Talk: The big picture – understanding the great narratives of our time

“The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless… The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life above the level of farce and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.” – Steven Weinberg

There are two great narratives we need to understand in the 21st century: naturalism/materialism and Biblical Christianity. The meaning of any narrative is often only revealed in the final chapter. And that’s exactly the same in the grand narrative of scripture: it’s all about the ending.

Listen below to hear a talk I gave in February 2019 at the Christian Medical Fellowship student conference on how vital it is to understand the big picture.

Handout

Two great narratives of the 21st Century

  • Biblical Christianity
  • Physicalism/Naturalism/Materialism

“The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless… The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life above the level of farce and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.”

Steven Weinberg

What is the source of the beauty, deep order and awesome complexity of the cosmos?

‘You have to indwell the story of the Bible as the true story of the whole world’ Lesslie Newbigin

‘The scriptures interpret myself to myself – and act as spectacles which enable me to see the world as the theatre of God’s glory’  Calvin

The entire creation is an outpouring of love from the heart of the Triune God

There are basically three types of prayer ‘Please’, ‘Thank you’ and ‘Wow’

1. Creation

“By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided and the clouds let drop the dew.”  Proverbs 3:19,20

“I was a craftsman at his side, filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in the whole world and delighting in mankind”  Proverbs 8:30

The entire creation is a temple, formed to be filled one day with the glory of God

Creation mandates

God places his image-bearers within the creation to be:

  • His representative
  • Work partner
  • Cultivator
  • Co-Creator
  • Cantor (worship leader)


There is a deep connection between the human mind and the fundamental structures of the universe. Science, medicine and healthcare are only possible because of this!

“I am thinking God’s thoughts after him” Johannes Kepler  

The song of Creation continues before the Throne of God

“You are worthy our Lord and God to receive glory and honour and power for you created all things and by your will they were created and have their being”  Revelation 4:11

2. Fall

The cosmos is contaminated by evil, brokenness and pain. The ultimate origins and nature of evil and suffering are never explained. There are thorns and briars in Eden.  Humanity is locked into futility, pain and struggle – “dust to dust”.  The glory of the universe is fractured and out of joint. 

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Romans 8:22

3. Redemption

There is another story which interweaves with the story of creation.  The narrative starts before ‘the foundation of the world’.   ‘The Lamb’s book of Life’

‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, I have drawn you with loving kindness’ Jeremiah 31:3

The new covenant, I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people….they will all know me from the least of them to the greatest, declares Yahweh.  For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.  Jeremiah 31:33-34

There is a mysterious connection between the deep order of the physical creation and the deep order in God’s covenant plans for his people.  It is written into the foundational framework of the cosmos.  Jeremiah 31: 35 – 37

In the New Testament Christ is revealed as the central unifying person behind the entire creation. 

“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”   Colossians 1:16,17

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”  Hebrews 1:3

God in the person of Jesus has experienced every phase of human existence.
He was with us in the darkness of the womb, as he will be with us in the darkness of the tomb..”

“…. Why am I so favoured that the mother of my Lord should come to me. As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leapt for joy….” Luke 1:43,44

The resurrection of Jesus

The incarnation, death and physical resurrection of Jesus represents God’s final and unshakeable vote of confidence in his physical creation and his commitment to its redemption, re-formation and re-creation.

The risen Jesus Christ is a recognisable, physical, touchable member of the species Homo sapiens.  There is a physical continuity between Jesus’ original body and his resurrection body.  It is the same, but different – continuity and discontinuity.

Why the work of our hands matters. The work of our hands is saved from ultimate futility through the redemptive power of the Cross.  The work we do becomes significant because of the faithfulness of God. 

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.”  1 Corinthians 15:58

Caring in the light of the future

“Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails….” 1 Corinthians 13: 8

4. New Creation

The ultimate goal of the narrative is not only about human beings. It is about the entire cosmos renewed, redeemed and reconciled to Christ.

“Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who are to come.” 1 Corinthians 15:20

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God…

…..For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:18-21

“The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den. They will not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11:8,9

‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, I have drawn you with loving kindness’ Jeremiah 31:3

Further reading

Matters of Life and Death, John Wyatt, IVP

The Drama of Scripture: finding our place in the biblical story, Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen

The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, Chris Wright

God’s Big Picture, Vaughan Roberts, IVP

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