Reclaiming a narrative of hope.
When I was in the ninth grade a new teacher came to my little school in rural Pennsylvania. Loquacious students quickly spread word about the new style of this particular teacher, with two main points of emphasis coming down the grapevine to my ever interested ears. The school was a buzz about the particularly strange way in which this new teacher utilized a thin pencil to daily draw in a set of eyebrows that had previously been scorched off in some sort of terrible accident with a razor [or so my ninth grade mind thought].
The other piece of news that quickly made its way to my corner of the small school was the religious practices of this teacher. Information was passed along to me that this teacher was a practicing Pentecostal, and as such engaged in all sorts of strange religious practices that were foreign to a good young Baptist as I was. My immediate reaction was to pass judgment on this foreign sect that my teacher participated in, and immediately to judge the validity of her faith. Why was I so quick to pass down judgment? First naïveté, and second because of the narrative in which I was so deeply entrenched.
Everyone is engaged in a controlling narrative that informs his or her lives. While postmodernity would like to cast aside all controlling narratives, it is impossible to do so. We make our decisions based on this narrative, and from the story above, you can see that I made judgments on others based on the narrative in which I lived. From a distance I am able to marvel at how quickly I was willing to judge, and glad to see that the personal narrative in which I live is quite a bit more broad and accepting.
The Christian community in general has been cast into a narrative in which we are often times uncomfortable, but which we are most likely well deserving. The Christian community would be well off to rediscover the narrative that permeates the Scriptures, that narrative of exile and exodus.
Scripture opens with the grand story of Moses and the people of Israel enslaved in a foreign land, the chosen people call upon God to remember his covenant promises and deliver them from bondage. God is faithful to his promises, and delivers his people from their bondage. God brought them from exile to freedom.
Thousands of years later we see this same narrative informing all of our lives. We live exile, longing for our home. This longing is a natural outworking of the experiences we have while separated from the rule of God, but these longings can often times revert our attention from the grand purpose of God, and focus them too narrowly on our personal longings for freedom.
Certainly the promise of freedom as individuals is an important aspect of the narrative of Scripture, but we must remember that what God is doing in our world comprises a narrative that we have nearly forgotten.
So how do we broaden out our perspective in order to fully engage with the overarching narrative of exile and exodus in Scripture?
First, we must begin to recognize that God wants to restore all things in His creation. The sin that befell the physical world in Genesis 3 will soon be overturned with the return of God. This means instead of emphasizing a narrative where the souls of those who are lucky enough to hear a particular message about God and His work head off to disembodied bliss upon death, we would rather begin to expand the controlling narrative in our lives to include the restoration of all creation. This means we would be just as likely to speak about the well being of creation as we would the well being of individual souls.
Second, we realize that in our world there are still many who languish in exile, struggling under the oppressive regimes in our world that control the wealth for themselves, while allowing others to suffer without. Exodus means deliverance from this oppression, and it is the business of the people of God to be concerned about those who are currently suffering this type of persecution. As we begin to recognize that in our flattened world the suffering of others is not only our business but also our responsibility, we will look to spread the gospel of freedom to those that live in a world without freedom. We will begin to use our resources to help those in need, because this becomes a part of our responsibility as the people of God.
Finally, we will see the work of God in the lives of all people, both believers and unbelievers. As a young man I could not fathom that God would be working in the life of someone who was a member of a different denomination than I. My narrative was too small. As the narrative that controls our lives expands and grows, we will begin to realize that God wants to deliver all people from their exile, and we will see that work of God in everyone’s life, regardless of where they are in their particular journey. This saves us from being the judge as to who is in and who is out, and instead calls us to love everyone and join them in the work that God is doing in their lives.
May we all expand the narratives that control our lives until the day when God is “all in all.”