Life Has a Plot

The following excerpts from Frederick Buechner and Rob Bell describe how they feel that life has a plot.

First Buechner, from The Alphabet of Grace:

How do I happen to believe in God? I will give one more answer which can be stated briefly. Writing novels, I got into the habit of looking for plots. After awhile, I began to suspect that my own life had a plot. And after awhile more, I began to suspect that life itself has a plot.

Buechner again, from The Clown in the Belfry:

I think it is possible to say that in spite of all its extraordinary variety, the Bible is held together by having a single plot. It is one that can be simply stated: God creates the world, the world gets lost; God seeks to restore the world to the glory for which he created it. That means that the Bible is a book about you and me, whom he also made and lost and continually seeks, so you might say that what holds it together more than anything else is us. You might add to that, of course, that of all the books that humanity has produced, it is the one that more than any other-and in more senses than one-also holds us together.

And Rob Bell, from What We Talk About When We Talk About God:

At TED 2012 a brilliant, passionate lawyer named Bryan Stevenson gave a talk about injustice and racism. He spoke about his work around the country within the prison and court systems and his desire to see all people treated fairly. He told stories about young men he's currently defending in court, arguing compellingly for a more just society, and then he closed with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. (who was quoting the abolitionist Theodore Parker) about how the moral arc of the universe is long and it bends toward justice.

The second Stevenson was done, the audience gave him a rousing, extended standing ovation. Then later, they pitched in collectively to give his organization over a million dollars. I point this out because when the audience was asked from the stage two days earlier how many of them considered themselves religious, it appeared that only about 2 or 3 percent of the people raised their hands.

And yet a man confronted them with the moral arc of the universe and they intuitively, unanimously, instantly affirmed the truth of his claim.

Is history headed somewhere?


Because when Bryan Stevenson talks about the moral arc of the universe, he's talking about history, history that is headed somewhere, somewhere good.

History that has a point to it. I believe that those smart, educated, accomplished, self-described-as-not-very-religious people stood and applauded because deep within every single one of us is the conviction that there is a point to this. That life has purpose. That when we die, the lights are not turned off and the show is not over.

The Greeks had a word for this sense of forward movement, purpose, and direction-they called it telos. The telos of something is its point, its purpose, where it's headed, what it's doing, and where it's going. This is why we love stories: they're loaded with telos. They are not static but dynamic realities, heavy with potential and possibility. In a story, something happens, and then something else happens after that, leading somewhere. That's how stories work.

When we talk about God, we're talking about that sense you have-however stifled, faint, or repressed it is-that hope is real, that things are headed somewhere, and that that somewhere is good.