That the Bible is a revolutionary document probably comes as a surprise to some because these days it is commonly viewed an old-fashioned narrative that is out of date. But the philosophical and literary weight the Bible pulls influences so many current arenas, not the least of which is how we relate our personal stories. To give some historical perspective, the pre-biblical narrative of the day was a circular one.
Like the snake devouring its own tail, the pagan narratives were stories of endless cycles that never arrive, merely circle back around to its origin over and over.
Reincarnation is an example of this; the soul living life in yet another incarnation to learn a lesson failed in one of many previous lives. The seasons provided this sense of the endless sequence, and ancient myths often relied on them to frame their sense of reality. We live; we die; others spring up in our place, and die in their time. The pagans celebrated the yearly equinoxes much as the Wiccans do today, as the wheel of life.
The problem with the circle of life is that one is just spinning one’s own wheel, so to speak. The end result of the circle is meaninglessness. The Bible deliberately breaks this circular reasoning with a narrative that is U shaped.
This U shape is crucial to understanding who we are and what is to become of us. The U shape promises redemption.
In the U shaped narrative which forms the story form for most of the literature of Western Civilization, including our most popular movies, things start out pretty well. Adam and Eve cruise the Garden of Eden, picking fruit, naming animals, and hanging out with the Almighty. This beginning high point looks inviolable; Adam and Eve think it will last forever. But enter the enemy. In the movies, this is the point at which the tension begins. A surprise attack, a sudden loss, a moment when temptation is succumbed to; these mark the downturn of the U.
And that downturn can get pretty bad. In fact, it bottoms out. The Hebrews are slaves; Jesus is crucified; the Nazis are winning. Ever been at a low point? I mean a really low point? Some of mine include; job loss, fleeing an abusive spouse, losing a house, losing family, unjust accusations, poverty, chronic illness, and a cruel boss. Sound familiar to anyone? At one point in my life, I feared going to sleep because my nightly recurring dream involved me simply falling, endlessly. I wasn’t sure when I was going to land, but I was pretty sure it was going to hurt.
At one point in my life, I feared to go to sleep because my nightly recurring dream involved me simply falling, endlessly.
I wasn’t sure when I was going to land, but I was pretty sure it was going to hurt.
But get ready for the good part. The U shaped ends on a high note. We regain paradise. And the high point is guaranteed. All those events at the bottom of the curve take on meaning. In the circle, good and bad spin round and round, like the Taoist symbol. The two wrestle without any conclusive victory. But as Christians, we are certain of victory. And this idea of redemption is deeply embedded in our culture.
Sure the existentialism and post-modern movies are out there in which good isn’t really good and evil isn’t really evil. The seeming randomness of life is glorified too often, but alongside this exist the books and movies that proclaim the Gospel without even recognizing that they participate in the concept of redemption.
The triumph of Christ over death and sin caused a cataclysmic event which still resonates today. Literature will never be the same again. Now exists the presence of real hope. The purpose of this U shape is to proclaim freedom for the captives and deliverance for the enslaved. The seed is buried, but it springs to new life for the purpose of nurturing others, and multiplication.
The purpose of all the stories where good triumphs over evil is to communicate to your spirit that there is always a third day, help is on the way, and you have what it takes to conquer the enemy.
As for all the injustice in the world, note the ending of the Bible. No injustice goes unaddressed. No martyr is unavenged. The sorrows and miseries of the world are rolled up like a scroll and consigned to the scrap heap. We live in peace and unity, healed and redeemed. The ancients just misread the signs.
The seasons do not represent merely a cycle of life and death.
The pattern is life, death, and resurrection. The Bible ends on not just an up note, but the best note possible.
Here is the secret I am trying to convey, however. All those stories we watch, all the inspirational books we read point to the Christ narrative. What was lost is now found. What was dead is now alive, and in better shape than before. Those movies, books, and songs are prophetic without knowing that they proclaim the goodness of God. To believe in the concept of good is to acknowledge importance of love, justice, and hope.
So as you go about your everyday life, try to understand the story of your life from the perspective of the U shaped story. No matter where you are on the U, the prophets proclaim the great turnaround. You may be on the downward slide; you may be on the rock bottom; but where there is faith, hope, and love, redemption is around the corner. You will not always be sick, poor, betrayed, neglected, captive, or abused.
Keep traveling. The great turnaround is just around the corner.
*The concept of the U shaped narrative can be further explored in Northrup Frye’s book, The Great Code, found here: