No Better Story | JT 25.4
Posted by Andy Bannister, on September 1, 2017
Topic: Just Thinking Magazine
Novelist and philosopher C. S. Lewis once said something quite fascinating. He said that most people, if they have learnt to really look deep into their own hearts, realize that they want, they desire, they long for something that cannot be had in this world. Faced with the fact that the world can’t provide it—no matter how much freedom, how many possessions, how much sex—you’re faced with disappointment.
And when life disappoints, you can do one of four things: you can blame the things that disappoint and try to find better ones; you can blame yourself and beat yourself up; you can blame the world and become cynical; or, says Lewis, you can realize that only if your orientate the focus and energy of your life toward hope and toward God, will you ever be truly satisfied. He wrote: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”(1)
What we need, I would suggest, is something that can speak to all of this—somehow. To help us navigate what it means to be human, what it means to truly want or desire love or justice, or meaning or purpose. Something that could address these themes now, something that would be relevant, helpful, and revelatory.
It’s fascinating that these are all issues that the Bible addresses. Indeed, the Bible addresses them more deeply, more profoundly, I would argue, than anything else that I know. Isn’t that an astonishing claim for something as old as the Bible? Well, maybe. But maybe it’s also the case that human beings haven’t fundamentally changed all that much in several thousand years. Culture may change; we may be better at distracting ourselves in new and clever ways, but the fundamental questions remain the same, through time and across culture. What does it mean to be human? Who am I?
So what does the Bible have to tell us? Five things. First, the Bible tells us that human beings were designed primarily for relationships. Yes, sex is good. But relationships are primary. We’re built, says the Bible, for a relationship with God and a relationship with one another. That’s what life is primarily about.
Second, the Bible tells us that human beings have incredible value and dignity. The Bible puts it this way: “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God, he created them, male and female” (Genesis 1:27). Only the Christian worldview pays you that compliment, telling you that God created you in his image.
Third, the Bible tells us that the dignity God bestowed on us extends to choice. There are real, meaningful choices to be made, and the choices we make have consequences. One consequence is that we live in a moral universe. Nietzsche was wrong. There is good, there is evil, and each of us is affected by and caught up in both.
Fourth, the Bible tells us that there is such a thing as love, and that love is ultimately defined by the character of the God who created us, a God who goes to fantastically great lengths to reach out to us.
And fifth, the Bible tells us that there is a big story. And that big story is ultimately a love story. A story of how the creator God reaches toward each one of us, with our hang-ups and our fears, our desires and our longings, reaching as far as death on the cross that we can be reconciled with Him.
The idea of a “big story” is a curious one for postmodern ears. Most of us have been raised and taught to think there are no big stories any more. My beliefs are my own, my story is my own, my journey my own. But maybe, just maybe, we’ve been sold short.
In the movie The Matrix, which is a bit old now but nevertheless is one of the best portrayals of our postmodern world that I know, there’s a fascinating scene. The character Cypher, who is given the choice to escape the computer-generated fictional reality of the Matrix, decides instead to choose a life of pleasure and illusion over reality. He even defends his choice. “You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it into my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious.… You know what I realize?” He takes a bite of steak. “Ignorance is bliss.”2
Perhaps some of us need to wake up from our illusion of pleasure, possessions, friends, sex, drugs—whatever our distraction or fantasy—and realize that reality is an awful lot bigger than that.
Is the Bible repressive? It certainly might appear that way to postmodern eyes, but perhaps our eyes are a bit jaded. Is the Bible outdated? No. If anything, it’s never been more relevant. As Bono of U2 put it: “The goal is soul.” And if that’s true, we can have no better guiding story than the Bible. A story that, if we follow it, can lead us home to the God who created us, loves us, and is able to meet all of our needs—for meaning, for purpose, and for identity.
Andy Bannister, PhD, is an adjunct speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in the United Kingdom.
1C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: HarperCollins, 1952), 136.
2 Cited in John Gray, Heresies (London: Granta, 2004), 52-55.