In this series we explore life as an epic journey, a great tale, a story of great significance. Our time on this earth is an adventure, filled with struggle and learning, hope and despair, love and loss. The roles we inhabit, the circumstances we face, and the characters we surround ourselves with are all opportunities to steward this great epic adventure. Beginning with Psalm 8 and traveling through the vast hallways of Scripture, we examine what it takes to live a great story.
Our Life as an Epic Tale
We’re starting a new series today, and what I’m going to talk about is our life as an epic tale.
Do you like stories? I know you do. I know I know everybody likes stories because I see the parking lots full at the movie theaters. Every movie is a story. People used to read books, and some still do; and generally speaking, the most popular and lasting, enduring books are stories.
We are living a story, and our author is Jesus. He’s the author and finisher of our faith.
And world history is a story. And all the elements that make a story great are there because they reflect the way God made the world.
Let me illustrate. In big history, there’s a hero. Every story has to have a hero. The hero’s Jesus, and Jesus asked us to follow in his footsteps, which means he wants us to be heroes in our story, or heroines.
Most of us don’t think about our lives that way, but my challenge to you is it’s the proper way to think. Scripture says we are to walk in good works which he prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Well that’s a story. God has written a story for us.
The drama in the story is, will we play our part, or will we not? See, he scripted it for us, but then he gives us a choice. It’s never interesting in a movie or a story or a book if you already know what happens.
When the world phenomenon of Harry Potter took place, I remember reading about the last installment, and all the people who tried to spoil the book for everyone ran around saying whether Harry Potter dies at the end or not because it spoils it if you know what’s going to happen. And yet, you always know the hero gets there, but somehow the drama is real, you know? Those are the best stories.
Well in this story, there are elements of both. We’ll be talking about that.
Every great story, every epic tale has a quest of some sort. We have a quest. Jesus had a quest. Who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame; and, therefore, because he was obedient even to death on the cross, he’s been exalted above every name.
Well he had a quest. It was not an easy quest.
You know, in every great tale, if it’s easy, it’s not interesting. There have to be great obstacles. And what we want to see is, does the hero or the heroine have the character to endure and get through these terrible obstacles? That’s what we want to know.
There also has to be an antagonist in every great tale: the stepmother or the villainous, traitorous lieutenant that wants to be the real king or somebody. And, of course, in our tale there’s an antagonist. It’s sin. Satan. Death. It’s a triumvirate. And they’re trying to knock us off of our chosen path, our authored path, I should say. They don’t want us to succeed. And the drama of whether we will prevail or not is up to us.
So the influence of this, of thinking about this this way, can be incredibly powerful. And one of the one of the things that we do as humans is we look at data and instead of assembling the data and then putting it into a story, we immediately take the data into an existing story we have and think of it from the standpoint of, what caused that? And one of the problems with our stories is they’re mostly not true.
A good question you can ask yourself is, what story are you telling yourself. We always have this conversation going on in our head.
What we want to do is make the story true.
So that’s what we’re going to be talking about over the next few weeks. We’re going to look at the different aspects of a tale, a journey. There’s usually a journey involved. There’s a quest. So we’ll look at the terrains of the journey.
We’ll look at the valleys. We’ll spend a whole week on the valleys. Well, probably next week is what we’ll do there. And, you know, those are hard times when we go through the valleys. We’ll look at Job. Job is maybe the ultimate valley experience.
We’ll look at the mountaintops. We tend to think of the mountaintops as where we want to be all the time but that’s really not the case; and, oftentimes, the mountaintops can be some of our greatest trials. And we’ll look at that. We saw a little of that from Peter when he was on the ultimate mountaintop experience.
And then we’re going to look at the in-betweens, everyday life. And most of our heroic actions take place in everyday life. We just need the eyes to see that that’s what’s happening.
Then, of course, every tale has components, a beginning and an end, for example; and we’ll look at the beginning of our tale and our adventure. We’ll look at the end. What is it we’re really looking for?
So that’s an example of some of the kinds of things that we’re going to be looking at.
But today, I just want to focus on this notion that our life is an epic adventure.
Let me start with an example of something that’s probably fairly dear to all of us, some more than others; and that is a particular epic tale that’s popular in our culture: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
It came out as a Disney movie in 1937, Snow White; but it was a remaking of a Grimm fairy tale that comes from a hundred years prior. And the Grimms apparently took it from oral tradition. So this story goes back no telling how long. And there’s many versions of it.
In the German version of Snow White, the wicked mother tells the huntsman to bring back the lungs and the liver to prove that the girl’s dead; and when they bring it back, she has it cooked and eats it. I think Germans may be a little more bloodthirsty, maybe, than us. So Walt appropriately whitewashed that a little for us, maybe a little too graphic. But, 1937, that’s a long time.
And I looked up a little bit about the Disney princess franchise, which was only started as a deliberate sales effort in 2001. One of the Disney executives went to some function and noticed the little girls with little Halloween costumes pinned on themselves, little cheap things, and said, “We’ve got to fix this!” So he went in and said, well, let’s start a Disney princess initiative. They sold three hundred million dollars of product their first year. By 2006, their sales were up to three billion dollars.
We visited a Disney store not long ago, and they had an entire section that was the princess section; and we bought some nightgowns for our granddaughters with little princesses all over them.
There are twelve princesses now. The very first was Snow White.
One of our enduring memories of Snow White was going to Disneyland, and one of our granddaughters was about two at the time, and after a long day—I mean, they really did a great job of staying awake. She was only two and a half or so. We asked her, “Addie, what did you like today?”
And we’d gone to one of these character luncheons. And she said, “Snow White smiled me! I get my jammies, go to bed.” That was her day. Snow White smiled me.
Well, you know, this is a big deal, this idea of a princess.
Well, let’s just look at the tale of Snow White. We have this heroine who’s a princess, the rightful heir to the throne. But not yet exactly ready to ascend the throne. She has some growing up to do first before she can ascend the throne.
There’s a usurper that doesn’t want her to ascend the throne, the evil stepmother who’s sitting in the position of being the queen, but has no right to do so. The evil queen is bent on deceit and murder, to knock out this child who would take her place. And she succeeds in a form of death for Snow White because exile is a form of death.
And Snow White is exiled out of the palace and into the scary forest where she lives with the dwarves. But Snow White, because of her character, chooses to be happy and cleans and cooks and serves the dwarves and perseveres.
But that’s not good enough for the evil stepmother who seeks her out and deceives her into eating an apple that’s poisoned. And this apple causes her to go into a deep sleep. The dwarfs think she’s dead. But it turns out she was only mostly dead. And, you know, there’s a big difference between all dead and mostly dead.
So the prince comes and resurrects her through love, and they live happily ever after. Does any of that sound familiar?
Well, if we want to take the analogy and make it even more applicable, we can look at the Disneyland ride, Snow White’s Scary Adventures because you can go on that ride and it takes two minutes, and in two minutes you can see the heroine and the evil witch and the apple and the whole thing.
Life is a vapor
And that is really an appropriate picture of our lives because, think about it. In our existence—if we were to have a grease board up behind us, and we drew a line that represented our entire existence, what would it look like? It would have a dot on the left side that’s the beginning point, because all of us had a beginning; and then it would go on and have an arrow on the other side because there’s no end. And what would the relative proportion of our existence look like in this life? A speck.
James says our life is like a vapor. You’re heating up some water to make some tea, and the vapor comes out, and you see it for a short time, and then it’s gone.
Even Lord of the Rings, which we’ll talk about at the end—it’s one of the greatest epic tales of all times—you can watch it in six hours.
And these tales condense a massive amount of effort and information into a very short time. And that’s kind of the way our life is. It seems long sometimes. But when you look back, you think, man, it just seems like a few minutes ago that I was doing something, and it was 17 years ago.
I tried on one of my suits last night. I still think of it as kind of a new suit. And I told Terry, “I remember buying this suit.” It was 17 years ago. In another way, it just goes by so fast.
What is man that God is mindful of us?
Well let me show you from the scripture a specific passage that just cements in this notion that our life is an epic tale. And we are the bride, the princesses, who want to be redeemed by our prince.
Look at Psalm 8. We’ll look at Psalm 8 and Hebrews 2, which quotes Psalm 8. And let’s just look at how the creation is supposed to be in Psalm 8; and then we’re looking at Hebrews 2, and we’ll see a commentary on Psalm 8 in which the Hebrew author will tell us what really is.
O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!
So God is the creator, and his glory is independent of anything he made. Glory just means someone’s essence being observed. And God’s essence is observed in all things. His glory is totally independent of anything we’ll ever do. The only thing we really contribute to his glory is to either reflect it or to be an observer. Because someone’s essence has to be observed.
And the writer here is saying, man! Your glory is above the earth!
I’m going to skip 2 and come back to it.
Verse 3. When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him
I mean look! Look at this giant universe. Look at all this order, this amazing design, this array of creatures and the fact that everything works like a Swiss watch. And the principalities and powers in the heavenly places and—you’re spending so much time and attention on us. It’s baffling. Why would you do that?
What is man—
And the son of man that You visit him?
God left man in charge of the creation
Verse 5. For You have made him—man—a little lower than the angels—
Angels are higher than us in the creative order. They can do more than we can do. I don’t know what all that means. They’re at least more powerful than we are. We can see that from the scripture. Presumably they have greater intellectual capacity than we do. They’re higher than us. And yet, verse 5—
And You have crowned him—man, humanity—with glory and honor.
So God has this glory that’s way above everything and then there are these angels that are the highest created being. And then there’s the earth, and there’s us, and he’s given us glory and honor. So he’s got glory and honor. There’s somebody in between us, and he’s giving us glory and honor. What is the glory and honor?
Verse 6. You have made him—man—to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
So this writer is saying, “Let me get this. You made this world. You are above it all. Shouldn’t you run it? Shouldn’t you run it? You’re the one above all.”
“No, I want you to run it, you, humanity.”
“Well, so now I’m still confused. Isn’t there this whole group of beings that are higher than us? Shouldn’t they run it?”
“I want you to run it.”
That’s just baffling. It’s astonishing. Why would you want to do that?
You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth!
Let’s just skip over quickly to Hebrews 2:5 and then we’ll go back and finish up Psalm 8. In Hebrews 2:5, Paul—I think is the writer here—says
For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels.
But one testified in a certain place, saying: (Because he didn’t do it to angels. He put it in subjection to humans)
“What is man that You are mindful of him,
Or the son of man that You take care of him?
You have made him a little lower than the angels;
You have crowned him with glory and honor,
And set him over the works of Your hands.
You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”
But We Don’t Yet See That
So he’s quoting Psalm 8. Here but then listen to what he says:
For in that He put all in subjection under him—man—He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him.
Well that may be the biggest understatement ever stated. Is everything in the world happening in good order with harmony among all people and all creation, where we have communion with the fish of the sea? Have you gone out to the ocean and summoned a fish to take you someplace lately?
You know this is why we love SeaWorld, right? Because that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We’re supposed to actually talk to Flipper and have Flipper be able to converse with us, like on the TV show. That’s actually the way it’s supposed to be! It’s anything but that! You only get that in an amusement park. And occasionally the pleasant pet Orca eats somebody. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
Why? Let’s go back and look at verse 2 which kind of is in this Psalm 8 with this wonderful notion, and it’s in there like a symbol clash in a sonata. It just kind of breaks up the harmony.
Verse 2. Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You—God—have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.
So here it is. See we’re a little lower. Snow White was a child. She was a minor. And the adult knew that Snow White was eventually going to take her place, so she wanted to kill her and knock her out of the way.
Well here it is right here. That’s us. We’re lower, and God has appointed us to a place that’s higher.
Satan was supposed to be the one that ruled the earth in perfect communion and harmony with God, but what he said is I don’t need you anymore, and he fell. And even though he’s still the prince of this world, he’s a lame duck. He’s just serving until the new elected officials step in. And who is that? It’s supposed to be us.