The sun will probably kill us.
That’s what scientists tell us. The large warmth-giving star our earth orbits around will continue to heat up until it burns all its nuclear fuel. Feeding its insatiable hunger for energy, it will grow into what experts call a “Red Giant.” In its hot wrath this giant will gobble up all life on earth and burp out a silent planet.
That’s how the curtain closes in one storyline at least. And that’s the outlook many embrace today. The plot begins in a murky prebiotic ocean and ends in the heat death of all of civilization. And if that’s where life came from and where history is headed, there’s not much we can do about it. After all, wishful thinking has never slain a giant.
We’re All Suckers
Not every story has a happy ending. When I was a child I thought like a child. Perhaps it’s time to put away childish things.
But we’re all suckers for a good story. That’s why we squirm a bit at gloomy projections for the human race. We want a comedy even though our meteorological forecast forces us into a tragedy. I think deep down we’re all holding out hope for a David-figure to step in with a humble sling and defend us from the cosmic foe threatening our existence. We simply want a better ending.
Every perspective of reality contains an inherent narrative. Every worldview is a novel. Each has an author, a beginning, and an end. The task for thinking people is to consider not which story is most interesting, but which one is actually true. In the end we may find a story compelling and true in which we can lose ourselves. Better yet, we may discover a story in which we can find ourselves. That would be novel indeed.
As a boy I enjoyed reading the Choose Your Own Adventure books. At the end of each chapter you’d be asked a question about the plot and then be directed to a specific page to continue the story, depending on your answer. While every decision along the way would influence the outcome, none was more important than the first. Your response to the first question would determine the scope of all of your future options.
Reality works a lot like this. We all have to make fundamental assumptions about the nature of the universe. The first chapter of the human narrative presents the question about origins. The options are (a) nature contains the answer to this question or (b) something outside nature contains the answers. The decisions that follow are important, but this first choice determines the possibilities—the parameters—of the rest of the plot.
This first choice, what we presuppose about reality, sets the stage for the story of our lives. That’s because where we begin determines where we’ll finish. Every intellectual path leads to an inevitable destination.
This also illustrates why conversations from differing starting points—different presuppositions—tend to be loaded with obstacles and limitations. In my experience, conversations with skeptic friends have dramatized how our contrasting starting points control where we end up. It’s like we’re on open escalators going in opposite directions. We can talk to each other up to a point and appeal to each other to come along with us. But we’re up against the reality that we’ve taken our stances on different starting points leading to different places.
Tale of Two Worldviews
A story increasing in popularity in our day is a remixed version of naturalism or atheism. Though there are some nuanced distinctions between these two, they’re summarized in the oft-quoted soundbite from the late Harvard professor Carl Sagan: “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.”
If Sagan is right, that means the atheistic story begins in chance, is governed by nothing, and is heading nowhere. And there are many public intellectuals (think Richard Dawkins and Alex Rosenberg) who are willing to admit that the atheistic starting point leads to a loss of personhood, intrinsic worth, moral distinctions, and any concept of justice. Surprisingly, while many admit the consequences of their worldview, they aren’t ready to concede that what’s really lost in the pages of the godless bestsellers is our very humanity.
But just the opposite is true in Christianity. The Christian story affords the human experience with a sturdy foundation. The gospel sheds light on what it means to be human. We feel a certain way about moral categories, for example, because these things are real. We long to know God, and in the gospel we find God has taken on flesh to make this possible. We hope for a better future and find that Jesus offers us even more.
That’s because nothing is wasted in the gospel story. There, all is redeemed and eventually set right by the one who created all things. History is marching to the cadence of the Creator’s providence, for the purpose of his glory. Our lives blossom in this stream. It’s the source of living water. But apart from the gospel, humanity withers and perishes.
Choose Your Story Wisely
The human experience is either the greatest hoax or a powerful clue to the nature of reality. Either all our deepest hopes converge into one powerful explanation that only the gospel is vast enough to channel, or they dissipate like a mist beneath the rising sun. But if—in our striving and suffering, our loving and longing—we’ll just tune in, then we’ll hear nature’s primitive call, the echo of Eden, bidding us to come and drink at the fountain of living water.
That’s why we need to choose our story wisely. Or, better yet, we may find in the end it’s really our story that chooses us.