The Plot of History
As I was reading a book recently, I came across a question that gave me pause: Does history have a plot?
I know there are those who trudge through life telling themselves that the answer is a resounding “no.” We are all happy accidents of some great cosmic event. We are the products of impersonal gases and proteins and primordial ooze.
As such, we’re pretty much on our own. We make up our own values and change them as we see fit. We answer to no higher power than the governing institutions we create.
According to this view, human beings aren’t particularly special. The way we live our lives is a matter of personal choice. For the average person, those choices will have little or no significance beyond our lifespan. Yes, many of us may feel an innate yearning to know and be part of something greater; to know that our joys and our sufferings have some meaning. But this is merely some malfunction in the natural chemicals that are the sum total of our beings.
For those who convince themselves of this, there is no overarching “plot” of history — just the billions of individual “plots” we each make up as we go along.
A Plot With a Twist
On the other hand, there have always been those who knew that a plot is, indeed, unfolding in the world. Some of them played leading roles in the story, and the rest of us would later learn their names. But every person on earth is impacted by how he or she responds to the world’s great story.
The plot is one that has disappointed those with worldly ambitions, scandalized those who worked hard to earn a clean conscience, and threatened those who wanted the story to be about themselves. Men and women throughout history would be stoned, beheaded, crucified and burned at the stake because they knew the plot and they refused to deny it in favor of any man-made substitute.
The story goes like this: An all-powerful, kind, and perfect God created a world and gave mankind the job of tending it. Man rejected God’s provision and disobeyed His loving commands. We wanted to be gods ourselves. To live as we pleased and do what we liked. The penalty for mankind’s disobedience is life in a broken, pain-filled world and eternal separation from the One who loves us most.
But then came the glorious twist: the Creator who had been wronged by His creatures would pay the penalty on our behalf.
His perfect, innocent son set aside the privileges of his royalty to be born in meager circumstances to a lowly family in Bethlehem. This boy would grow to be a man who was misunderstood, rejected, unjustly convicted, betrayed by loved ones, tortured and brutally executed. For us. He rose again and resumed his place with the Father.
Through his obedience, he restored the relationship between his Father and every one of us who would acknowledge our own failure and disobedience, allow the Son to stand in the gap for us and seek to humbly follow his example.
We Were Created to Respond to the Plot
Like an infant emerges from the womb knowing his mother’s scent, her voice, her touch, each of us steps into the world with a soul that is programmed to respond to the Story of the universe.
When your heart thrills to see the hero risk his life to save his enemy, it’s because Hollywood has borrowed from the ultimate story line. When you cry tears of joy and wonder as you watch a father carry his disabled son through a triathlon; when you marvel to witness generosity, to see forgiveness, or to hear of simple acts of kindness, mercy, and grace, your spirit is responding to echoes of the plot of history. When you cheer to see love prevail over hatred and good prevail over evil, your heart is telling you: This is what the story is about.
So this year, as you hear the familiar carols, listen to the words. Let your heart and mind delight in a story so brilliant that it could only be conceived by the very Creator of the universe and Giver of life. You yearn to know the purpose of life because your life has purpose. And the purpose is this: to know, glorify, and enjoy the one who made you and all things — the author of the story — who loved you with an audacious love you’ll never find anywhere else.
“Come, Thou long-expected Jesus. Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art,
Dear Desire of ev’ry nation, Joy of ev’ry longing Heart.”
— Charles Wesley