In the late eighties, NBC debuted a drama titled Quantum Leap. Its main character, Sam, was a young physicist who had figured out how to travel through time. After his first experience of time-travel, Sam realized that he could not control when or to where he would time-travel next, so the show had him bouncing around through time, trying to set right things that had gone wrong in people’s lives and in the world. The hook to the story was that on each occasion Sam time traveled, he inhabited the body of some person living in that place and time. The people around him saw the person they had always known, but it was really Sam inhabiting his or her body.
Sam time-jumped into some pretty desperate situations: as the pilot of a supersonic jet – which he didn’t know how to fly; a prisoner in a chain gang; a mafia hit man – you get the idea. In every case, it would take Sam a while to figure out what was going on – that is, to figure out what kind of story he was in. Was he part of a love story or a murder mystery? Or was this an adventure story? Until he could figure that out, he didn’t know how to proceed.
In one episode Sam time-jumped into the middle of a sword fight. He was fighting for his life, but had no skill in the art of fencing. His adrenaline was pumping and it looked as if he was about to die. And then he learned – and we learned with him – that the sword fight was taking place in a theater as part of a play: he had leaped into the body of a stage actor.
When that episode began, Sam thought he was in one kind of story, when he was really in another. Or a better way to put it might be: he was in a story that was part of a bigger story. It was only after he figured out what that bigger story was that he knew what action he ought to take.
When it comes to understanding the Bible, one of the most important things we can do is figure out what kind of story it is – for it is a story. We might – and many people do – think of it as a travelogue that describes the journey of the soul to heaven. If that is the kind of story it is, we will want to take actions that conform to our role in the story. But what if we are wrong? What if it’s not a quest but a love story? Then our actions won’t quite fit with what’s happening around us.
It is important that our actions fit the story line because we are characters in the story. The Bible is the human story – our story – full of honor and shame, sacrifice and cowardice, generosity and greed. Because it is our story, it is absolutely essential that we figure out what kind of story it is. Otherwise, we will be fighting when we should be laughing, or repeating parrot-like the stage actor’s lines when we are not even on the stage.
The Bible is our story, and those who realize it can make a quantum leap forward in their spiritual lives. But it is even more important to understand that the Bible is God’s story. The grand narrative is about him, and what he is doing. We are characters in his story, not the other way around.
So what is his story? Is it an adventure? A mystery? A war story? The answer is, “Yes.” But it is also, perhaps more than any of these, a love story – the story of: a creator, whose love motivates him to sacrifice himself to save his damaged masterpiece; a father, whose love sends him searching for his lost child; a groom who, for love of his wayward bride, searches the world over to find her and be reconciled to her.
Our personal stories can’t and don’t stand alone. If one’s personal story does not find its way into God’s epic story, it will be lost. It doesn’t matter whether one’s life is a story of unmitigated success or of heartbreak and tragedy, it only finds its true significance when it is integrated into the great story that God has written and is graciously allowing us to co-write.
Published first in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, January 11, 2014