Seeing my life as a story is one thing, seeing myself as the central hero another.
I am helped by the thought of examining my life as if it were a story and that I ought to make of myself a good character. I know there are a few different books out with that as a central premise and (though I haven’t yet read any of them) I benefit from hearing people refer to them –especially to that central idea. I am a character in a story. I am on a journey. I may or may not have a guitar slung on my back as I walk down the railroad tracks smoking a cigarette while squinting.
The problems often come in for me when I view myself, not as inconsequential in the big story, but as far too central. Sometimes it’s not even that I think I’m central in a good way, but that I think that my failings will derail the whole story –that I am the irredeemable Gollum, wrecking everything. It’s an arrogant presumption for me to think that I know either what will come of my little part in the bigger story, or that I can really know what it is. When post-moderns rail against certainty, I am often flummoxed by what they are saying and implying (especially about the alleged ineptitude of God). But in the case of a humble uncertainty about how our life fits into the grand, sovereign design of God throughout the ages, a certain uncertainty is demanded of us. The problem with pretending to be the director, or author, or a heroic central character, is that we are applying for a job which has already been filled.
God is the author and the hero.
Unsure of all the implications or not, we do know our place. If we are in Christ, there’s absolutely no doubt about our position, our relationship, our adoption, our justification, our standing before the Father. When the Accuser comes, throwing stones as his name demands, his accusations toward us hit the mark with great precision. The prosecution proceeds. Yes, yes, that is true about what I’ve done. He’s right. Things are looking bad. But when he is faced with the certain work of Christ on our behalf, and the resultant standing we have in Christ’s righteousness, he is unable to make a winning case. We are acquitted based on the work of Christ alone. In the great exchange, Christ receives our sin, bearing it on the cross, and we receive his righteousness, a free gift we receive by grace through faith. We receive this not for our stellar performance in the story of our life, but because he loved helpless rebels who couldn’t rise from the dead. Lazarus, you are officially dead. Can’t you do something about it? Um, no.
We needed a miracle. We needed the deeper magic. “Be alive!” The Gospel is the central plot point, the hinge on which the whole tale turns. And what a turning!
I recount the Gospel because it underscores the central roles in The Story. There’s no question of us being the Main Character, or Author. The worldwide casting calls for those jobs are a presumptive farce. But the calls go out all the time.
We are offered regular remedies to our most basic problems which are so corrupt as to make snake oil seem like the fountain of youth. There isn’t salvation anywhere but in Jesus. No talk-show host with new age self-referential remedies on TV, or economic elixirs on radio, can cure what deeply ails us. Most often, the charmers are calling on us to look within, to view ourselves as the answer to our distress. They even speak out against the other people’s version of seeking salvation from within and argue that theirs is the true way to obtain your own salvation. Right and left-wing humanism serve the same god. Mirror, mirror on the wall.
So what about my story? What about The Story? Same Author. Same Hero. It’s not me, or you.
If we don’t see ourselves as derivative characters, as inventions of the Author, then we are on a collision course with needless confusions (not to mention rebellion). More presumptuous is the notion that we are Author-itative in any kind of grand sense. We write, but it’s a subcontracted job. It feels really important to me to make that distinction. It feels to me like it’s a subtle point, but a point of great importance. It’s a small hook from which hangs a heavy cloak. “God is sovereign, man is responsible.” Walter Staton said that and the order of the coupling is important.
Have you ever been listening to “testimonies” and heard people talk about their salvation experience and God barely comes into it, except as kind of a side-character? I once heard (at a baptism!) a person tell her story of salvation by telling about all her struggles in life, but always returning to the refrain, “But God always knew I was a good person.” Her tale was one of personal goodness and near-sinlessness throughout life, which God knew all along, and, like an encouraging buddy, always saw her for what she really was. A hero. No need for a change of heart. No new birth. No work of Christ. No bad news (beyond “other people” causing her problems). Just God’s stamp of approval on her immaculate life. I wanted to barf. Mirror, mirror on the wall.
If God is reduced to the role of midget league cheerleader in your life, it’s not Christianity you’re embracing. It’s a Christian-languaged horror story of self-actualized salvation.
The truth is so much better! The Gospel frees us from our need to be needed.
Lest I fall to the charge of over-simplifying (to which I’m admittedly open), let me add this. I do think that, in some sense at least, there are heroes among mankind. Jeffrey Overstreet says that art is not something that you make, but a conclusion reached by others. I get what he’s driving at. It’s the same thrust I want to make here. The title “hero” is not something we can really assign ourselves. It’s a conclusion that will or will not be reached by others. The audience will see and know.
Of course the audience that matters most is also the author of the tale, who is not at all surprised by how your story turns out. He is, of course, the central hero as well. His work is what makes you a new kind of human.
So we must get over ourselves, come to the end of ourselves, and repent of our self-inclined madness. We win by losing, triumph by surrender, become heroes –if we ever are– by being rescued.
If we shatter the self-reflecting mirror on our walls, perhaps, in the fallen shards, we’ll see at last a thousand reflections of heaven.