Storytellers and audiences often speak of “plot twists,” where a dramatic change permanently alters the course of a story.
These shifts usually come in the form of transformations and revelations. What was once a nasty grub is now a butterfly. Who we thought was Luke Skywalker’s enemy has now become his father.
Twists abound in stories, but perhaps the most striking is the one found in the story humans have written for themselves.
The Human Story
Humanism is the story told by humans, about humans, and for humans. It’s egocentric to the core.
It makes sense, then, that we call God our enemy. He who created us to be subservient, selfless and communal has become the hallmark of all that we abhor. We are lovers of Self, through and through.
Yes, we may be “social animals”, but if we’re honest, we prefer communities made in our image. Cliques and subcultures are natural byproducts of the Ego. The digital age has especially exasperated this tendency; we can now “belong” to whatever group we want, no longer bound by geography.
Even when we “sacrifice” and serve our chosen communities, selfish desires ultimately motivate. In other words, we help the group because the group helps us.
Humanistic community is nothing but mutual selfishness, so when left to ourselves, tribalism and war ensue.
Incarnation: The Inciting Incident
Stories revolve around a central problem. Ours, as stated above, is selfishness. Therefore, a story’s inciting incident is the event that compels a character to act in response to the central problem.
Given the unfulfilled state of our global race, with everyone locked in subjective selfishness, we naturally look for solutions. So when Jesus comes proclaiming the “way” to a better life, we listen.
We hear, “Whoever desires to save his life…” and we grab hold of it.
Ah, yes. I want life.
But then he completes the thought: “…will lose it.”
“And whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Apparently finding life involves surrendering it.
We don’t like it. The first century Jews and Romans didn’t like it either. So the human collective actively seeks to nail down its Creator, just as the former did in 33 A.D.
The Plot Twist
We thought killing Jesus was the way to snuff out this talk of surrender. So with him dead, humanism won for three days. The glory of humanity was found in the death of God.
Yet the twist of this story was found in the triumph because it was not the victory we thought it was.
We sought death as a weapon (Acts 2:23), but in reality we were enslaved to it (Rom. 6:6), and the only way to be freed from its power was to own it.
But who can own that which owns us?
“God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”Acts 2:24
“Through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”Heb. 2:14-15
We assumed death was permanent. That’s how our world works. It’s science. Even the Bible proclaims it (Eccl. 3:20). It’s the law of nature.
But God subverted his own system.
What sort of Deity is this?
It’s one who can make all things work according to his design–a god who is actually God. The problem is that, by default, we worship a manageable god who validates our Selves. However, a God who can use his own defeat to twist our pride to humility is a God worthy of the title. He is a Divine Being who can make his loss a gain.
Here we thought we won the game–the very game God himself created–and yet he did what we never expected: he lost to win us. In him revealing the nature of his love through surrender, he also proved that we deserved Game Over a long time ago. His mercy was the only thing keeping our “victory” at bay (Rom. 3:23) because the time wasn’t ripe (Gal. 4:4).
When it was time, however, he not only took on human flesh, but he infiltrated our system to the point where he let us win because that was the only way we would listen to the truth that we were wrong—that we were enslaved to the way we thought the world worked.
Who are we to make God follow our itinerary of salvation? Why must he save us the way we want him to?
We had our way, and look how that turned out. So the only way out is to listen to the word that calls us to freedom:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”Matt. 11:28
Christ removes the need to make life work for ourselves. We couldn’t do it, so he did. We are not bound by a law of “do” anymore–a law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2). What we “do” now is love God and neighbor because we are no longer bent on loving ourselves. We are actually free to love the way we’re supposed to. There is no more need to prove ourselves or to fashion a heaven on earth.
Indeed, I have yet to see a good reason (1 Pet. 3:15) to reject the risen Christ in favor of what we humans can do for ourselves.