The First Story
Once upon a time, they lived happily. That is, until ever after hit them like a ton of bricks. It was the end of the world as they knew it. Their short story was over as soon as it began. The difference between Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 of their story is as stark as the difference between night and day. How quickly they moved from the untainted beauty of Chapter 2— “were both naked, but they felt no shame” (Gen. 2:25)—to the tragic finality of Chapter 3—expelled for good from the presence of the one who loved them perfectly.
If only this fairytale’s beginning and morbid ending were fiction. Then, perhaps, we could breathe a deep sigh of relief, as if awakening from terrors of the night that are not real in the end. But, they are us. This is not just their story. It is ours. It is yours. It is mine. And it is REAL. Sometimes, the truth is more painful than fiction…
My First Story
My earliest memory is of a recurring nightmare. I’m not sure how old I was, maybe three. It was a simple, yet unfortunate scene: absolute darkness. Nothing but black space and my toddler body in a seemingly never-ending, horrific free fall. It was as if my three year-old self was experiencing the infamous fall of my ancient ancestors, Adam and Eve. Their reality had so quickly infected my little innocence. I was thrust into the shameful, fearful, guilt-ridden existence we are all-too-familiar with, with no way back to the Tree of Life in the middle of the Garden. After all, the one who loves me perfectly “stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24).
Thank God, children are resilient and I was able to cope with whatever those nightmares were all about. Fast forward a few years though, and there I was again, all alone in the dark. Except this time, I wasn’t asleep. My great aunt, who was the closest thing to a grandma I ever had, died. My sister and I were super close to her. She loved and cared for us deeply. And, at the age of six or so, I didn’t know how to respond to all the pain and confusion of losing her. I felt alone and made that my reality by hiding in a dark closet, not wanting to be found.
The Plot Twist
Around the age of 16, an internal switch got flipped, and I began to check out. This “story” was simply too much for me to bear. I gave myself over to the temptation that the whole of reality (and my reality, too) could just be a game, the temptation to believe that nothing really matters in the end, the temptation that hope is a farce. Eat, drink and be merry, they say. Subconsciously, I started saying that, too, and years of addiction ensued. Is this not the most reasonable response?
Here’s the crazy part. This is God’s story, too. Read the Old Testament. The God who IS love suffers the cycle of rebellion over and over and over again with his people. The very people he created to love him in response…don’t. Second verse, same as the first. But then, an unexpected twist of the plot: God becomes one of us and fully embraces this wretched existence filled with darkness, pain and suffering. The culmination of all of this is the death of God in Christ. Jesus is dead. It. Is. Finished. In other words, The End. Good Friday? A good story? Or just another Greek tragedy, with a Hebrew spin, that we read about in Western Civilization class? No, not that…
THERE ARE TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY.
I write this blog post on the 72nd anniversary of the hanging of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a famous German theologian who defied Adolf Hitler and Nazism, only days before the American liberation of his POW camp. These were his last recorded words: “This is the end. For me, the beginning of life.” [mic drops] It’s almost as if we should pause in silence and reflect for a moment on how profoundly true his words are. Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew that he knew that he knew that there are two sides to every story.
The Other Side of the Story
Jesus. Is. Alive. And this makes all the difference to our story, to my story, to your story. It really does. Without Good Friday, Easter makes no sense. But without Easter, it is as the writer of Ecclesiastes declares: “I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind. What is wrong cannot be made right. What is missing cannot be recovered” (Ecclesiastes 1:14-15). The other side of story, that Jesus is alive, is what makes the Good News good. The apostle Paul puts it this way: “And if Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and our faith is useless” (1 Cor. 15:14).
For now, we move in between the two sides of our story. Death and life. Cross and resurrection. This means that the Christian must live in the tension of being both sinner and saint, broken and beautiful. For instance, this means I am simultaneously an addict and free from addiction. This tension can be maddening. Will it ever end? One day, it will. Then, and only then, will there be one, seamless story that all makes sense. Until that day, however, we continue to believe that all will be made right one day, we continue to fight the good fight with active hope, we continue to love God and neighbor with intensity. And we pray: “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
As you reflect on the first side of our story, my prayer is that you’d be real with the death-dealing sin that is yours, not making too much or too little of this reality. Be grateful for the cross of Christ that absorbed all the guilt that was rightly yours. But, it is critical that you don’t stay there. God is longing to come alive in you. May the resurrected life of Jesus Christ himself be yours. Amen.
Reflect on this…
- On which side of the story do you regularly find yourself, in the broken or the beautiful?
- What happens within you to move you toward one side or the other?
- What does it look like for you to hold the tension between the two sides, being real with your sin and at the same time grateful for Jesus and his work on the cross?
- Take a few minutes to thank Jesus for the cross and all it absorbed so that you could have a new life with Christ.