I am a huge fan of epic stories. Most people are. I think this is in large part because they are a lot more interesting than our own mundane lives. Last night my dad and I finished watching the Lord of the Rings series for the umpteenth time. I don’t think either of us will ever get tired of those movies. The thing is, after you’ve seen them so many times, you begin to see different things that you’ve missed before, or you begin to view the characters differently. You begin to look at the movies as a whole from an artistic standpoint in some ways. They just never get old.
It’s the same with any good story, but what exactly is it that makes a story good; what makes a story timeless? I am a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, the Inheritance Cycle, the Hunger Games, and other stand-alone novels and movies. In some ways, all of these stories are very different, but what they all have in common is the triumph of good over evil. I think it is precisely this that makes a story great. Of course they are well written, and employ elements of suspense, high stakes, etc, but ultimately, what the human heart wants is for everything to work out. The human heart wants love and justice and some kind of redemption. Furthermore, we like things to be black and white. We like heroes and villains because we know who is right and whose side we should be on.
Real life doesn’t always give us that, and our stories aren’t usually that epic. Perhaps we are side characters in someone else’s epic story, or perhaps we’re really just not that exciting. Everything isn’t as cut and dry as we would like it, and we find that between shadow and light is a lot of gray area. Truth becomes a loaded word and white lies become useful. Stories are confused, exaggerated and changed to fit the situation, and the future is uncertain. The truth is that even though real life is less exciting than epic stories most of the time, it’s a lot more complicated. We have some guidelines for right and wrong; good and evil, but even so, we often have to trust that what we’re doing is right based on our best guess and a hope.
I think stories give us that hope: especially true stories. We have to remember that there are plenty of real-life stories about good triumphing over evil. There are plenty of real-life stories about human redemption. It happens in small, unlikely places, in weird, unexpected ways. We believe in these stories because they make real life a little more interesting and a little more bearable.
This is Easter weekend, and whether you believe in it or not, I think the resurrection of Christ is an excellent finish to a really good story. The Old Testament is filled with trials and adventures and triumphs and failures. It’s filled with danger and suspense, and in some cases, peace and redemption seem impossible. Even the Exodus alone is an excellent story, as evidenced by the fact that it has been portrayed countless times and different ways in movies.
Even if it is taken simply as a story, I think the implications of Christ’s triumph over death is enough to bring people a little joy and hope. It is the ultimate triumph of good over evil. Of course some might argue that, from a literary perspective (if we are only taking it as a story), it’s a little bit cheap to have him rise from the dead, but Gandalf did the exact same thing in Lord of the Rings, and I don’t know of too many people who would argue with that. Lord of the Rings clearly falls into the category of fantasy, and taken only as a story, the Bible does, too. I suppose that’s why it is rather hard to digest: it is a fantastic story of epic proportions that is taken as true.
If the Gospels are taken as the last several chapters of an epic story, it seems like a rather anticlimactic conclusion. A baby is born in a barn. He grows up in a good, but poor family. As he grows up, he begins to realize who he is and his importance. Eventually he starts teaching and his message is one of peace, acceptance and love. He is condemned and killed for it. He comes back from the dead to give hope to his followers and to show the world who he really is. He goes up into Heaven and sends his Spirit as a moral and spiritual guide for humanity. He leaves his people with the promise that he will make the world right.
This is the end of one story. However, it is the beginning of another, and each of us is writing our own version. Ultimately, the story will end like this: Jesus will come back and bring his Kingdom with him. The world will be made right and evil will finally be eradicated. That is why the resurrection is such a good ending. It might be seemingly anticlimactic, but it makes a difference in our real-life stories, and it gives us hope for the waiting.
Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!