At my grandmother’s small-town church, in the middle of families in their Sunday best and fidgeting kids in the pews, I didn’t expect any huge revelations. I am, however, quite often wrong.
I sat in the pew, thinking about how bored people sometimes get in church. I wanted to get back to the book I was reading and become engrossed in the story. And then it struck me, and I grabbed a pencil and covered my bulletin in scrawled notes.
The Gospel isn’t boring. The power and love of the living God should never be boring, routine or accepted with ambivalence. This message is something greater that should alter minds, hearts and entire lives. It changes everything. It’s a story we’ve been told often—for some of us, a story we’ve heard all our lives. We forget the awe we once felt, and we sink into an anesthetized recitation of the facts. We get back into “real life,” with all its drudgery and pain, and we become distracted. Yeah, Jesus died and rose, we think. I know. But as we reexamine the story, we find new life.
The stories that we have come to love and reread despite generations and centuries of separation each contain some fragment of the divine. They are a reflection of the eternal. Even my desire to get back to my novel during the sermon spoke to my predilection for the Truth.
And this is our story, but we are not the protagonists. We are hopeless, miserable creatures, made dark and sickly by our own choice and desire. We have rebelled against our loving Creator and elected brokenness instead. We crawl around in our own darkness, yearning and striving, but we can’t reach anything on our own. Even our greatest leaders are lowly in comparison to the everlasting God, as far removed as a cricket from a human being.
But God came here for us traitors, us mutinous convicts who are shackled by our own sins. Love—unquenchable, drowning, unimaginable love—and the God of all creation put on a suit of flesh to come to us. And we, the dark ones, saw Him, hated Him, and ultimately destroyed Him. He, the Light, could have easily stopped it. But He let it happen, and He died, and the darkness swallowed Him for a time. It tried. It lost.
How can this level of cosmic drama be boring?
Then, inconceivably, He rose from the dead to let us live and hope in Him. We are eternal creatures, souls with skins. And He, if we trust Him, places His light within us, creating this fight between our sinful nature and His holy character. How strange is it to have such polarity trapped within our souls? There is a great struggle in us that mirrors a greater struggle in the spiritual world between light and dark—a long-lasting war. But the winner is undisputed. It is our God, and the One who beat death itself also defeats darkness.
Because this story is so grand, we search for it in the books we read, the movies we see, the tales we tell. The stories that are remembered are those that touch on eternity, because they reflect the greatest, most fundamental story there is. They remind us of who we are and acknowledge that yearning within us all. This is what makes literature great. In speaking about death and resurrection, it tells us our own story, which is inextricably tied in with God’s.
Great stories stay with you and tickle the deepest corners of your imagination even when you think they have been forgotten. And this is the greatest of all, for it is ours, and it is desperately true.
All of the stories that we love and cherish, those that really move us and change us, are all shards of this greater truth, embedded with the issues we know so well. These shards reflect the greater story in the same way that our internal struggles reflect a greater battle—the way that we, too, reflect the story and, eventually, God Himself. It is a struggle, but it’s our struggle, and He knows us well. And in this story, we are not in the spotlight. God is the protagonist, the hero, and He creates a narrative that is beautiful, lovely and entirely unprecedented.
The story seems simple, and in part, it is. The plot line is simply life for life, His sacrifice for our whole selves. We can have life with Him forever if, in turn, we entrust our lives to Him.
The story is simple, but it is also more profound than anything else. In his acclaimed Narnia series, C.S. Lewis illustrated the Gospel as a magic deeper than the Deep Magic, from before the dawn of time. In Narnia, Lewis writes, “When a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, Death itself would start working backward.”
This is the incredible power of the Gospel. It’s a total reformation of a fallen, dying creature through the love and power of a sacrificial God. We often make the mistake of oversimplifying stories, yet when we dig into it, it’s more complex than we might think—even the hundredth time around.
Stories are etched into our hearts, and even if you don’t harbor the same love for literature that I do, keep in mind that your life itself is a story. It’s a story of redemption and forgiveness, and it’s a story that you get to write alongside your Creator. He is gracious enough to allow us to be characters in His eternal epic, and that’s a beautiful thing.
So, the next time you feel yourself nodding off in church, remember what your God has done, and remember that you are part of the greatest and most exciting story that has ever been told.