Summary: Human beings possess a longing for meaning and transcendence. We long to identify with stories that help us understand our world, others, and ourselves. More often than not, stories empower us by presenting a transcendent dimension that makes life worth l
The Deeper Magic
The Lion, the Witch, and the Drama of Salvation
Secularism, though prominent in our culture, has never completely triumphed – and never will. No matter how hard we try to find complete satisfaction and fulfillment in this world, we inevitably find ourselves hungering for “something more”. This is especially evident among those who have come to possess the most coveted spoils of secularism – success, status, sex, and stability. Those greatest achievers in this life are usually the most vocal advocates of the vanity of all things apart from some “higher purpose”.
Because of this, it would be a great mistake to interpret our culture’s disinterest in traditional religion as rejection of spirituality or disbelief in transcendent reality. Even though many people cannot possibly fathom their spiritual hunger for the transcendent being met within the confines of organized religion, the passion for “something more” still exists.
And this impulse does not die easily. That is why secularism will never completely triumph.
Spiritual Hunger, Fantasy Stories
We are complex creatures. We are not only material beings, sexual beings, moral beings, and relational beings – we are spiritual beings. We possess an unquenchable desire to know deep meaning, purpose, and significance. We long to find something or someone that is worthy of our praise, worship, and imitation, that is, something or someone to which we can attribute great worth and weight – even if that someone ends up being our own self! This hunger is behind our creation of stories – stories we tell to better understand the world we live in, one another, and ourselves.
Our culture’s hunger for the transcendent is evidenced by the stories we love the most – epic stories of legend, myth, and fantasy. Of the top 25 movies of all time, all but three of are either fantasy, fairy tale, or science fiction.
Science fiction and fantasy epics such as Star Wars, Star Trek, The Matrix, and The Lord of the Rings have huge followings because fans love the characters and stories. However, fan interest usually goes much deeper than this. Many fans find meaning in their own lives in and through these stories. They identify with the philosophies, truths, and values promoted in the narratives. They connect at a deep level with fantastic worlds that contain transcendent reality deeper than the mind and greater than the senses – worlds full of mystery, awe, meaning, purpose, and potential. Ultimately, fantasy is not an escape from reality, but the desperate attempt to infuse reality with a transcendent dimension.
The contemporary re-enchantment of reality should not disturb, but rather, excite Christians. Of all people, Christians have always believed in the power of epic stories to challenge and transform lives. Whether we realize it or not, this conviction is behind our belief that the gospel – the good news, or better, the epic story of Jesus Christ – is still able to capture imaginations, renew minds, and transform hearts to the glory of God. We believe that God’s story in Christ provides meaning to those who embrace it by faith. We believe that the philosophies, truths, and values promoted in the good news have universal and everlasting significance – that they are epic in every sense of the word! We believe that when God’s story is truly received it possesses the power to influence our lives and the lives of those around us. In short, we believe in the transforming power of story!
Releasing the Imagination
In spite of our belief in the power of story, Christians have always had a difficult time with the imagination. Our suspicion of this God-given faculty causes us to either suppress it or condemn it. We fail to realize that the same dangers that lurk behind the use of the imagination also haunt the use of our reason. Rationality – just like imagination – can be corrupted and distorted. In other words, rationality can be used for destructive and inhuman purposes in much the same way that the imagination can. This is true in politics and science, as well as religion. Douglas Jones is correct when he writes, “Weak imaginations have always fallen before Scripture’s chief enemies: legalists, rationalists, and libertines. Orthodoxy demands imagination, and so we are just asking for serious spiritual problems if we deny the imaginative life.”
Because of our distrust of the imagination – and thus, the stories it creates – we often reduce God’s story to a few propositional facts that seem more suited to a doctrinal treatise than an epic fantasy tale. The tragic result: we have “rationalized” God’s story! By reducing God’s story to a series of “facts,” “theological truths,” or “spiritual laws” we have transformed salvation from participation in God’s epic to a simple assent to a few statements – a mental assent that proves us either “right” or “wrong” rather than a whole-hearted embrace of God’s story that sets us on a journey to align our story with God’s.