My husband and I were on an afternoon hike recently, discussing the mysteries of life and faith, when we slipped into a melancholy moment. Specifically, we’d been discussing the usual questions of why suffering, and why did God do it this way, and how can the suffocating pain and injustice endured by people in this lifetime ever be made worth it in the hereafter? —all questions I am NOT going to tackle in this post (we’d be here for eons).
Toward the end of the hike, discouragement at the lack of answers and understanding had set in, as it often does when we analyze this subject particular matter. In the last hundred yards before we reached the car, Shucks turned around to look at me, “What’s the point of any of this?” His question was honest, but it suddenly sparked a ray of light. Suddenly, novel writing came to mind. When you’re one of the characters in a gripping novel (or even the reader outside of it), you’re sure to wrestle throughout the pages with the discomfort of unresolved problems, unanswered questions, and a longing to understand how it’s all going to work out in the end. This is the handicap of the first person viewpoint; only the author—the one creating the story and characters—has the omniscient view of where the story’s going and how it’s all going to make sense in the end. Some people I know are so uncomfortable with the not knowing, they actually read the end of their novels before they start at the beginning. Now that’s what I call, “what’s the point?”
In a novel, at least the first quarter or third is spent developing the plot. Who are the characters—where do they come from and what’s so unique and special about each of them—and what do they contribute to the purpose of the story? What are the questions and problems that need to be resolved? What tools do the characters have to work with? That’s really about all you get in the introduction and plot development. Throughout the middle, you watch the characters struggle through their conflict, and oftentimes you become one with the character, feeling the ache and wrestling for the resolve along with them. At least as the reader, you get the benefit of seeing life from the point of view of many of the characters, a luxury not afforded to anyone who is living in a story.
As an aside, book writing offers a very interesting and perhaps enlightening perspective. One’s characters cannot operate outside the confines of the story he or she writes; yet many authors claim that through the course of plot development and conflict resolution, their characters develop “a mind of their own,” taking the author into previously uncharted territory during the writing process. It’s a fascinating dance between creator and created, a demonstration of the delicate balance between the sovereign control of the author and the freedom of movement for the characters.
What if the characters of a novel began asking why? Why this way? Why the problems and struggle? What’s the point of this story anyhow? Well, that’s sort of silly. First of all, the author did it this way because he wanted to communicate something to his reader. He put a lot of thought into how to best accomplish that goal. The characters were his partners in creating something in the author’s mind that could not be told any other way. To ask, “what’s the point?” is completely premature and simplistic in light of the brilliant and satisfying conclusion. Let me try to illustrate this point. Look at the following pictures.
In and of themselves, these are nice little snapshots of some boats in a harbor, a city center, some people standing at the base of some presumable tourist attraction, and some mountains. What’s the point? Where is the harbor? What are the people doing and why does it matter? Mountains and cities are a dime a dozen, so what? What do these snapshots have to do with anything? Why?
Now look at this (you might have to download it to see the entire picture) and see if those pieces make any more sense? Suddenly, those pictures have a bit more context, meaning, and well, magic!
Like the point I just demonstrated in a very limited manner, making a judgment about a good book anywhere in the beginning or even middle is like seeing only a fragment of an award winning photo, or hearing the first stanza of a grand symphony, or reading the first thirty pages of a novel masterpiece. You just don’t know why or how—yet—but rest assured, it’s going to be great.
Whether we like it or not, we were written into This Story and we are in the process of unfolding it just by being here. For now, perhaps the point is enjoying the ride (and using our freedom of movement to make it enjoyable for others around us) while considering the great privilege of being in the creative mind of the Author. For now, “The Story” isn’t complete—in fact it’s hardly begun. We can’t judge the outcome on such limited info. However, we have been given a brief glimpse of the last chapter.
“Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:3-5).
Like you, I haven’t the foggiest how this is all going to be accomplished. But I believe it. What we understand and see now, from our single perspective at one little vantage point is just a pinprick of light on the fabric of history; a single star illuminating the dark canvas of the universe. A glorious conclusion is surely in the works and someday, we will get to be the Reader. For now, we see through a glass darkly…