Monday, June 30, 2008

Deep Comedy

God is a storyteller.

I've read the Bible for a number of years, but when I made the above discovery, it forever changed how I approach Scripture.

Here's what I mean. Stories always work in two ways. First, there's a plot. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is obvious. Second, what's not so obvious is that good stories speak to our heart and seek to persuade us-- to believe a certain thing or act a particular way.

Discovering how stories work has been a growing interest of mine. Books like Annette Simmon's Story Factor and Robert McKee's Story are excellent resources in appreciating the magic of stories.

But how does the Biblical story work? What does it say about God and how He works in the world?

Addressing that question in unique fashion is Peter Leithart in his book, Deep Comedy. His thesis is fascinating:
The Christian account of history is eschatological not only in the sense that it comes to a definitive and everlasting end, but in the sense that the end is a glorified beginning, not merely a return to origins. The Christian Bible moves not from garden lost to garden restored, but from garden to gardencity. God gives with interest. To say the same in other words, though the Bible gives full recognition to sin and its effects on creation and humanity, the Christian account of history is ultimately comic...

“Tragedy” is... very loosely... a story in which the characters begin neutrally or well, but slide inexorably to a bad end; “comedy” is a story in which the characters may face dangers, perhaps dangers of great intensity, but ultimately rise to a happy ending. “Deep comedy” brings two additional nuances: First, in deep comedy the happy ending is uncontaminated by any fear of future tragedy, and, second, in deep comedy the characters do not simply end as well as they began, but progress beyond their beginning. Comedy may move from glory to glory restored, but deep comedy moves from glory to added glory. While the classical world did produce comedy, it did not produce “deep comedy.”

What I mean by “tragedy” and “deep comedy” may best be captured by two biblical citations. “The last state is worse than the first”—Jesus’ saying [in Matthew 12:45] can serve as a summary of ancient sensibility about history. “Deep comedy” is best exemplified by the vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21–22, and particularly by Revelation 21:4: “He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be death; there shall no longer be mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
Leithart suggests that only a Trinue God-- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-- would write such a story and argues his case by illustrating how no such "deep comedy" is found in Greco-Roman literature. I think Leithart has unlocked an incredible key to understanding God's story and I'm profoundly grateful.

Leithart's thesis not only applies to eschatology-- the end times-- but also to personal salvation and sanctification. Growing into the image and character of Jesus can be a roller coaster experience, but at our glorification, we'll be far better off than when we started.

Funny indeed.

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