Why do we love stories?
Why do they have so much in common with each other?
What if we could learn the deepest truths about reality (and ourselves) from our favorite movies, television, and literature?
Sound absurd? Perhaps our fiction reveals truth in life because God created us to love the Story that He is forging in human history. None argue this better than John Eldredge in his book, Epic, where he breaks all time into a four act play. The following appears in his prologue:
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There is a Larger Story
Walk into any large mall, museum, amusement park, university or hospital, and you will typically meet at a very large map with the famous red star and the encouraging words You are here. These maps are offered to visitors as ways to orient themselves to their situation, get some perspective on things. This is the Big Picture. This is where you are in that picture. Hopefully, you now know where to go. You have your bearings.
Oh, that we had something like this for our lives.
“This is the Story in which you have found yourself. Here is how it got started. Here is where it went wrong. Here is what will happen next. Now this—this is the role you’ve been given. If you want to fulfill your destiny, this is what you must do. These are your cues. And here is how things are going to turn out in the end.”
We can discover the Story. Maybe not with perfect clarity, maybe not in the detail that you would like, but in greater clarity than most of us now have, and that would be worth the price of admission. I mean, to have some clarity would be gold right now. Wouldn’t it?
Start with the movies you love.
I’m serious. Think about your favorite movies. Notice that every good story has the same ingredients. Love. Adventure. Danger. Heroism. Romance. Sacrifice. The Battle of Good and Evil. Unlikely heroes. Insurmountable odds. And a little fellowship that in hope beyond hope pulls through in the end.
Am I right? Think again about your favorite movies. Sense and Sensibility. Don Juan DeMarco. Titanic. The Sound of Music. Sleepless in Seattle. Gone with the Wind. Braveheart. Gladiator. Rocky. Top Gun. Apollo 13. The Matrix. The Lord of the Rings. The films you love are telling you something very important, something essential about your heart.
Most of us haven’t stopped to ask ourselves, why that heart? Why those longings and desires? Might we have been given our longings for love and adventure, for romance and sacrifice as a kind of clue, a treasure map to the meaning of Life itself?
Next, I want you to notice that all the great stories pretty much follow the same story line. Things were once good, then something awful happened, and now a great battle must be fought or a journey taken. At just the right moment (which feels like the last possible moment), a hero comes, and sets things right, and life is found again.
It’s true of every fair tale, every myth, every Western, every epic—just about every story you can think of, one way or another. Braveheart, Titanic, the Star Wars series, Gladiator, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. They pretty much all follow the same story line.
Have you ever wondered why?
Every story, great and small, shares the same essential structure because every story we tell borrows its power from a Larger Story, a Story woven into the fabric of our being—what pioneer psychologist Carl Jung tried to explain as archetype, or what his more recent popularizer Joseph Campbell called myth.
All of these stories borrow from the Story. From Reality. We hear echoes of it through our lives. Some secret written on our hearts. A great battle to fight, and someone to fight for us. An adventure, something that requires everything we have, something to be shared with those we love and need.
There is a Story that we just can’t seem to escape. There is a Story written on the human heart.
As Ecclesiastes has it, “He has planted eternity in the human heart.” (3:11 NLT)
Look, wouldn’t it makes sense that if we ever did find the secret to our lives, the secret to the universe, it would come to us first as a story? Story is the very nature of reality. Like the missing parts of a novel, it would explain these pages we are holding, the chapters of our lives.
Second, it would speak to our hearts’ deepest desires. If nature makes nothing in vain, then why the human heart? Why those universal longings and desires? The secret simply couldn’t be true unless it contained the best parts of the stories that you love. Yet it would also need to go deeper and higher than any of them alone.
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I hope you have enjoyed an excerpt from Epic, which has been reprinted with permission of Ransomed Heart Ministries.
Your Favorite Story?
What is your favorite story? Why? Think beyond the humor or the action, although that does make it fun. What does the movie, television show, or book tell you about yourself and the world?