At once an analogy I appreciate and find troubling, it has been said that life is like entering a very long movie that has already started and then learning that you have to leave it before it ends. As a Christian, it is the story I profess: "My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass. But you, O LORD, sit enthroned forever; your renown endures through all generations."(1) Even so, entering a movie already started and leaving before it ends also means that I could entirely miss the point.
Every time I read St. Augustine's Confessions I seem to come eerily face to face with myself, and with it, the thought that someone has already told my story—or at least very real parts of it. It is a shock of recognition that suggests an ugly narcissism and makes real the danger of missing the point. In a world where setting oneself apart seems the highest virtue and being "liked" can literally be measured on social medial, seeing yourself in an unoriginal light will either cast a tormenting shadow or offer a freeing vista. In Augustine, as in countless others who have wrestled with God long before me, I'm reminded that I am a small character in a much greater story. I have entered a movie that has already started, and surprisingly, it's not all about me.
What if there is a vast stage full of lives who have wrestled with questions or struggled with thorns quite similar to your own? Would it be a comforting suggestion that people long before you and long after you may well live with the same sorrow or struggle or doubt? Many have lived aware, often more than we are, of life as it existed before them and time that would march beyond them. Many have lived thinking it a gift to "tell the old, old story" as their own. For they saw with the writer of Ecclesiastes that it is important to realize there is "nothing new under the sun," lest we miss the sun entirely by focusing only on the shadows we watch it cast. They saw the momentaryness of our lives not as undermining but as dignifying, specifically because there is a permanence to life itself, a story with an end and a beginning.
Jesus once turned to his disciples and said, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."(2) The disciples were seeing in the present all that kings and prophets looked for at a distance. Yet even those who walked intimately with Christ were not always aware of all there was to see. Chances are good we are missing him too even as there is a uniqueness to this moment.
If life is like entering a movie that has already started and leaving before it ends, it is important to look both behind us and ahead of us in order to see what is right in front of us. There is only one place in Scripture where God is referred to as the "Ancient of Days" but it significantly comes from one who justifiably could have been overwhelmed by the present. "As I looked," says Daniel describing a dream, "thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze" (7:9). This one addressing God as sovereign over days long before his own is someone who could have been consumed with the picture of life before him. Jerusalem was in ruins; God's people were scattered. Daniel could have easily viewed his situation as being stuck somewhere in the middle of a movie he wasn't happy with, yet he chose to see the difficult scene in which he was living as a part of something bigger. He saw the "Ancient of Days" in the midst of the days he was given.
Having a sense of entering a story that has already started and leaving before it ends is a very different vision than the story that begins and ends with me. The freeing vision that comes from standing beside the vicariously human Christ is one that can look back at lives of faith and God in history, forward at all that God has promised, and presently at all God has placed before us. There is a story and a storyteller, far more creative, far more redemptive, than even our best material.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Psalm 102:11-12.
(2) Luke 10:22-23.