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A recent shift away from doctrinal Christianity left me with many estranged friends. It’s a weird place to be, because I recognize that in a lot of cases we still care about each other, but there’s a wall between us. And I, as the undeniable builder of the wall, have felt and feel powerless to fix things. Yet, a few weeks ago, one old friend reached over that wall and tossed me a book. It was Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.” I read it.

On the surface, Miller’s book is the story of how his first big hit, Blue Like Jazz, became a movie. But it’s really about what he learned from that process: that a truly well-lived life resembles a story. The characters care about something. They struggle. And then, hopefully, they succeed.

It’s rare for me to commit to just one book at a time. Often I’ll have a fiction book and a non-fiction book going at the same time; one keeps me sane and the other gives me useless facts to lord over other people at parties. Since my religious falling out, I’ve also been spending each morning reading essays on religion and meditating. It’s a decent surrogate for the Bible reading and prayer which used to fill my mornings. The latest essay is by McTaggart, “God, Evil, and Immortality.” You know, easy stuff. McTaggart outlines why, in his eyes, the presence of evil in the world necessarily precludes God’s omnipotence. If God is truly all-powerful, he must be permitting evil to exist. If God allows evil, he cannot be called good. And if God isn’t good, he isn’t a god we should worship. Or so it goes.

As careful as McTaggart may have been in covering his philosophical bases, he overlooked what is now a pretty common explanation for this seeming contradiction: God is a storyteller. Evil makes creation complete, just like a story without a villain isn’t really worth reading or watching. I’d heard this explanation before, but thought of it as merely quaint. However, juxtaposed against McTaggart’s rigorous analysis, this pithy explanation gained new esteem in my eyes. This seemed to be an explanation which McTaggart fails to address.

If I had to guess, I would suspect McTaggart would argue that a truly omnipotent God could devise a way for stories to be meaningful without the presence of evil. He dispenses with the argument in favor of free will in this kind of fashion. In reply, I would have to question the ability of a being of limited perspective (e.g., man) to evaluate the comparative worth of any one of the theoretically infinite variations on what it means for a story to be meaningful. I’ll admit, this response just returns us to our circular-thinking origin point. If God is omnipotent, the explanations for his existence hold up; if he is not, they don’t. Circularity often seems to be the best I can do when dealing with philosophy.

Then what do I find in Miller’s book, just a few minutes later, but the statement: “God is a master storyteller.” A little surprising to see this idea come at me from two different directions. I like it. I enjoy thinking of myself as being merely a character in a story. Much less pressure that way. But on closer examination, I feel that the story explanation solves less than I might hope. God’s story doesn’t necessarily have to follow the Christian narrative. The knowledge that thereĀ is some kind of plan doesn’t confirm that the plan is good. Too often I see people jump from making a general argument for human spirituality (e.g., why do we perceive beauty?) and then claim they’ve proven there is a God. And then: if God, then obviously Christianity. If Christianity, then clearly the Bible. If the Bible, then the Springfield First Southern Baptist Church’s interpretation.

Why can’t the “story” be the fall of Christianity? I’m not necessarily saying it should be. I think Christianity is well-suited to modernity because it’s so adaptable. I just think we can’t eliminate any possibilities.

And if I really am just a character, and God’s holding the script somewhere, calling my lines from the wings, does this really change the way I’m going to live my life? As much as people like talking about different “possible” futures, there is, and always has been, only one way that the world actually “will” turn out. Leave those suggested alternative universes aside, and admit thatĀ something was always going to happen in the future. So our world’s always been predetermined, at least in a sense. If there is a plan, then I’m part of it whether I know or not.

Reading Miller’s book was the final impetus to get me to start this blog. I want to live a story-filled life. Based on prior experience, I know that one of the best ways to bring about change is to kick introspection into overdrive. The additional practice writing certainly couldn’t hurt.

And who knows, I might be the most important character. Maybe I’m the villain.