Here’s the thing.
We all live by inner stories. Call them narratives if you want.
Your stories direct you on how you react to the news of the day, a phone call from an unknown number, the smell of pie, a kiss on the cheek. Whenever inputs come into your life your stories tell you how to react.
Take the pie. You smell pie. You story might be, “I grew up eating apple pie, I love it, I want a slice, and all true pie comes with a slice of cheddar cheese.” (Yeah, that’s a thing.)
Or you smell pie and think, “I am on a diet because being thin is culturally and personally important. I want to look and feel acceptable to others. I want a spouse and finding one means I have to look my best, so I will ignore that pie and eat this slice of lettuce instead.”
That’s not my story for sure, but it might be yours.
Our stories come in from all over — from how we were raised, treated in school, learned from peers, experienced life, watched the news — and change as you live through human life with all its myriad joys and sorrows.
Our stories may well be extremely corrupted. In fact, I would say that most of them are so badly corrupted that they are poisoning you right now and you do not even know it. Or you know it, but you want to hold on to that story so badly that you cannot imagine living life without that story. The narrative is a part of you, you think, and to lose it would be to lose a part of your very being. Your essence.
In a way, you are not wrong. Our stories do define who we are, since who we are is defined by what we think, say, and do. Our stories make us think, so, and do whatever it is we do. Giving up on them means admitting we have thought, said, and done awful things. We hate being wrong, hate admitting we were wrong, and hate telling other people we were wrong.
Christian discipleship means burning your stories. Scripture says that we have died with Christ. We are buried with him in baptize and rise to walk in newness of live. We are new creations. The old has died. The new man is here.
What do I mean, burn your stories? Well, if you have been watching the news, you have seen the conflagration that results when narratives collide. “Black lives matter” vs “all lives matter.” “Defund the cops” vs. “support the cops.” “Leftist anarchy” vs. “right-wing authoritarianism.”
The media, politicians, interest groups, friends on Facebook, twitterati, and pretty much everyone around you wants to bend your story to match theirs. You see an event happen — protests, riots, burning, killings — and the voices around you say “well that happened because of STORY X so to fix it we need to do END RESULT OF STORY X.”
But these stories are not all good — some are very evil — and they are definitely not biblical. They do not emanate from God’s story. When you study God — we call that Theology — you find defining narratives about humanity which conflict with our stories and the stories surrounding us every single day.
Fundamentally, God’s story with respect to the news will always be something like this:
All people are sinners and thus fundamentally broken on some level. Our only lasting hope is to be in Christ now and for eternity. All human endeavors will be in some way tainted or destroyed by sin, no matter how good our intentions. Therefore we must be a people who are quick to admit fault, quick to seek and give forgiveness, quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. We do not trust in the powers and authorities of this world to save us, for Jesus alone is salvation. We are citizens of heaven. We are sons and daughters of the living God. We believe that God made all people and all people bear God’s image.
These are just a few thoughts from God’s story. These are theological narratives that ought to drive our understanding of how we think so that when we speak and act, we do so according to God’s stories, not our own. We must actively resist anyone who would replace God’s stories, and we must root out our residual narratives in order to replace them with God’s. This is part of our sanctification — our becoming holy — this training how we think. We have our minds renewed, Paul writes in the Bible.
How does this play out?
George Floyd — a man created by God in His own image. A sinner saved by the grace of Jesus. A man whose life was corrupted by sin and who participated in evil systems of living even while he did gracious things for the good of man and the good of God’s Kingdom. A man whose life was taken by the intermingling of the sins of others and the long-lasting wickedness of systems corrupted by evil people. A man whose own best intentions were both internally corrupted and externally destroyed because of sin. A man whose heart needed to be tended to by the love of Jesus and whose life had infinite merit in God’s eyes. A man whose actions needed to be held accountable by those in his life who loved him or ought to have loved him. A man who God loved supremely.
The Police — people made by God in His own image. Sinners who need saving by the grace of Jesus. No better or worse than any other people because of their profession, and just as at risk of participating in wickedness as any other people on the planet. People whose best intentions are often corrupted by their own sinful natures and by wicked systems of power created by and corrupted by evil people. Empowered by the state to protect justice and constrain evil because the world is broken, but nevertheless just as inclined to participate in wickedness because all of our hearts are desperately wicked. Best served when their hearts are tended to with the love of Christ while their actions are constrained and corrected by those who love them or ought to love them. Imbued with important power and thus held to a higher standard than others in terms of public and private life.
Protestors — people made in God’s image. Sinners all, needing saving. People with real emotions and experiences which have led them to experience real pain and anger. People whose best intentions can be corrupted and coopted by sinful systems and wicked people. As a crowd of humans, an infinitely complex grouping of emotions, intentions, sins, graces, and expected outcomes. Prone to evil but capable of good. Humans Jesus died for and loves supremely.
Racism — an awful wickedness intending to undo the image of God in all people. A sin that has infected the very systems of government, power, and economics in our nation (and all nations). A sin which must be constantly rooted out and battled within those systems, lest they remain in control. Like greed, so pervasive and normal as to be called “good” by many millions in our lifetimes. A wickedness that has separated Jesus’s own body, the Church, and rent apart families and souls. A tendency in every human heart. Only cured by confession, repentance, and the battle of sanctification.
Black Lives Matter — a statement and an organization. As a statement, an indisputable truth that has been maligned, ignored, and argued against even by God’s own people for centuries in America. A statement needing saying because it has not been said or believed. As an organization, a confluence of special interests and a group of people who, being people, are sinners. As with any human organization, a mixture of good and evil. As with any human organization, does not define the church or the church’s response to wickedness in the world.
Do you see how God’s narrative differs from all those we inherit or see in the news?
Perhaps these seem so simple to you. “Duh,” right?
But the simplest truths are the once we are most likely to ignore.
These are not slogans you can fight with on social media. They are not easy stories. They conflict with what we have been taught. They tear down the deepest stories of our own lives and make us angry or guilty or sad or all of the above.
But they are oh so necessary. So so necessary. So forgotten. So ignored because we rush to our little stories, our precious narratives, our ways of seeing the world. We want the outcomes we want. We want to ignore the nuance and complexities of the world and see everything in black and white because the people writing the stories NEED US TO BELIEVE THE WORLD IS BLACK AND WHITE. The media (ALL MEDIA), your friends, political parties, special interest NEED YOU TO BELIEVE THE WORLD IS IN BLACK AND WHITE SO YOU DO WHAT THEY WANT, SAY WHAT THEY WANT, and BUY WHAT THEY WANT.
These false narratives have a point: manipulation. They might contain enough truth to get you hooked, then fill you with enough bile to get you to act. To give. To say.
I encourage you — burn those stories. Find your narrative in God and his Word. The stories He tells are complex, nuanced, uncomfortable, and often difficult. But they are real. They are not lies told to force you into a corner but rather to reject the corners man would place on you and find the one true story that is above all stories, the one narrative that you will believe for all eternity. You are a child of God, the inheritor of a Kingdom everlasting, imbued with the very power of God by his Holy Spirit. You do not need to have someone else give you their petty story when you have the greatest story ever told living inside you.
Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths. — CS Lewis