Saturday, April 24, 2010

Too Many Stories

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21.25)

Finding Words

Suppose we’re gathered in a vast hall with every believer who ever lived. A docent enters, followed by a legion of assistants with arms full of those blue books commonly used for essay exams. (Do they still use them? Maybe not.) After they’re distributed, the docent says, “Take out your pens and answer this question: ‘What has Jesus done for you?’” Some of us tear into the exercise, writing feverishly detailed accounts of every blessing we can think of, filling the pages until our prose curls around the margins and our hands seize with writer’s cramp. Others of us pause to consider what the examiner is looking for and put down what we hope are the best answers. But there are many of us who stare at the blank page a long while. Where do we begin? Written words can’t express how much Christ has done for us. His ineffable presence makes it impossible to limit our thoughts to what He’s done; our awareness of Him centers on Who He is. Although we’re the last to start, we’re the first to finish, as our essays run less than a sentence long: “More than I can tell, in ways I can’t describe.” Below that, we write, “(Thank You.)”

After 21 chapters composed of over 15,000 words, John reviews his draft and judges it woefully incomplete. He concludes an exhaustive account of everything Jesus did during His time on Earth surpasses human capability: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21.25) For John, the challenge goes beyond finding words for Christ’s deeds. Simply having sufficient space to contain them exceeds our capacity. The unwritten corollary to John’s statement is even more astounding. To undertake a complete, authoritative record of Jesus’s life, year-by-year and day-by-day would require untold thousands of historians to commit their entire lives to finishing the project. Now, let’s take this one step further. John is talking only of Christ’s 33 years as a mortal. The whole of His works and ministry is impossible to capture in one place because His story continues to grow exponentially and has no end. There are just too many stories.

Forever in Progress

We tend to read the Gospels along these lines: Birth, Ministry, Death, and Resurrection. We include Acts 1 so we don’t omit the Ascension, and then we move on to the next volume: Early Church History and Correspondence. But The Gospel of Christ—the Good News of His revelation and redemption—is a work forever in progress, because we are works forever in progress. The moment we allow Him to enter our lives we enter His story. We are etched in its pages alongside every other human who meets Jesus. As with the multitudes privileged to follow Him when He walked the Earth, He beckons us, speaks to our innermost beings, teaches us how to live, touches our infirmities, guides us to His cross, and transforms us through His resurrection. What we receive from Christ is no less real or valid than what the first disciples received. We are no less essential to His Gospel than they. The glory revealed in us through faith in Him is the same as what we see in them; the redemption we claim is the same as theirs.

We are part of The Gospel of Christ because we participate in His story. Peter tells us this: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption of the world caused by evil desires.” (2 Peter 1.3-4) Participation in “the divine nature” is where our story and Jesus’s intersect. We believe His promises and reset our course to follow His example. Like Peter and virtually every other character in the recorded gospels, we struggle between controlling our narrative driven by worldly corruption and yielding to Jesus’s narrative, which testifies to His power to provide “all we need for life and godliness.” Since this ongoing battle involves Him, our successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vanities get woven into the inexplicably beautiful story of Christ.

Solving the Space Shortage

“You show that you are a letter from Christ,” Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3.3, “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” Solving the space shortage John describes comes about exactly as Paul explains. A literary account of Jesus’s life after His Ascension—i.e., our participation in His story—is no longer needed. “When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me,” Jesus promises us in John 15.26. The Holy Spirit adds our contribution to the Gospel, according to Paul, not with pen and paper or chisel and stone, but by inscribing it on the hearts of those around us. He records our lives as current testimony—breaking good news, if you will—of Christ. All of those details John can’t find adequate room to document and store on bookshelves? They’re stored in our hearts and the hearts of others as a living archive of every incident and item attesting to what Jesus has done for us, given us, and means to us.

Honestly? Perceiving themselves as active participants in the unfinished Gospel of Christ may not mean very much to some believers. But for those of us who’ve been told we have no place in Christ’s story—that characters like us get edited out after it’s written—knowing the Author and Publisher’s intentions makes a world of difference. We abide in John 6.37 as one of those “great and precious promises” Peter refers to: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” When Jesus enters our lives we enter His story. And since space isn’t a problem, there’s room for everyone.

Our relationship with Christ includes us in His story, a Gospel no longer recorded in ink, but written on human hearts by His Spirit.

8 comments:

gmc said...

Amen! I love the fact that the word history is comprised of His & Story. I look forward one day to reading all the other "chapters."

Grant

Tim said...

Amen to that too, Grant! All the other "chapters"--wow, what an exciting prospect. And quite a few surprise endings, twists and turns, too, I would imagine!

Blessings always,
Tim

Fred H. Anderson said...

"Perceiving themselves as active participants in the unfinished Gospel of Christ may not mean very much to some believers. But for those of us who’ve been told we have no place in Christ’s story—that characters like us get edited out after it’s written—knowing the Author and Publisher’s intentions makes a world of difference. We abide in John 6.37 as one of those “great and precious promises” Peter refers to: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” When Jesus enters our lives we enter His story. And since space isn’t a problem, there’s room for everyone."

This is awesome, Tim! Straight people get "edited out" too. Believe me, I've experienced it. Keep up the good work, dear brother.

Tim said...

Yes, Fred, straight people get the scissors, too. There are far too many editors on the loose, and not nearly enough compilers! Thank you for your kind words. You're always a great blessing to me!

Peace,
Tim

claire said...

Thank you, Tim. Yes, we're continuing to write the Bible with His love in our lives :-)

Tim said...

It's a privilege we've been given, Claire, a gift I don't think we acknowledge nearly enough.

Blessings always,
Tim

genevieve said...

This is something that I need to keep in mind. I never thought of this in this way.

Tim said...

You're right, Genevieve, it's something we all need to keep in mind. And I may I say your story stands tall among my personal "contemporary Gospel" favorites?

Have a marvelous week filled with new stories of God's love and grace!

Blessings,
Tim