Human Story, Theology in Narrative

Jennifer Fulwiler, of Conversion Diary, discusses the concept of the human soul, the human story, and the inadequacy of a materialistic atheist worldview to account for the deep inspiration and heroism of the human story, in a piece titled He who knows the story.

Reading it, well, I had been thinking in my own in the past few years of the importance of Narrative for Theology, for Evangelization, and especially for my own faith journey. A year ago, in order to prepare a presentation on the Trinity in an Adult Catechetical Course, I came up to the strange suggestion that Augustine presented the Theology of the Trinity in a story. If you look at the Confessions, he presents a personal, although transparently universal story of the human person. If you look at the City of God he presents the story of humanity as a whole, and moreover the story of the Church. The Trinity is the story of God…

Wait? What? How can a theology be a narrative? I thought a theology was a rationalist outline of doctrines and subdoctrines.

I have also had the privilege of reading some of the writings of Cardinal Ratzinger aka Pope Benedict, and I find a similar approach to theology, one done in story and narrative. That is, the theological doctrines are not disconnected from the human experience, the human journey, discoveries, and most of all encounters with God’s grace. Instead of clear, rationalistic, ideas falling out of the sky, disconnected from the reality of human concern, the life of the doctrine grew from the revealed truths of the Gospel, the rational exploration and questions of theologians and believers, and their experience and encounter with the Christ.

Moreover, I was envisioning theology as some vaguely disinterested scientific rationalistic activity, where the theologian ought to be purely emotionally disinterested, and rationally disinterested… As if the Trinity, the two natures of the person of the Son, and many other doctrines are purely and absolutely rational. It is not just that there is an element of faith, but that there exists a beautiful harmonious intermingling of divine and human, faith and reason, joy and wonder that ascends and consummates in an encounter with Truth.

So what that means, more explicitly, is that we cannot completely distinguish the dogmas of the council of Nicaea or the Second Vatican Council from the story of the Church. Further, our encounter with Truth is not a discovery of an idea that we possess, it is an encounter with a person, for Jesus identifies himself as the Truth, the eternal Logos. Our endeavors of rational discovery are less us controlling a theory and manipulating empirical data, but that we are discovered and drawn into the story of the Christ that we cannot control or tame, but that demands a harmonious synchronicity with the All-Beautiful One, Truth, the Christ.

Jennifer begins to challenge some of the problems with being a strict atheist materialist and looking at a story:

At the time I was a strict atheist materialist, and the more I thought through this worldview, the less room I found for the human story. Every time I had ever felt moved by some epic tale of heroism or glory, I had been moved by a sense of the transcendent, that something had transpired here that was more than the sum of its parts. I was touched by the idea that even if every single character on the staged died, with nobody knowing of anything that they had done in their final glorious moments, they would still have had an impact on the universe in some lasting way. Yet my atheist materialist belief system did not account for that. In a worldview that said that all of mankind’s experiences ultimately go no further than the chemical reactions in the human brain, concepts like heroism and glory and honor, as they had classically been defined, did not exist.

Yet, what she could not quite honor, was that there was something wonderful lingering underneath. That our deepest desires are not vain. People think Christians place arbitrary limits on reality, but it is the materialists that deny people the right to honor that sacredness that is themselves, as well as the heroic hope that solidifies us in our struggles vaguely visioning a future when our aspirations and our current reality become a unity. The materialist divides. The Christian unites, because it is the Spirit at work, in grace that draws all to One, as the Spirit is the principle of unity between the Father and Son and the principle of unity in the Church.

I was just having a conversation with a friend the other day. I brought up that there are people who see government or evil organization conspiracies in everything. I insisted that I am the opposite type of crazy person. I see the grace of God in everything. As the human story unfolds, God’s grace is bringing us through trials to a paradise and joy unspeakable and unimaginable. As my personal story unfolds, something remarkable is happening. And I say it as I reflect on all the tears and breakdowns that I was ready to give up. Why I did not, if but for the grace of God at work in my life ascending to a consummate encounter with Truth and unifying my hope of a brighter future with the reality that I life in.

Jennifer ties it together in a final thought, so be sure to read her story thematically tied to the concept of story on her blog.

There were a lot of reasons I ended up converting to Christianity. It was a years-long process in which I searched and asked questions and read a couple of shelves full of books. But one of the key turning points in my journey was that moment when I realized that this belief system understood the human story better than any other. When I realized that I was looking at an uncannily thorough knowledge of what it means to be a player in the grand drama that we call the human experience, I had to consider that it may have all come from the One who wrote the script.


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