"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages."
--William Shakespeare, As You Like It
Have you ever wondered if Shakespeare is right? Are we really in one big cosmic play?
John Eldredge, in his book, Epic, thinks so. In it, he outlines what he thinks are the four "acts" of the story:
Act One: Eternal Love
All good stories start with a "once upon a time." And in our story, long ago in eternity past, it all started---not with us, but with the eternal Trinity. In this narrative, it begins like this: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1)
Why is that important to know?
For starters, it reminds me that the protagonist in this story is not me. It never was. It never will be.
It's also important because it gives me context. I know my children like to know that they are wanted, that they came out of a loving union.
And so, the first Act, is one of love…what it was like before the first star was placed in the sky, before the first flower bloomed, before the first lion roared. Before all that, there was Love.
And Love forms the backbone of the whole story, for God is love.
Act Two: The Entrance of Evil
Have you also noticed that every story we read has a villain? The Big Bad Wolf, Darth Sidius, Sauron, the White Witch.
Did you notice there's also a villain in God's story too? He is referred to in several ways, namely Lucifer or Satan.
In God's drama, Lucifer once dwelt with the Trinity in the heavens, but he rebelled, taking 1/3 of the angels with him. Don't believe me? Read Ezekiel 28:13-19. In it, Ezekiel directly addresses the human king of Tyre, but at another level also deals with the one who was ruling through him. (This post gives a great explanation of the hermeneutical principle of double reference if you would like to understand how it can refer to both a human and Satan himself. This post also looks at Isaiah 14 in the same manner as a reference to this event.)
Why is that important to know too?
Too often, we forget we are not living in our final destination yet. We are confused and puzzled when hardship enters our lives. When we forget that there is a very real enemy, it helps us to put things in perspective. Though he may not be behind every bush, he is alive and active in the world today. This is his home…at least for now.
Just as God is the protagonist, Satan is the antagonist. So where do we fit in?
Did you notice that it's the third act, and we haven't even entered the picture yet? Yup, that's because the story is not about me. It's not about you. We like to think it is, but it isn't. (Remember what I said in Act One?)
What's amazing is that even with Satan's rebellion, the Trinity still decides to create us. Genesis 1:1 takes place right here. Like parents anticipating their first child, they decorate the nursery: creating the right lighting and atmosphere, adjusting humidity levels, temperature, climate. They stock it with greenery, fruit trees, living creatures--water, sky, land. And when everything is finally set, man and woman are created. And it was very good. There is nothing as beloved as this pair, created in the image of the God who loved them so much. It truly was Paradise, as these two humans walked in loving relationship with their Creator.
This explains then the extreme hatred of the enemy. Satan knew he was no match for God. So what's the next best thing? That's right. Target the ones He loves the most. We know what happened, and their choice to listen to the voice of the Deceiver has shattered Paradise forever.
But that's not the end. Even in Genesis (3:15), the foreshadowing of a great rescue takes place. Over the years, from Noah to Joseph to Moses to the prophets, even through their exile and return, from the moment Adam and Eve ate the fruit, Jesus began making His plans to inhabit human flesh, die on the cross and redeem us from the enemy. His sights were set on restoring His beloved back to the Father. Like the prince who fought dragons and thorns and dangers to reach his princess, our God fought through all hell to reach us.
Why is this so important?
First, if you ever wondered how much God loves you, this should be strong proof. He wanted you. He planned for you. And He will spare no expense to bring you back to Him.
Second, because you and I are so deeply loved, we are also deeply hated by the enemy. And therein lies the battle. Who will have your heart? Who will be victorious?
And that, my dear friends, is where we are today. Right now. Right this minute. We are in a battle zone.
But lest we think that's the end of the story, let's finish this up, shall we?
Act Four: The Kingdom Restored
You didn't think that was the end, did you? If so, that was a depressing ending. But wait, there's more to come!
How do all good stories end? "They lived happily ever after." Most of us have become cynical in our day and age of the storybook ending. We have been hardened by the realities of life. And because we have become callous, it is easy to forget or dismiss this ending and just focus on getting through life here.
But let's think about this a little more. What does the Bible tell us? Not only in the last book of the Bible, but all throughout Scripture, promises abound regarding our future. The King, our Hero, will come again to establish His righteous rule and reign. All sin, disease, pain, and suffering will be eradicated. We will walk once again in intimate fellowship with our Father. And that's only the tip of the iceberg.
Why do we need to know this?
Because herein lies our hope. If we do not have this ending to frame our understanding, to color our vision, we will be trapped in a world where injustice, suffering, pain, and war become our reality. Just take a look around you today. If that is all there is, life is not worth living.
This is not to say that life will be roses and sunshine. Because we live in between Act Three and Act Four, life will be difficult. But because we live in between Act Three and Act Four, there is a future to look forward to. And its as real as the rest of the story that has already taken place.
You and I, we live in a war zone. The battle still rages for the hearts of humankind. We're not in Paradise yet. Jesus makes it clear that in this world we will have trouble. Look at Him. He died a sinner's death though it was completely undeserved. He knows what He's talking about and doesn't sugar coat it.
But because we know what is to come, we can have hope. We can walk bravely through the mined battlefield, stoop to care for our wounded friends, use what we have to make the world a more beautiful place, steward our gifts to further the Kingdom of God until He returns. There is still work for us to do. Work for me. Work for you.
If you don't know where to start, I strongly encourage you to start immersing yourself in the Story. Read it. Soak your mind in it. Let it entrench deeply in your heart so that it colors all you see, hear, think, do, experience. Why? I think Sarah Clarkson says it so well in this chapter:
"I…think God meant Scripture to be the story we live, the epic in which we are immersed. God's story is the one great, true story of the world, as wild and woven with mystery as the myths and legends and fairy tales of old. In it we are the knights and fair maidens, the Davids and Esthers and Daniels that people His story. But only those who know and love and live the story of God will be aware of the part they have been called to play." (emphasis mine)
I know this is a long post, so thank you for sticking with me this far. But this message is so important for us today. We've got to keep the Story alive in us, not let the realities of life quell its power. Noah knew it when he boarded that ark. Joseph knew it when he was alone in the prison. Moses believed it when he was dealing with those complaining Israelites in the desert. David was sure of it when he faced Goliath. Daniel was immersed in it as he descended into that lion's den.
What about you? What role will you play as the Story continues?
- Consider each of the four Acts in this drama. How does each contribute to your understanding of life?
- How well do you "know and love and live" God's story?
- What is something you can do to more deeply grasp and internalize God's Word in your life?
- How does this Story put your life in perspective today?
- Thanks to John Eldredge and his book, Epic, that inspired this post.
- Theater curtain image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono, FreeDigitalPhotos.net.