The Gospel and Our Stories

Have you ever watched a movie, read a book, etc. and thought, “I’ve seen this kind of story a million times before”? They say there are only seven different types of stories. I don’t know what those are, and unfortunately, I’m too lazy to look them up. But one thing I agree with is that there is a pattern that can be recognized in almost every story. It’s a pattern that I think God has woven into us so we can’t help but repeat it. Most stories start with something good. All is right in the world. The characters are just going about their lives like normal. Then a problem is introduced; something that challenges the characters, and something they must overcome. Near the end we have the climactic moment where the characters finally solve their problem. Finally, everything is allowed to go back to normal. Back to the way it should be.

Many people may not realize that this pattern we are so familiar with mirrors the Gospel. In the Bible we are told that God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1) and created man in His own image (Gen 1:26-27). Everything God created was declared “good”. Then there was a fall. Man sinned and was separated from God (Gen 3). But God sent His Son Jesus to be our substitute and die for our sins (John 3:16). Three days later, He rose from the dead and declared victory over death. In the future, God will restore all of creation.

The pattern can be laid out like this: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. It just seems that God has put it in our hearts to tell this story -- His story -- over and over again.

I’ll give some examples. I’m a big movie guy, so I’ll just focus on that medium right now. Let’s start with one I think most people have seen: “Toy Story” (1995).

Creation: Woody and the rest of the toys enjoy countless days of imaginative adventures with their owner Andy. Woody is Andy’s favorite toy.

Fall: Andy receives a new toy for his birthday, Buzz Lightyear. Buzz quickly becomes Andy’s new favorite, causing Woody to become jealous. Woody proceeds to antagonize Buzz, and their rivalry leads to them getting lost, far from home. Andy’s family is moving soon, and Woody and Buzz will be left behind for good if they don’t find their way back in time.

Redemption: Woody and Buzz overcome their differences and work together to get back into Andy’s possession on moving day.

Restoration: Now friends, Woody and Buzz are reunited with Andy in his new home.

I think the easiest movies to spot this pattern in are those in the superhero genre. Most of these movies, no matter what spin they put on it, tell a simple story of good vs evil. For instance, “The Avengers” (2012).

Creation: The movie opens with the world at peace (relative to world-ending doom that is). Our six heroes (Iron Man, Captain America, etc.) are scattered across the globe.

Fall: Enter our villain, Loki. He brings with him an invading alien army, seemingly to dominate the planet. Death and destruction ensues. Not helping matters is that the Avengers are consistently at odds with each other.

Redemption: Finally, the Avengers band together to stop the invading force and save millions of lives.

Restoration: Loki is imprisoned and with the world once again at (relative) peace, the Avengers go their separate ways.

I think another reason superhero movies reveal this pattern so well is because they include a very important element: a Christ figure. This is the character who solves the problem, stops the villain, saves the day, etc. Why do you think people like superheroes so much? I think it’s because we all have an innate desire for a Savior who can end evil and redeem us from our impending doom. In these stories, the doom comes from an external evil. In our lives, the doom comes from the evil within us. Apart from Christ, we face righteous judgement from a good God. Thankfully, Jesus gave His life to redeem us from this judgement.

In the Avengers, we could take the team as a whole and call them the Christ figure. Of course, these characters are not a perfect representation of Christ. They are all deeply flawed and make plenty of mistakes along the way. However, just like we can see glimpses of God’s beauty in humanity, we can see the same in these characters.

One of my favorite examples of a Christ figure is Batman in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” (2008). In the movie, Batman is portrayed as a mysterious vigilante, who works outside the law to bring criminals to justice (this is not how he resembles Jesus). Contrasting him is Harvey Dent, a district attorney, who has done a lot of good work, within the law, to end organized crime. He has become the face of change and hope in Gotham City. However, Harvey is eventually corrupted and takes several lives before losing his own. Fearing that the city will lose hope, Batman chooses to take the blame for the murders, and keep Harvey’s reputation intact. I love how much this parallels what Jesus did for us by taking on our sin and redeeming us in the process. Once again, this isn’t a flawless parallel, but I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t have some holes. The main point is that we can see those glimpses of the truth.

My guess is that you’ve probably seen a movie that didn’t quite sit well with you. You got to the end and didn’t feel satisfied with the way the story played out. Something was just a little off. Maybe it was a romantic comedy, but the couple who broke up half-way through didn’t reconcile before the credits rolled. Maybe the movie was full of senseless violence with no redemptive qualities to any of the characters. Maybe it seemed like things were more broken in the end than they were in the beginning. These movies were probably unsettling to you because they abandoned the pattern. They attempted to subvert your expectations by ending at the “fall”. Don’t get me wrong, these movies can still be entertaining, and even have some truth to them. They remind me of the book of Ecclesiastes, where the author observes the apparent meaningless of life. These movies look at all of the heartache, injustice, and death in the world, and don’t offer an answer for it. When God is removed from the equation, there is no answer. But even the author of Ecclesiastes finally acknowledged that the purpose of life was to “fear God and keep His commands…” (Ecc 12:13a). We won’t be truly satisfied with anything, even movies, when the Gospel is removed from it.

My main purpose for writing about this is to encourage you to look for these things when you are enjoying a good story. In this way, even our entertainment can point us to Christ. And not only entertainment, but everything in creation. We could talk about how the story that is found in the seasons -- from Spring, to Fall, back to Spring again -- parallels the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. If we only take the time to recognize how this story permeates all aspects of life, we can worship God no matter what we do.

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