[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ef6vQBGqLW8] I’m a sucker for summer blockbusters. As in, I paid to see all the Transformers movies in theaters, with real money. I’ve already seen Iron Man 3, and it’s absolutely killing me that I have to wait another day to go see the new Star Trek, which means I have to wait at least another week to watch the newest Fast & Furious movie. But right now, the number one film on my to-see list is Pacific Rim, which has – get this – not only giant robots, but giant robots fighting giant monsters. A 2,500-ton robot using an oil tanker to paste a giant monster in the middle of Hong Kong? It doesn’t get much better than that.
Blockbuster movies like Transformers, Star Trek, and Iron Man hook viewers (like me) with flashy trailers packed full of special effects, dramatic slow-motion shots, and Inception-style “BLAAARM” sound effects (it’s everywhere). It’s easy to construct cheap drama in a trailer, but it’s a lot harder to deliver in a film. Most of the time, I walk away from big-budget action movie feeling disappointed, because all the spectacular set pieces and expertly-choreographed fight scenes and breathtaking visual sequences in the world can’t make up for a bad story. All the whiz-bang stuff is great, but without characters that you can connect with and a visceral conflict that you can feel, there's no substance.
The concept of “story” and “narrative” has been tossed around a lot in Christian circles over recent years, to the point where it feels cliché to even talk about it. However, in his book The Faith of Jesus Christ, Richard B. Hays introduces an interesting suggestion on how the idea of story can help us understand what it means to be “in Christ.” He writes:
If Paul’s gospel is the story of Jesus Christ, then we might participate in Christ in somewhat the same way that we participate in (or identify with) the protagonist of any story. We find that the story lays a claim upon us and draws us into its world; we recognize ourselves in the protagonist and feel that our own destinies are somehow figured in his story (214).
The best stories – film, books, TV shows -- draw you into another world. The hero or heroine’s conflict becomes your conflict; their struggle becomes your struggle; their victory becomes your victory. Hays is suggesting that is, at least in part, what Paul is hinting at in Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Just because it’s a “story” doesn’t make it untrue. A narrative is a way to organize events in a way that makes sense; in this passage, Paul has organized the story of his life according to the story of Jesus.
The point is that Jesus did something real, and we are “in Christ” when we follow the same pattern he did. We can’t repeat Jesus’ specific work on our behalf, but we can emulate his attitude, and his faith in the Father and his promises. Reading the Gospels and encountering the gospel story in the New Testament letters is a vastly different experience from going to a blockbuster summer movie, but God’s Word promises something that no movie experience ever can. We don’t have to just watch; by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we can act out the same story as Jesus right now, wherever we are. As we read God’s Word together this summer, let’s remember that we’re not just reading past history. We’re reading the blueprint for a different present.
Grace, truth, peace