Some stories don’t end. They just stop. I don’t like those. A sad ending’s fine. An ending that makes us wonder and dream about what happens next is cool. But stories should offer a conclusion that lets us sense there was some point to the telling.
This week I attended a board meeting of our denomination’s publishing ministry. A highlight was the after-dinner speech given by Rev. Leonard Vander Zee, editor in chief of Faith Alive’s Editorial Department. I expected the usual fun stuff, like the professional whistler we had one year who showed up dressed to the nines in a fancy tux. He whistled Bach, Beethoven, and Schubert. At first his performance tickled our funny bones, until we got lost in the music.
Len’s “act” was entertainment of a different sort—solid church education. He emphasized the importance of story in our lives. He noted how intellectual theories and explanations guide our thinking, but story guides our everyday living. We all live within an overarching story that ties all the individual episodes of our lives together into a meaningful whole (scholars call it a “metanarrative”). The story in which we see ourselves living shapes our values, lifestyle, decisions, and actions.
For Christians the overarching story in which we live is the gospel of Jesus, the Messiah. We live daily out of the good news of God’s sovereign love by which God planned, created, redeems, and restores us and our world through Jesus. Len emphasized how we need to see all the stories of Scripture and our own stories in the light of that one true story.
Len got me thinking about why I like the gospel story so much. It has a beginning, a middle, and a meaningful ending. Contrast that with the atheist’s story. It doesn’t end. It just stops. In that story we live, pay taxes (or not), then die. That’s it. There’s no point. And our universe won’t even have an end but go on expanding forever, even when the last stars wink out. What kind of ending is that: ever-expanding darkness with nothing ever happening again?
Thank God for the message of Easter: life after death.
Thank God for One who will return to take all the pieces of our lives and universe and bring them to a grand and glorious conclusion.
We need that story. So does our world.
I was distressed at the board meeting to learn how many Christian Reformed churches are not using Faith Alive Sunday school curriculum, which so consistently shows how all Bible stories connect in the one story of Jesus and his love. There’s no better way to start telling that story to our kids. It takes years and years of careful, sequenced telling to let it take shape within their minds.
Superintendents, pastors, elders, parents, please take a careful look at what’s being taught in your Sunday school. How the story’s told from week to week and year to year matters so much. And how effectively it’s interwoven with your kids’ stories is crucial.
Young or old, we need to know the story so well that even on our deathbeds we will joyfully anticipate the rest of the story.