By David Hegg
At some point we all ask the big questions. Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? These same questions plague every generation even though some attempt to live as though they are irrelevant, or worse, unanswerable. Both of these responses may be temporarily satisfying at some level but they only push the hard work of coming to grips with our existence further down the road.
These questions, and the way we answer them, will in large part define our personal story. When I meet someone new, I often ask “So, what’s your story?” My inquiry is usually met with a brief overview of who they are, where they’ve come from, and what fills their lives. But if time permits a lengthier conversation, I will often find out what overarching narrative their personal story fits into, what overall worldview or meta-story their personal story is part of.
Each of our lives – our “stories” – is an attempt to find harmony with some other greater, overarching story. In reality, there are not that many meta-stories to choose from, but they are very different.
Popular today is the meta-story of scientific materialism that proposes that everything we are and know is the result of random chemical processes. In this meta-story the universe has no beginning and, conceivably, no end. And, given that there is no grand design or plan, life has no real meaning, goal, or purpose other than to make the best choices during our short span of existence.
Another popular meta-story is the emerging “green” story that suggests we are all part of the same ecosystem and our highest goal must be to be on good terms with the environment around us. You know folks like this, who harangue about the commodification of water, rail against all industrial progress, and are trying desperately to get off the energy grid altogether.
Perhaps most blaring today is the meta-story of identity. Have you noticed that it is no longer what some does, or how they excel or what they’ve accomplished that determines how society sees them? Now many insist that their story is their identity, and even more strange is their insistence that they can change their identity at will.
Other less sophisticated stories are also well-known. Some lives exist just to make money, others to seek adventure, and still others are trying desperately to anesthetize themselves against all pain. Some have given in to the idea that nothing matters so we may as well just pursue as much excitement and personal happiness as we can. Still others take the opposite path and give their lives in service to neighbors, community and country.
Sadly, none of these can answer the big questions coherently. Can we really believe the complexity of our universe has come about randomly, without any design or purpose? Can we even fathom a universe without any beginning? Can reality be something that is up to our imagination, desires and control?
The great despair in our day stems from the inability of individuals to sync their personal stories to a meta-story that actually allows them to make sense of reality, to account for the presence of both joy and suffering, and to live with the hope that this life matters and is heading somewhere important.
Perhaps it is time to give an old meta-story another chance. Of course, I’m suggesting the theistic model where all that exists has come into being through a personal, just, holy, and loving God who has determined that the evil forces of this world will not have the last say. He has a plan for time and eternity and those who sync their personal stories to his will find a peace and joy that transcends mere temporal happiness.
And yes, I hear your objections to my suggestion. But at least hear this. Until you have honestly read and studied the biblical story with someone who actually approaches it fairly, with literary integrity and intellectual honesty, don’t just write it off on the basis of what its opponents have opined. You might just be keeping yourself from answering the big questions in a big way. After all, your story will someday end, and then you’ll want to be sure you’ve found the right answers.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.