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2BC BLOG

Author, Author? by Kim Kankiewicz

While studying a literary theory textbook for a class I’m taking, I came across a passage that made me raise my droopy eyelids. The theorist, explaining how we make sense of our experience by “reading” our lives as stories, concluded: “In this sense, we become the heroes of our own lives. That we are unable to be the authors of our own lives is an effect of the fact that no plot ever originates with us.”

As a follower of God, I avoid claiming authorship of my own life, but I was surprised to find agreement from a secular scholar. Our popular dialogue echoes the Victorian poem “Invictus,” which is still recited at commencement ceremonies to inspire high school graduates: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

The difference, I supposed, between my rejection of those poetic lines and a literary theorist’s dismissal of Victorian romanticism lies in where we attribute authorship. The scholar might say that science set the plot in motion, or maybe she’d say there is no author because the whole idea of a narrative is an illusion. A Christian, of course, would identify God as the author of her life. Right?

We’re certainly used to thinking this way. We’re like the writer Donald Miller, who shares: “If I have a hope, it’s that God sat over the dark nothing and wrote you and me, specifically, into the story.” We read in Hebrews 12 that Jesus is the “author and perfecter of our faith” and in Psalm 139 that all our days are “written” in God’s “book,” and we imagine God at a heavenly writing desk scripting our stories with a quill pen.

But this image falls apart when we think of how an author manipulates characters to serve a plot. In contrast, the God of the Bible laments things that humans have done, producing results that God did not desire. Isaiah 30 begins: “Oh, rebellious children, says the Lord, who carry out a plan but not mine; who make an alliance, but against my will.” A writer might feel frustrated with ungovernable characters when a story isn’t working, but the author retains control of the characters’ movements. While God is an author in the sense of originating the plot of the universe, God’s involvement in our individual stories isn’t so easy to label.

Maybe the problem is our concept of the word “author.” It turns out that the Greek word most often translated “author” meant something like “chief leader,” as in Hebrews 12:2: Jesus is the “leader” and perfecter of our faith. In Hebrews 5:9, which calls Jesus “the author of eternal salvation” in some translations, the original Greek word means “cause.” This is closer to our idea of an author, but like the previous example, it refers to the saving and sanctifying work of Jesus, not the sovereignty of God.

I’ve wanted to be an author since I could read, so it was humbling when I learned that our current insistence on stories having authors is a relatively new idea. Before the 1700s, the concept of authorship didn’t exist. You could be acknowledged as a writer, but stories were more shared narratives than individual creations. 

And doesn’t this relate to a common pitfall of contemporary American Christianity? It’s so easy to focus on faith as a personal journey that we forget our individual experience is not the point. Returning to Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz: “The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.” That lie is so insidious that I almost overlooked it in the passage from my textbook, taking for granted that we act as “the heroes of our own lives.” 

Living as a follower of Jesus means understanding myself as neither author nor hero. And it means understanding God as something greater and more complex than both.

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