In the monotony of life, most of us chase the escape. There is Netflix, Prime, Hulu for couch surfers; Kindle, Indie Bookstores, and Barnes and Noble for the word thirsty; museums, theatres, and cinemas for the art-savvy. While some would rather Yosemite, or Yellowstone than read or watch – most of us have an escape.
It’s understandable why that might be. Man born of woman is few of days and full of trouble. But what do we escape to? What relief do we find in these stories, paintings, and landscapes of beauty?
In the pages of a book, one can live outside of one’s self. You can go places no person can. In the movies, one can celebrate the triumphs of characters whose essence is more beautiful, strong, or powerful than we.
The problem is not wanting to disappear into stories, for the Creator endorses that. The problem is viewing our lives as something other than stories. I don’t just mean our lives are stories like biographies are stories – one event turning into another, into another affecting a person over time. Rather, I mean a story being written with intent by an author, a story with meaning. Do you see yourself that way? As a character in a story?
It can be a hard thing, for we have a whole genre of stories called tragedies, and if our lives are being written by a divine author, then so many of our lives are of that type. But what if life being a tragedy depends on when the timeline ends? What if we reorient the arc of the story on a different timeline? MLK Jr. popularized the quote, the “arc of history is long but it bends toward justice,” – are we different?
One’s account of World War II could burden one’s soul if the account ended with Hitler conquering Paris in 1940. But what if the account ends with Hitler’s timely end and the surrender of Germany on V-E Day, 1945? Whether a life is a tragedy, or even a success story, depends largely on where we stop telling it.
Moreover, the way we look at life depends on how we see it as sweet or bitter. In a passage known as the Hall of Faith is a striking account of a group of people:
they were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Others experienced mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted, and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.
These are the people commended by the author. To end the story there is certainly hard. Among the greatest heroes of the Christian faith are those who despaired and left the world with rags and sorrows. But the timeline continues past the grave. These people banked on a life which doesn’t end with their last breath. They had hopes and dreams – some realized, some not. But their bridge to a better world – and a happier ending – was through faith. The tragedy was they were crushed and afflicted without visible fulfillment. But God says this:
These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth.
They saw the glories and upsets of life as temporary, fleeting things. Jim Carrey says, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” The most accomplished lives are tragedies on the long scale.
These folks above who wandered in goatskins and lived in caves. They realized what they were looking for was not self-realization, but home – or more specifically – a homeland. They redefined the nature of a triumph story:
they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
The word homeland there is actually “fatherland” (πατρίδα). You can just pick up and move to Canada and become a citizen. But you can only go home to Canada if you’re from there and are going home.
You see, life is either the story of craving to maintain this crumbling existence (of which we will all be robbed by death), or it is the story of the “craving” (earnestly seek after – “ἐπιζητέω”) of fatherland by which we will pay all to regain.
One is the tragedy. One is happily ever after. This is a Choose Your Own Adventure Story. When you find yourself in sheepskins because you’ve chosen to live a life of faith, your story does not end with a breath, but pivots on a resurrection.