instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Salvation history arc

The incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, taken as a whole, constitute the central fact of creation, the unexpected pivot point of the story of our salvation. From the Christian perspective, the Old Testament describes the long lead-up to the Gospels.

In fact, the (traditional) first book of the New Testament opens with a sort of mnemonic summary of the Old:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
And after the sequence of begats, we're off into "how the birth of Jesus Christ came about."

If we think about the story of our salvation as a story, we might find it makes sense to think of the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection as the climax, even though the climax of a story comes near the end, not in the middle (or at least as near the middle as Matthew 1 is). And of course, we do speak of Jesus in terms of "fulfillment" and "fullness," and of the "final victory of the Cross" and so forth.

If (to narrow it down to a single scene) the Cross is the climax of our salvation story, then what happens before is the "rising action," which in turn arises out of some initial conflict. Or, as you might say, an Original Conflict.

But the Bible tells one of the few stories that really does begin at the beginning, and in the beginning there was no conflict. I won't say this is a reason there are two creation myths, but one of the consequences of the two we have is that we get a clear break between the opening exposition -- which sets a rather pleasant scene and ends with the words, "Such is the story of the heavens and the earth at their creation." -- and what proceeds to happen to Adam and Eve in that rather pleasant scene.

It's not altogether unlike "The Tale of Peter Rabbit," for example, which begins with a rather pleasant scene:
Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter. They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree.
And only then do we begin to approach the conflict, in stock folk-tale language that (not by coincidence, I think) echoes Genesis:
"Now, my dears," said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, "you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor."
(Which suggests the unanswerable question, "What might children's stories be like if man had not sinned?")

Anyway, that's my take on the opening exposition, initial conflict, rising action, climax, and denouement of the story of God and man told in the Bible. The topic of the hero of the story could, I think, be profitably explored (by which I mean I think there's more to say on the topic than, "God is the hero.").

And it's a challenge to see ourselves as truly living in the denouement, isn't it? Don't we feel like we're still part of the rising action, that it's really the Second Coming that will be the climax, with what follows as the happily-ever-after?

There's something to that, I'd say, in the way the Church is "already and not-yet," but we shouldn't tell the story in a way that loses sight of the already. We should be able to see that we ourselves are already living happily ever after. Maybe not in the world's eyes, but let the world tell its own story; I prefer comedy.

We should be the ones who compose songs about His deeds, keeping them fresh in the minds of His people. And last I heard, He's still King of those parts, and all the people in His Kingdom are happy and rich.