All This Must Be Born Again

(Screenshots are from "Who You Really Are.")


My most cherished theological and philosophical belief may be the concept of True Myth. This concept formulated by the Inklings essentially says that the Christian Gospel is in some sense the fulfillment of all the ancient pagan mythologies, the actualization in real history of every human hope ever expressed in legend.

Based only on my enthusiastic fandom, I suppose that the two main thinkers whose writings and interactions defined True Myth approached it slightly differently. J.R.R. Tolkien seems to have emphasized the human creative act of story making. Tolkien saw the Gospel as the ultimate validation of creativity, because the deepest meanings of all human storytelling came true in the life and resurrection of Jesus. While not rejecting Tolkien's view, I think Lewis tended to talk about the Gospel as some kind of fulfillment or clarification of ancient pagan fertility rites and heroic archetypes.

Either way, the concept of True Myth matters because it gives us legitimate dignity by making our lives mythological. Even when a mortal hero fights against adversity and prevails against despair, the fact that one life was momentarily real and glorious makes life more meaningful.

An incarnate myth in Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Recently I learned of a child who died of cancer, and I read the mother's courageous blog post about the child's last moments -- how the family was gathered together at the end despite her fear that they would not have been able to have been together in that moment.

My inner cynic is very ready to believe that life and death are both gritty and ugly and apparently meaningless. Faith usually seems like a defiant insistence on real meaning, a desperate and courageous denial of the fact that nothing ever ends well in this world. When I read that one child died well and manage to believe it, I find that this one short life lends hope to all the bad and ugly endings. If there is some kind of healing or meaning in one horrific tragedy, then the horror inherent in all the tragedies has some kind of meaning, or at least the potential for redemption.

This is what True Myth means. Nothing seems real or purposeful. There are no true stories here, no satisfying endings. But then one life in this chaotic system was purposeful, one Story meant something painfully, undeniably meaningful. Because that life was part of the system, all of the other lives now mean something. Because one great transcendent Story became true in real history, all the fictional mythologies and fantasies are also true in a way.

In the great epics there are a lot of little ordinary characters whose threads end in unsatisfying ways. There are ignorant muggles and incompetent Squibs; there are the countless faceless soldiers who die in the epic battles. Then there are people who meant well but were consumed by darkness. There are side characters who get no real resolution, and some who come to abrupt messy ends. But the story goes on, and all those characters are meaningful to the reader, because they're all in the book.

This is how True Myth can save us. Christians like to believe that God has a will for their lives, that if they only believe enough it will all turn out good. But there are no guarantees. We will probably die without achieving any sort of closure in our lives' work. Our homes and social lives may be broken and may never be repaired. We may be thoroughly awkward and pathetic our whole lives, never stepping out in courage, never overcoming our vices. We may even lose our faith despite having fully intended to follow God no matter what. But the True Myth redeems all of these sad aborted stories, because they are all part of the great unfolding epic. Sometimes there are flashes of grace; happy endings and transcendent moments. This Story has victorious characters as well as tragically flawed and ambiguous ones, but all of them are part of the same Story.

In some world, we can all be friends.

To quote Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., there is a world where we're all friends in the end. There must be. Part of the True Myth being true is that it holds true for every one who knows it, or sees it, or chooses it -- whatever the mysterious criteria might really be. It isn't enough for the True Myth to be just another abstract truth that happens to be grounded in history.

That's why I believe in the New Earth. The world will be born again, and then we'll finally be the people we were always supposed to be. Good intentions will no longer be rewarded with failure and disgrace. We'll finally be able to come together in fellowship to create real things, to tell real stories and live real stories. Then the Story will really begin, and the members of the Fellowship will set forth side-by-side without division.

Cleaning up the broken pieces

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