An old Peanuts cartoon features Lucy reluctantly reading a book requested by her younger brother Linus. In order to shorten her time commitment, she simply reads, “Once upon a time there was a man who was born, grew up and died. The End.” Linus, indignant at the brevity of the story read to him, flips through the pages before calling out to his sister, “And what’s on the rest of these pages? Advertising?”
There are two key aspects which determine the overall course of a story – the beginning and the end. Above all these two elements are most important in shaping the course via which the story unfolds. In a similar way, the characters within the story are constrained by these two parameters, and work in their own way to shape the end.
As we contemplate the unfolding of our own life story, we can recognise the power of the story already unfolded: the people and events which have shaped us (for better or worse), and the way in which who we are today is in some measure a response to these. This reactive approach to life is instinctive for us all, as we live in response or reaction to events which have already past. But is that enough?
At some stage in life we are given pause to consider where life will end, and what the end of the story will be for us. We contemplate the trajectory via which we have already traveled, and contemplate potential outcomes. When we recognise this unwritten, but projected future, we become caught in a tension between that which has already been written, and the future which calls us.
The New Testament exhibits this tension in a remarkable way, outlining the way in which the story of creation has produced certain outcomes, and the implications for all humanity which is caught up in that story. But it does not let the past determine the future, as it concludes with a picture of creation restored: new and beautiful. This imagery is captured by Jesus in ‘the kingdom of God’. History is not determinative of the future because those who work in partnership with God live the kingdom which is to come, a kingdom characterised by love and grace.
There are two stories, the one written out of the past, and the one written from the perspective of the end.
Which story determines our identity: past or future?
February 8, 2004