne). These are the cities and towns I currently walk through story. Next week, no doubt, I will have moved on to other times and places, losing myself in tales of adventure, intrigue, injustice, hope, longing, and love.

Story narrates our lives. All of us, whether we realize it or not, have located our lives in a story. Whether it is the American Dream, Scientific Naturalism, Christianity, or many lesser stories, all of us find meaning, identity, and purpose as part of a story.

But, this human longing for and pervasiveness of story are at odds with our modern scientific way of understanding things. Science, we are told, is about formulas, facts, and forces not drama, plot, and mystery.

How can we make sense of this? Why are stories so pervasive if reality at rock bottom (as we are told) is mindless, blind, and cold? Perhaps it is time to reflect a bit on the phenomenon of story itself.

Two important questions about story, nicely poses by the brilliant writer Marilynne Robinson, are as follows: “Two questions I can’t really answer about fiction are (1) where it comes from, and (2) why we need it.” Robinson goes on to note, “But that we do create it and also crave it is beyond dispute.”[1] Yes indeed.

Where does this ability for creating story come from? According to the Christian story (which I submit to you is the true story of the world), man is able to create stories because we are like God. We are created in his image and arguably this image is most manifest in our ability to create. We are, as Tolkien liked to put it, sub-creators. In fact, every day, in virtue of our ability to make choices and act with genuine freedom, we narrate the story of our lives. This ability is utterly unique—requiring a complex set of cognitive faculties including reason, imagination, sense, and will.

Why do we long for story? I believe we long for story because we long to be rightly related to reality. Given God’s existence and his loving creation, sustenance, and provision, reality is partly an on-going story. The pages are turning as we make our appearance in this world. On the pages of God’s story we find a story that is alive, a story that understands you and your deepest needs, hopes, and wants. This story invites you to enter in and take your place in God’s unfolding drama (which is not only the best story, but the best possible story). As you do, you will find that meaning, hope, and identity you have been searching for.

Our ability to create and our longings for stories, like everything else, if we follow them to their source, lead to God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Marilynne Robinson, “Reclaiming a Sense of the Sacred,” The Chronicle Review (Feb. 17, 2002), B8, originally published as “Freedom of Thought,” in When I Was a Child I read Books (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012).

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