The Story Behind All Stories

The Spencer County Magnet will post an article by B21’s Nick Moore on Easter, B21 reproduces it in full here:

I’m not sure why, but the older I get, I start looking forward to each new season with more and more expectancy. When I was a kid, Summer always came and went so fast that there was never enough time for the desired amount of baseball. Then before you could turn around, it seemed like Fall and Winter had flown by leaving us yearning for more sleigh riding weather. But things are different now. The seasons don’t fly by like they used to. In fact, in some ways, they seem to drag on longer each year. You can blame it on “El Nino” or “global warming” if you want, but whatever the cause, the fact is that winters just seem colder, summers just seem hotter, and the time spent waiting for one to become the next just seems longer.


In these moments of eager anticipation, though, I have to stop and remind myself that this whole process does not happen by accident, nor does it happen purely on the basis of scientific realities. Instead, the Bible tells us that the Lord “changes times and seasons,” (Dan 2:21). The seasons do not change merely because of a tilt in the earth’s axis or it’s position relative to the sun. These may be the means by which the elements change, but they are not the ultimate cause. God is. And if God is the author of the seasons, he surely must have a purpose behind their ebb and flow. But what?


Several years ago, a number of “modernist” critics observed the way that, throughout history, every pagan culture has come up with some sort of story, myth, or legend to explain the changing seasons. For millennia, men have watched how vegetation goes into the ground during seed-time and rises to new life during harvest as well as how this process is mirrored by a climate that transitions from warm, vibrant, and lively to a cold, death-like slumber, only to experience “new birth” with the arrival of Spring. Observation of these things, the critics noted, always seems to result in the forming of “myths about dying and rising gods.” Christianity, then, is nothing unique. In fact, in their estimation, Christianity is little more than a pagan fertility myth accommodated to a first-century context with a Jewish man as its hero.


This time of year, there will inevitably be a spate of magazine covers, newspaper articles, and History channel documentaries leveling these same kinds of accusations against the Christ story. But behind all of these questions is really the same question: “What makes Christianity different? How is it unique?” The great Christian author C.S. Lewis, addressing the accusations that these “modernists” had leveled, provides a somewhat surprising answer. He suggests that, in some sense, Christianity is not unique at all. It should not surprise us, he says, to “find in the imagination of the great Pagan teachers and myth makers some glimpse of that theme which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story—the theme of incarnation, death, and rebirth,” (Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry” in The Weight Of Glory, 128). These pagan myths are simply picking up on what the Apostle Paul calls God’s “purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth,” (Eph 1:9-10). So, in one sense, the Christ story is not unique. All of these stories are based on God’s larger story, which finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ.


In another sense, however, Lewis points out that the Christ story is altogether unique. Not in the sense that it is based on different themes, but in that it is utterly and completely true. The pagans pick up on God’s larger story, but in their version they choose to exchange “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things,” (Rom 1:23). The Christ story, however, shows us how in the fullness of time “the old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens– at a particular date, in a particular place,” (Lewis, God In The Dock, 343). The myth “about the dying and rising god” meet the original pattern after which it was copied when it became fact in Jesus Christ.


This Easter, I hope you will stay focused first and foremost on the true “reason for the season.” But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy other festive activities as well…as long as you recognize the story behind the stories. There is a reason fertility symbols like eggs and bunnies have endured with this holiday for generations, that the name “Easter” (based on the name of an ancient fertility goddess “Ishtar”) has never been revised even in ardent Christian circles, or that bright pastel colors, new outfits, and fresh floral arrangements resonate with our celebrations of the resurrection, even if we can’t put our finger on exactly why. It is because these symbols of new birth and new life point us beyond pagan mythology to the myth that became fact, to Jesus Christ: the true firstborn, the true resurrection and the life, the true New Creation, and the true first-fruits from the dead. This Easter, let’s see Jesus in every competing story, and use these stories to point others to him, who is “the way, the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6).