Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the movie Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and you want to at some point, don’t read this post. I’m definitely going to ruin the ending.
If you’re going to be a Christian worth your salt, one of the first things you have to do is decide whether the story told in Sacred Scripture is true. This is a difficult question, because you have to first understand the point of the different books, the variety of genres employed, the doctrines surrounding Scripture’s authorship, etc. But even more than knowing whether you can trust the Bible as a historical document or sacred myth or some combination of the two, one needs to know if the story of Christ fits into the hole in their heart; whether His story fits into the hole in the story of man.
C.S. Lewis puts it this way: “Supposing you had before you a manuscript of some great work, either a symphony or a novel. There then comes to you a person, saying, ‘Here is a new bit of the manuscript that I found; it is the central passage of that symphony, or the central chapter of that novel. The text is incomplete without it. I have got the missing passage which is really the center of the whole work.’ The only thing you could do would be to put this new piece of the manuscript in that central position, and then see how it reflected on the whole of the rest of the work. If it constantly brought out new meanings from the whole of the rest of the work, if it made you notice things in the rest of the work which you had not noticed before, then I think you would decide that it was authentic. On the other hand, if it failed to do that, then, however attractive it was in itself, you would reject it. Now what is the missing chapter in this case, the chapter which Christians are offering? The story of the incarnation—the story of a descent and a resurrection.
This Lewisian idea has always resonated with the poetic side of me: the story of Christ is the piece of the human puzzle that was always missing. It’s the piece of me that has always been missing. Chesterton agrees: he talks about how Christ is the god walking among men that the Greeks and Romans fantasized about; He is the savior the Jews dreamt of; He is the Life that is the answer to the Egyptian and Hindu beliefs that death is not the end. Christ does not only fulfill the Old Testament, but all the dreams and myths of the history of humanity. He makes everything, everything, make sense. He is The Answer.
If you’ve seen the movie Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, it’s a pretty good illustration of this idea. If you haven’t seen it, the movie is about a young boy with autism whose father dies in the attacks on 9/11. The boy then finds a key with the word “Black” attached to it in his dad’s closet, and he spends the rest of the movie trying to figure out what it goes to. In his quest to find the lock the key fits, the young boy travels all across New York City by himself, visiting every person in the five boroughs who has the last name Black.
Pretty much the whole time I watched the movie, I was angry.
You see, there was a piece missing. Here’s this kid with autism traipsing all over one of the biggest cities in the world, and his mom isn’t doing anything about it. The mom appears to be pretty depressed, which is understandable given that her husband just passed and she has a son whose special needs cause some extra stress, but still…pull it together lady. From place to place you see this kid visiting random houses, and even though it’s a cool story, I could never feel quite right about it, because it just didn’t make sense. No parent would really act that way, and the odds of that kid successfully going to all of those places by himself without something terrible happening are pretty darn slim. As much as the story was intriguing, it didn’t seem plausible. It wasn’t quite right.
And then comes the moment that makes it all work. We find out the mom knew all along what the kid was doing, had gone ahead of him to prepare the people he would be visiting and make sure that everything would be okay for her child. But she still let him go on this journey because it’s what he needed to heal, what he needed to come to peace with the horror of his suffering.
The story was good, but it wasn’t until you learned of the mother’s love that it really made sense. And once you found this out, everything else you had learned about the story came together. You went back and thought through all of the events you had seen, all of the moments of tension, and each of them was now colored by the understanding of the parent’s role in the story. I could enjoy the movie; the central piece was now there.
This is what the story of Christianity does for the story of man. It is the turning point, the moment of clarity that illuminates EVERY. FREAKING. THING. that’s ever happened. God’s plan, which is often so difficult to understand, is made comprehensible by the miracle of Jesus’ saving love.
We are the children wandering the world in search of meaning. We are the naive ones believing that we are doing everything on our own, that we are figuring everything out for ourselves. We are the lovable fools blind to the loving protection of our Divine Parent who is right there with us in our suffering. And when we stop trying to do it on our own, when we just return home, we will find our answer. We will find The Answer. So just come home.