I love fantastic stories, especially those which create entirely new worlds in my imagination. For example, The Lord of the Rings or the Star Wars Trilogy. I am currently reading a fascinating science fiction trilogy by S. M. Stirling about ‘The Change’, where the Earth has been devastated by a catastrophy that instantly eliminates all electrical devices, gasoline engines and gunpowder-based weapons worldwide. Within a year, only a small fraction of the Earth’s population has survived, mainly by regressing to medieval farming, military and political practices. An interesting subplot is what happens to religion. In Oregon, where the story mainly takes place, a nature-worshipping Wiccan sect saves many lives and becomes the predominant stabilising force in the lives of many ‘good guys.’ The ‘bad’ guys have no religion and are led by a power-hungry former Jesuit medieval professor. The author is not saying that “witches are good; Christians are bad.” He is simply saying that primitive nature-loving folk, respectfully serving the “Lord and Lady” gods of nature have a excellent survival strategy in such a world. Anthropologically, that would seem to be the case, based on studies of native American and other primitive cultures around the world.
At first, as I read this story, I wondered why the author hadn’t used a Christian community instead of a Wiccan group. Then I realised that the story would have been far more complex. He couldn’t easily describe a plausible, Darwinian survival strategy based on the Christian religion. In fact, as I thought about it, neither could I! Why would Christians be more fit for survival in a primitive world, or in our own modern world for that matter? That got me to thinking. The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars both have a hidden force that orchestrates the downfall of an evil Emperor. In the Change trilogy, even the Wiccan sect seems at certain points to receive help from their gods. Human survival in each of these stories doesn’t happen on its own. The authors use a story-telling device called a deus ex machina (literally, a god outside the system) to rescue the ‘good guys’ from ‘evil.’ The Force rescues Luke Skywalker. An unseen force guides Frodo through a dangerous journey to destroy Sauron’s Ring of Power. Science, in Darwin’s theory of evolution, says humans survive because we are better equiped than other living parts of the ecosystem. The authors of these fantastic stories all point toward the possibility that humans can’t survive on their own and depend on some outside force to rescue them from ultimate destruction.
God’s Great Adventure
Which brings me to the fantastic Christian story about the survival and triumph of the human race in the universe (still incomplete). You can easily understand the outline of this story in the Bible:
- God creates the universe for his own purposes, as the framework for a great adventure story. Mysteriously, He makes room in this story for man to choose to do both good and evil and to disrupt the world. [Genesis 1-4]
- In the next phase of the adventure story, God selects a small band of nomads in the desert as His special people. They will learn the fundamental theme in God’s adventure story — they cannot survive on their own. They must rely on the ‘force’ to rescue them from their enemies. Otherwise, they will perish. For example, they must have God’s help to escape from Pharoah. [Genesis 12 – 15, Exodus]
- In the next phase, God begins to prepare his people for a great event, a gift He will send the human race. His people imagine that this is a great military leader who enable them to conquer all their enemies, a ‘Messiah’ who will be the ‘King of Kings.’ [For example Isaiah 49, from among many references]
- In the next phase, God announces that He is the promised gift. He enters creation as Jesus and demonstrates how mankind is to live, as His Sons and Daughters. In the climax of this part of the story, Jesus demonstrates that evil has no power to kill us, and that taking part in God’s plan to rescue the world from evil (like Luke Skywalker and Frodo) is how we humans are to be a crucial part of His great adventure. [The four Gospels]
- In the final phase of the story (the phase that we are living in today), all humans are learning how to live as God’s sons and daughters. Christians have special insights into His plan, and therefore special obligations, but no monopoly on doing His will. For 2000 years, the story has been filled with danger, heros and villains, battles and defeats, and surprising turns-of-events, like any good adventure story. Occasionally, things seem about to fall apart but, mysteriously, a deus ex machina rescues us at critical points. The story is guaranteed to have a happy ending! [Paul points to this in Ephesians 1 and Romans 5]
The Christian Role in God’s Story
One of the main obligations of Christians is to tell everyone the story of God’s great adventure — to give them hope, and help them trust God when things seem about to fall apart. We need to tell this story in a way that different people from diverse backgrounds can understand their part in God’s story. I have tried to illustrate how to do that in this post. Our task is not so much to ‘convert’ Wiccans and other non-Chrisitians but rather to help them understand the larger context of a loving God’s great adventure story in which their part can be better understood. It is up to God whether, and if, and how they will be ‘converted.’ In fact, in their diversity they may play an important role in ‘converting’ us Christians.