I have been hearing rumors of many people who object to metanarratives. They don’t like them and they stay away from them. I call it rumors because I have yet to actually meet such a person, although I read that they are supposedly a widespread part of Western culture. I doubt the word has yet made it into most dictionaries. Here is what I mean by meta-narratives. The prefix “meta” is understood to mean that which is beyond, transcendent, specialized, or highly organized in form. Narrative, of course, means “story”. To certain people this word means “a great, all encompassing, or grand story that is outside of their present experience and that is presented to them so they will submit to it and be controlled by it.” That is why people don’t like it. They don’t want to be controlled by anything other than their own self-chosen stories and lifestyles and desires. They don’t mind sharing and living as a part of localized stories, but they object to stories that put forth a “world view” that everyone must buy into because it is the right knowledge or truth for everyone. Groups that try and convince people of grand stories may include: science, political ideologies such as Marxism, history, and religion. Those who object to these meta-narratives claim that they are subject to criticisms which show them to be false, for example, history may contain lies or inaccurate reports. This modern trend of doubting metanarratives is given by some as one reason why the church has been declining in its significance and influence. Whether the word “metanarrative “ is in people’s thinking or not, many people do not trust the church and so turn away from it. What can be said about the objections to metanarratives or grand stories; particularly to Christianity, the church, and its message?
I certainly agree with criticisms that demonstrate to people that metanarratives can be false. Christianity is considered to be a metanarrative, and admittedly much has been found to be wrong with the church. The church has promoted wars, has oppressed people, has been proved unscientific in its thinking, and is full of hypocrites who fail to live what is preached. However, Christians do not profess perfection for human beings, but perfection for God and the person of Jesus. We say that Jesus came to save us from ourselves and He promises a new world of right and good for all who dare to follow Him. (Luke 19:10; John 10:10) As a part of the church, I have apologized in other writings for how you may have been hurt by the church. But I hope you are big enough to re-examine and discover what you may not have seen. Christians claim that the Bible is God’s unique story and points the way to a better life. Any failure by believers to live the teachings of the Bible does not take away from the validity of what God reports or teaches in the book. Those truly born of God want, of course, to live by the book as best they can.
Many people see the Bible as a collection of stories that teach valuable moral lessons, but not as a unified story which invites all to participate in its grand adventure. The Bible is an example of a metanarrative because it claims to be God’s truth for all people. It begins with an account of how the world came to be, what went wrong, how God reveals Himself along the way, how He includes us in His plan to restore all things, and how the world will end with a re-creation. All the stories in the Bible are related to this great theme of God’s work and plan for history. Jesus is at the core of making everything that is good and right to happen. He is the answer to all of our individual and personal dilemmas and struggles. If there is a true metanarrative, and if God, as author, really did speak into human history, then God can give us true perspective about our life and world. I read somewhere this quote: “God has communicated a Story to the world which can give meaning to us all.” Christians may have wrongly tried to impose things on others, but in truth we cannot impose anything; we can only make the narrative known. All of us are invited to question, examine, learn, and decide whether or not we want to trust God’s story. So what’s new? People were rejecting metanarratives in Plato’s day.
Plato (ca.427-347 BC) wrote his allegory of the cave to demonstrate what it would be like for people of his day not to be open to a grand story. In brief, he tells of a group of people chained in a cave so that they could only see the wall in front of them. Behind them was a source of light and when objects passed by in front of the light, shadows of those objects appeared on the wall. Those shadows were the only reality the people knew. One day, one of their people escaped the chains and discovered that beyond the light of the fire was a doorway that led out of the cave and into the bright sunlight. The bright sun was blinding, but eventually his eyes adjusted and revealed all kinds of wonderful things never before seen or known. This is the way the world really was and he could hardly wait to go back and tell his fellow comrades what he had discovered and what they were missing. He went back into the cave and tried to convince them of a grand and marvelous world beyond what they knew. They accused their newly freed friend of falsehoods and they refused to listen, choosing to stay with the only reality they knew, their shadow world. Plato was concerned that people of his day were unwilling to be enlightened by wise thinking and he hoped this allegory would help them see that there was something more to be open to. Jesus came into our world from a realm beyond this world. (John 18:36) He attempted to help people see beyond the shadows (John 8:12), but in the end He was crucified as a common criminal, falsely accused. Like Plato, Jesus wanted people to see that there was more to life than they were open to see. He had a reason why people were this way, saying that they loved the darkness rather than the light because they do not want to see what the light will expose. (John 3:19-20) People do not want to be controlled by a metanarrative, but they do not realize that they are being controlled by their own self-imposed limitations. Jesus came to free us and give life, not control life, but most are not open to see how that works. (Galatians 5:1) Followers of Jesus also tried to help people get beyond their shadow worlds and see the marvelous things that God had for those who were open, but few bothered to listen and understand. (1 Corinthians 2:7-10)
Like Plato, C.S. Lewis, in his book “The Last Battle” also shared a story about close-minded people who were wrapped up in their own stories. There existed a group of dwarves who lived only to satisfy their own self-validated interests. They discounted a grand story told to them so as not to be taken in by those who told it. Later, they again had opportunity to enter the grand story. There was much in that story to see, discover, and enjoy; but they huddled together in their own circle and were unable to see and enjoy any part of it. They remained blind and were unable to see and participate in all the good that was spread before them. They had always been for themselves and so remained that way, even after their former world ended. When we close ourselves off to possible worlds beyond our own because we reject a story we don’t like, we may miss the grandest and most marvelous story ever written, meant especially for us. I can understand the scientific community limiting itself to a physical universe that is closed to other dimensions of reality, for that is all their observational methodology allows. But I am thankful for philosophy, metaphysical studies such as theology, and the Bible. These open us up to the possibility of other dimensions of reality and living.
I like what I once read, “We don’t make truth, we find truth.” And if there is such a thing as universal and beneficial truth, I for one would think it worthwhile to spend my whole life searching for it. Jesus told stories about finding things so grand that they are worth selling everything we have in order to own them. (Matthew 13:44-46) The God of the Bible encourages straying and lost people with these words: “When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you…and I will restore your fortunes.” (Jeremiah 29:13-14) God encourages all of us to enter His story by inviting us to “Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon Him while He is near…return to the Lord that He may have compassion on you.” (Isaiah 55:6-7) In tough times God gives us an option to seek Him and he will let us find him. (Deuteronomy 4:29) Jesus said, “Seek and you will find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” (Matthew 7:7-8) Sometimes we are in no condition to seek for God. He seeks for us and comes to find us. If we are in trouble he may search for us to rescue us (Ezekiel 34:11-12); he may seek us even when we have not been trying to find him. (Romans 10:20) It is fortunate that the truth sometimes finds us. Is there such a truth that will add eternal good to our lives and change how we view everything? Yes.
There is a universal and legitimate grand story. All the signs point to it for those whose minds and eyes are opened. Kimberly Shumate, a professed witch, told about her long journey leading to conversion to Christ. Her story can be read in Christianity Today magazine published in November 2002. One day she heard that God had a big story He had been telling to the world; that the Bible was a single unit from beginning to end. This verifiable fact helped to open her eyes. She wondered, “How could a book written by so many different people over the course of many hundreds of years fit together perfectly as if one amazing storyteller has written the whole thing?” She tells how this, among other things, impacted her. “I felt my vanity and arrogance melting away with a power stronger than any hex, incantation, or spell I had ever used. Suddenly, the blindfold I’d worn for almost 30 years was stripped away, and instantly I knew what I’d been searching for: Jesus!”
What is to become of those who remain outside the story – those who refuse to participate? Jesus was speaking of the universal story when He talked about the days of Noah. (Matthew 24:37-44) Noah proclaimed the story and there were those who would not enter the story and get on board the ark. They all perished in the forewarned flood. Although many do not believe this event was historical, Jesus told it as historical fact to say that our opportunity to enter the story is still being offered. And, Jesus warned that there will still be those who refuse to come out of their cave, those who huddle together in their self-made communities, who will miss out when He comes again to complete his story. Whether or not we all believe it does not change His grand and marvelous story, and our decision about the story will determine our destiny. (Matthew 25:1-13; 7:13-14, 24-27) Jesus could be likened to the one in Plato’s cave story who broke the chains and was freed. It happened by way of his resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:4) And now he comes to us as the one who tries to get us to see. He was clearly prophesied as the grand storyteller way back in the days of Moses. (Deuteronomy 18:18-19) This conveyor of the grand story for all times is the key figure all through the ages, from the beginning of time to the end of time. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. (Revelation 1:7-8; 21:6-8; 22:12-14) He has always been the central figure in history. Prior to his appearance in our world he was looked for as the coming savior. (Isaiah 53; 62:11-12; Micah 5:2; Zechariah 14:1-9; Luke 2:67-75) Following his appearance in our world he is still looked for as the coming savior. (Matthew 24:29-31; Acts 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-11; 2 Peter 3:3-13) We are continually reminded that he is a central figure in our history, for even the number of years on our calendar has been determined because of his appearance in our world. Christ’s story has, and is being spread everywhere. (Matthew 24:14; Luke 24:44-48; Acts 1:8) Why then is he and his story ignored by so many? Why do people prefer to remain bound in their chains of ignorance, thinking that they are the free ones? (John 8:31-47) His creation is visible to all people, thus, there is no excuse why anyone who wants to know the story cannot discover it, become one of the many stories within it, and benefit from its progress and fulfillment. (Romans 1:19-20)
Why would anyone want to become part of God’s grand and marvelous story? There are basically two ways to know the answer. (1) Ask someone who has become part of the story what it means to them. (2) Listen to your own heart’s yearning, wishing to be free from the troubles, incompleteness, dissatisfactions, addictions, guilt, or brokenness you are struggling with and wanting so badly to overcome; then decide to follow Jesus and experience it for yourself. Admittedly, if you are fine with your life as it is and you see no need for learning what the story is about or what it offers, then, by all means, go your way. Jesus forces no one. (Mark 10:17-22; John 6:66-68) But all need to know that the story is for everyone. Any person, whoever it may be, or whatever he or she may have done to make themselves feel disqualified, is welcome to come. (Matthew 14:28-30; John 3:16; 6:35-40) Not only is ever present help and wisdom from God a wonderful benefit, but another very good reason to subscribe to the story is because it offers the best hope for the future existence of our world and its people. I think everyone is aware that our universe is not self-sustaining and is wearing down. Every dependent thing needs outside help for its continued existence.
A biosphere can be defined as all of the systems that sustain life on earth. The earth can be referred to as biosphere 1. An attempt to duplicate the earth’s biosphere, or ecosystem, was made by building biosphere 2 in Arizona during the late 1980’s and early 90’s. A chief goal for building it was to see if a life sustaining system could be built to sustain life in outer space. Science still uses this biosphere for scientific studies, but the original experiment failed to sustain human life. People attempted to live within the biosphere, but needed help from the outside to make it livable, and even then it failed and the people had to leave. After the first group of people left the biosphere, a second group tried to make it work, but it failed again for another reason - the people involved could not get along due to their character defects, what the Bible calls sins. This leaves us to wonder if there is any system that has all it needs within itself to make it work, or if we always have something lacking which makes it necessary to look to an outside source to sustain our existence. Materialists are persons who say this world consists only of the physical, with no immaterial substance such as mind, soul, or God. They believe life is lived in a closed system. Some atheists also live in a closed system by excluding the possibility of a God. But in light of evidences for the possibility of reality outside of our universe, could something more than we know exist? If so, does our existence depend on such a reality? Are these not valid questions to explore?
Christians believe that there is a sustaining force outside the universe and that this force is personal and can be known. (Colossians 1:16-17; John 17:3) God has communicated to us in the person of Jesus Christ and has revealed in the pages of Scripture His grand and marvelous purpose for all of creation. However, too often those who have entered the story, know the story, and believe the story, do poorly at living the story. If we as Christ-followers want to have a better influence and want to be heard by those outside the faith, we need to do better in advertizing it with lifestyles of doing good and loving others. (Galatians 6:10; Titus 3:14) Todd Hunter emphasizes this point In his book, “Giving Church Another Chance”. He says that we must “engage the practice of Scripture reading in order to make its story visible and present in our bodily living.” Commenting on Todd’s book, Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said that “the church is not a place to go to, simply another meeting, but the way God has chosen to make Himself known to the world.” Some people claim that they never see God or that He never shows up when needed. Actually, He often does show up. This is done through the loving actions of His people, in whom He lives, and through whom He works to meet various needs of individuals and communities. We believers have opportunity to represent God to our world each day. Jesus said that we will be recognized as Christ’s followers by how we love. (John 13:35) What kind of love does he mean? I Corinthians 13 defines it for us. It is the kind of love that makes all who receive it to be accepted and healed of certain kinds of defects. Divine love is exemplified by Christ and its symbol is his cross which tells us that true love is sacrificial. To love like this is to give people who are within the sphere of our individual and corporate life what they need, in spite of the cost to oneself.
People like to think they can create their own worlds that are closed to anything outside, believing they are safe and secure and have it made. But we fail to see the insurmountable problems within and without ourselves that prevent a peace-filled and pain-free world. When we open up to the possibility of a bigger and grander scheme than our own, we discover satisfying and unending potential. Jesus came from a kingdom outside of this world in order to redeem a world gone awry. Not everyone chooses to believe there is such a kingdom, but to deny it one would have to show that Jesus did not live, that we do not have His true words, and that He did not arise bodily from the dead. Of course, that is what some unbelieving people do try to prove. They seem satisfied that they have successfully accomplished this even though such attempts fall short in the face of contrary evidence. So be it! (John 12:37) But for those who believe, “Wow”! What a hope we have. What a grand and marvelous story to be part of. We humans, individually or collectively, could never accomplish such a thing – we are too imperfect and needy and lack the power. That is why we need Jesus. Where we can’t, He can; and He will. We who know the story need to learn it better, and we need to come out of our caves and into the light, and not just be storytellers, but we need to live the grand and marvelous story so that others can see it in operation.