Storytellers invariably feel a deep connection with their stories. This is not surprising, given that every good story is a revelation of its author’s being. Some authors express this connection by writing their stories in first-person narrative. Others actually write themselves into their stories as characters, though few enough manage to do this well (consider C. S. Lewis writing himself into the second book of his Space Trilogy, Perelandra, as well as his unfinished novel, The Dark Tower, or Stephen King’s role in the later books of his own Dark Tower series).
Authors are not the only storytellers to feel this impetus. Film directors make appearances in their movies, either as major characters or in cameo roles. Who can forget the somber playfulness of Alfred Hitchcock’s impassive visage as he emerges inevitably, albeit momentarily, on the film screen? Or, more recently, the sometimes subtle, sometimes overt roles M. Night Shyamalan plays in his movies? Stephen King appears in minor roles in many of the movies that are based on his books. Others could be added to the list as well, of course: Quentin Tarentino, John Carpenter, Peter Jackson, Orson Welles, and many more.
These moments of authorial self-disclosure demonstrate an inescapable reality for good storytelling. A lasting and meaningful story will always be an extension of the very life of its author. Its bones will be his. Its sight will be limited by his eyes and its poignancy by his spirit. A good story throbs with the beating of its author’s heart and pulsates to the rhythm of its author’s blood. It is a nerve laid bare; a soul exposed. Not all authors, writers, or directors respond to this reality by entering into their stories, but those who do can be forgiven.
Space and Time
Granted that such is the case for the best stories, ought it surprise us when the divine storyteller enters into his story? What else could he do? What else would we expect from him? For this world is the story that God is telling: it is the revelation of his very being. Our world pulses with his life; we exist because he dreamt us up. Human storytellers create with ink on paper; the divine storyteller creates with matter on space and time. Human authors tell their stories through imagined characters; the divine author tells his story through humans.
That the truth of his authorship is hid in our collective subconscious is seen in a myriad of ways. It is seen in our absolutist sense of right and wrong (“he has put eternity into man’s heart”—Ecclesiastes 3:11). It is seen in our poetry: “All the world’s a stage/and all the men and women merely players” (William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII). It is seen in our pantheistic tendencies, both ancient and modern. Given the intimate connection between story and storyteller, were the ancient Babylonians so far afield in imagining that the world has been formed from the flesh and bones of a god? Wrong in the technical details certainly, but as a metaphor, it’s not entirely inaccurate. Even Paul lent limited legitimacy to a pantheistic poet in Acts 17:28: “We are indeed [God’s] offspring.” The world is God’s self-exposing story. Indeed, the truth that God is telling his story through humanity is seen finally in humanity’s own penchant for storytelling.
Story Within the Story
Still, this master artist is not content to tell his story merely through the created universe. He tells a story within the story too, by appointing people throughout the narrative to record his direct communication with his characters. So emerge the Scriptures, an even deeper revelation of the mind and heart of the divine author. The Scriptures reveal to us that in this particular drama, the characters are created for a loving relationship with their author.
This world, like all good stories, vibrates in tune to its author’s heart. This fact remains, despite the catastrophe of the fall, for the fall itself is part of the story. The Scriptures flow with a verdurous life-force shunted from the veins of the Almighty. But even this is not enough. The author of life insists on entering his story, Hitchcock-like. Only his role is no cameo. When God enters the story he takes up the central role, and suddenly it becomes apparent that his role was central all along. And since this is the archetype of all stories, it is fitting that in it, the author’s bone, flesh, and blood are all, quite literally, laid bare. Anything else would be anticlimactic.
In the appearance of this author within his own story, all of the other minor roles foreshadow and echo his critical one. In that grand denouement which is the incarnation, all other lives suddenly take on a whole new meaning and importance. In addition to their contribution to the story within their own plot arches, each individual life becomes a living echo of the story’s main character, Jesus Christ. A whole discipline of theology, known as typology, is devoted to locating these echoes in the Bible.
But should we to stop with the people depicted in Scripture? Aren’t our own lives part of the ongoing story? Shouldn’t my life also approximate that of my Savior? Might this be part of what Paul is getting at in Colossians 3:3-4: “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory”? We don’t know all the ways in which our lives are being made into echoes of the messianic hero, but one day, we shall.
Lord, continue to write your story. Write your story into ours so that ours can be writ into yours. Make us always the supporting characters of your protagonist, Jesus Christ, and preserve us from both the fate of his antagonists and the ignominy of becoming mere comic relief. And while we continue to joyfully engage this volume of your great redemptive story, we eagerly look forward to its sequel.
“Since all the world is but a story, it were well for thee to buy the more enduring story rather than the story that is less enduring.”—Saint Columba