I’ve studied story for years now, and there’s a structure to it for sure. It’s not as formulaic as you might think, but there’s a structure that captures the human imagination because it rings true. And it rings true for a reason.
Great story tellers nuance formula the way a jazz musician can nuance chromatic scales. They see between the lines.
That being said, what is the story of humanity as God sees it? Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? And how do we live once we understand the story?
I believe God’s enemies are not gays, pro-choice leaders or Democrats. I believe the enemies of Jesus are the same as they were when Christ was walking the planet in flesh: People who use God to gain power and Lord that power over the weak. In other words, the enemy is hidden within the church. And I mean the term “hidden” lightly, because they’re quite proud of themselves.
Strictly looking at Jesus in the gospels, here’s the story:
1. There is an opposition: The main opposition of Jesus in Scripture are religious leaders who have created an economic and power industry out of God’s law. They are power mongers who rule with fear and intimidation, using the truth of Scripture for their own gain. This, of course, is exactly what we see Satan doing. The same spirit of Satan has come into the church and has affected those in power.
2. There is a damsel in distress: The damsel in distress is humanity itself. Jesus is out to rescue the world. If you’re in a cult, just turn to the Truth, which is Jesus Himself. If you’re a pharisee, just turn to Jesus Himself, which means giving up your false power. If you’re a pagan, turn to Jesus Himself and repent of your sins. But the point is this. Go through no man. Go straight to Jesus.
3. There is a villain: Satan isn’t in the text much, but each time he’s in the text he’s quoting Scripture for his own gain. We tend to look for Satan in brothels and he’s there but that’s not how he’s presented in Scripture. In Scripture, he’s manipulating God’s word and being deceptive. How can you spot his influence? He’s never vulnerable. He never admits fault. He is always looking for power. He wants complete submission. He’s a Scripture-quoting weasel who nobody really knows but is always using God to gain his own power and influence. I am absolutely convinced he’s the same in the world today.
4. There is a way out: The way out is Christ Himself. If we cling to Him in faith we become mysteriously one with Him. Our theology doesn’t have to be perfect because Alex Trebeck won’t be in heaven holding a mad round of Jeapordy. It won’t matter what we know but who we know. If we know Christ, we have a way out.
5. There is a methodology: Scripture says it’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance. It isn’t His anger or hate mongering or intimidation or bullying, it’s His kindness. So if we want to call people to repentance, the Spirit of God will join us in kind exhortations of love. Using truth to shock and intimidate is selfish. That’s not how God leads people to repentance. Humbly love in such a way as to shine a light on Christ’s goodness, not your own ability to say something shocking.
6. There is a hero: The hero is the guy who is so in love with the world, He would come for her and die for her. He would turn the other cheek and speak the truth and keep coming back until he won the girl, even though she continually cheats on him. She’s the one he wants. He’s christ. The girl is humanity itself. She gets confused by the world and by religion. The world says screw it all. Religion says submit to my earthly power and you’ll find security.
Jesus says marry me.
Here’s a way to think about it that is complicated but has helped me: The “Image of Godliness” is always Satan while “Godliness” is always Jesus. Never trust anybody projecting an image of any sort. Period. Truth projects nothing. Truth simply is. Truth has no agenda. If you sense an agenda, walk away. Somebody is manipulating you.
So, if you happen to be writing a screenplay involving who is really bad in the world and who is really good, feel free to paint the bad guys as religious people who quote Scripture. That’s exactly what the Bible does. That’s exactly what Jesus does. There are good guys who quote Scripture but the good guys who quote Scripture point people to Jesus. Bad guys who quote Scripture may point people to Jesus, but they have to go through them first. They have to sign a doctrinal statement or vote for a certain politician or be baptized a certain way. Sin seeks to control you while Jesus seeks to set you free.
Jesus is our way out of the whole mess. He’s the hero. Satan is the Scripture-quoting weasel of a villain and humanity is the damsel in distress.
That’s the Biblical story. And that’s the story of life.