“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Saturday, July 31, 2010

This world is only the first chapter of the Great Story

...Lewis' descriptions in Perelandra are truly breathtaking - I cannot recommend the book enough, especially the chapter "The Great Dance." The seed of redemption and new life planted on Earth, in Lewis' story, bursts into bloom on Perelandra, another planet. Through Ransom's Christ-like sacrifice, humanity on Perelandra is saved from evil. In remaining obedient under temptation, they learn of good and evil and become, in a sense, a new humanity, perfected and redeemed, unlike anything that has yet been seen.

Could it be possible for something like this to happen? If Christ's resurrection is the firstfruits of renewal and transformation of all creation, as Paul suggests in Romans 8 and Colossians 1, then who knows what far-reaching effects the cross of Christ could have - who knows what new and unforeseen events, even in other worlds, will be made possible through the cross? Who knows what new and unexpected story will grow out of the story we know in Scripture? How will God's Story continue once the part we know has played out?

Supposing the story about Satan's rebellion and fall from heaven to be true, one might imagine that the angels, having seen Satan defeated by God and cast out of his presence, might have thought that the story was complete. Evil had come into existence and opposed God, and God had won the victory; they themselves had learned of good and evil. Could the angels have foreseen the new design of humanity and the story of incarnation, death and resurrection to which Satan's existence was being directed? And if that design could not have been foreseen beforehand, what unforeseen new designs might follow from it?

We need to pause and widen our view of reality. What if the story we know - the story of God coming into this world in Christ and redeeming humanity through his death and resurrection - what if that story is just the prologue to the Great Story, the Great Dance of God towards which all things are moving? The cross is the center of the story that we are told, but what if it is just the title page of all that God is doing? “In the plan of the Great Dance," writes Lewis, "plans without number interlock, and each movement becomes in its season the breaking into flower of the whole design to which all else had been directed.” What design could the whole story of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation be directed towards? What even greater Story might this story be a part of?

But we need to be careful. On the one hand, we cannot assume that the story of redemption God has revealed to us is the sum total of all He is doing - it may be only a small part. On the other hand, we need to remember that even if it is just a small part, God decided to reveal to us exactly that part. In his wisdom He has concealed from us (for now) whatever else He may be up to. We would be wise to focus primarily on what God has shown us, rather than speculating excessively about what He has not revealed. And we must also be careful not to get caught up in the quantitative aspect of what God is doing, that is, with the sheer number of worlds He may be making. Expect majestic and limitless creation from God, but not at the expense of recognizing his greatness in the small things - the depth, the pattern, the beauty in what He has already shown us.

That said, there is, I think, a healthy kind of imaginative speculation about the "Great Dance" of all that God is doing and about the pattern or theme of that Story. "Heaven" as we often call it - the age to come - will not be an unchanging paradise where we enjoy the same pleasures for eternity. It will be as much a story as life is now - an adventure, but vast and endless, no longer blocked by death. All of human history, even our whole universe, will perhaps become part of something much larger - many worlds and many stories, all being woven into the Great Dance, the Great Story that never ends and is always breaking into some new design to which everything up to that point had been directed.

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