Making Sense of the World and Our Place in It

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Humans are narrative beings. We make sense of the world and our place in it by reference to an overarching narrative.

We all have a storyline that shapes our outlook on life and our patterns of behavior—whether we are conscious of it or not. The question is the one Samwise Gamgee asks in Lord of the Rings: “I wonder what kind of story we’re in Mr. Frodo?” Do you ever wonder about that? What kind of story are we in, and what happens if we’ve adopted the wrong story or are attempting to play the wrong part?

If we don’t know what kind of story we are in, ultimately, we aren’t going to know who we are, where we are, or what part we are supposed to play. Knowing the story is essential to knowing our place. For instance, imagine if Huckleberry Finn woke up in Avatar or Sherlock Holmes decided he wanted to identify as Alice and try living out the storyline of Alice in Wonderland in 19th century England. In either case, we’d have a recognizable character whose internal storyline wouldn’t match the external storyline in which they find themselves.

Contrary to existentialism, Christian theism asserts that the world is teeming with intrinsic meaning.

Many of us experience this type of narrative mismatch: we feel disoriented because we aren’t entirely sure who we are or what story we are actually in. Many, especially in our secular society, have unknowingly adopted the existentialist storyline. The existentialist story says that we live in an objectively meaningless universe but can defiantly choose to create our own identity and meaning. As Irvin D. Yalom writes: “One of our major tasks is to invent a meaning sturdy enough to support a life and to perform the tricky maneuver of denying our personal authorship of this meaning.”[1] Apparently, the only way out of nihilism, and its accompanying despair, is a blatantly irrational move: to invent your own meaning and purpose and then deny that you did so. That is, act as if meaning were objective even though it isn’t. We see then why existential confusion and despair pervades our culture: deep down we all know that the fictional meanings we create can’t satisfy our desire for true meaning any more than a decorative apple can satisfy our hunger.

My dad was on an airplane once with a young man whose t-shirt captured the existentialist sentiment well; it said, “I’ve given up on the search for reality, I’m now in the market for a really great fantasy.” Is there an alternative? Do we have to resign ourselves to counterfeiting meaning or is there a genuine article to be had?

The Christian Metanarrative

Contrary to existentialism, Christian theism asserts that the world is teeming with intrinsic meaning. God created the world and He “has made everything for its purpose” (Proverbs 16:4). The alternative, then, is knowing and living according to the true story of the whole world.

The true story is that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1); He made mankind to be in loving fellowship with Himself and to partner with Him in the development of a godly civilization; mankind rebelled against God, sending the world into turmoil; God came into the world to rescue His wayward creation and restore humanity to right relationship with Himself; we are now called to partner with God in His redemptive purposes by pursuing relational reconciliation and cultural restoration; and God has scheduled a day when He will recreate the heavens and the earth and judge humanity in righteousness and justice.

So, to answer Samwise Gamgee’s question, we are in a story of redemption written by God. Who are we? We are “living statues” created as part of a series of God’s self-portraits. Where are we? We are in God’s world. What part are we supposed to play? We are the priest-kings of all creation, God’s second in command, called to loving partnership in ruling over the earth with the King of Kings.

If we are to make real sense of the world and our place in it, it is to the Christian overarching narrative that we must make reference.

[1] Irvin Yalom, The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients (New York: Harper Perennial, 2017), 133.

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Jonathan Darville

Jono Darville is a former Global Master Trainer with The Center for Leadership Studies and Co-Leader of the New York branch of Models for Christ (an international non-profit bringing the gospel to the fashion industry). Due to a decade-plus long battle with chronic illness, Jono almost lost his life in 2017. After spending a number of years bed-bound, God graciously intervened in 2020, using UNC Hospital to restore Jono’s health. Jono is now finishing an M.A. in the Philosophy of Religion at SEBTS, while serving as a Ruling Elder and Youth Director at Peace Church in Cary, NC. He and his wife, Jillian, have one son, Jono Jr.

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