When I was a boy I lived on a farm and lived very much in the moment. I had no long-term plans and never looked backwards into my past. So I never really had a need for God. When a person lives in and for the moment, God is not needed as an external idea to clarify the path ahead and to make sense of the path trod, God just is, without need of name or purpose.
When I reached adulthood I was forced, as we all are, to look far into the future and, at the same time, to look back to justify the past. This is when God is needed. As a torch clarifying the darkness ahead and as a narrative that gives order to the chaos we have left behind.
I became a Christian when I was twenty-one. I attended church, both Anglican and Catholic, for many years after that. I was often unhappy with Christian theology, but I made it work. I made it work by trying to understand theology not just in relation to the Bible and my own religious experience, but also in relation to other religions, the history of religions, science and sociology. Christianity made no sense to me if it only made sense within its own context. It had to be relevant to the rest of my experience too.
What I have learnt over the years is that humans live in a story – or many stories. We narrate our own lives, have starring roles in other people’s narratives and roles of varying importance in religious and social narratives. We connect our own narrative to the many streams of narratives that flow around us. Christianity therefore is a story amongst many stories.
You may imagine that I am reducing down the importance of Christianity by saying that it is story. But the human ability to tell stories and to live stories, I believe, is a sacred gift. It connects with our role as meaning-makers.
Christianity is a story that has so much to offer – to tell us about ourselves. But so does other religious stories. I believe that Christianity is special but that’s because my own narrative is embedded within it. Churches, hymns, the liturgy, the theology, have becomes the bones of my life. I’m not going to say that because I feel so much part of Christianity that makes it the most important religious story of all. This is not true.
The world is changing. We are moving from the mechanical-analogue era into the digital era. But our need to narrate our own personal lives, and our need to live in many streams of social narratives, has not gone and will not go. It is through narrative and story that we make our lives meaningful. Christianity helps us do that.
Now, I’m not saying that Christianity must survive for that reason. Everything dies. This fact has created the world we live in and is, in many ways, the foundation of our stories. If evolution had not created this amazing world of life-death recycling, nature would not be here. Neither would we.
God, or whatever name we wish to give our ultimate reality, is rather like the air that we breathe or the light that gives us sight, all those things have a starring role in all our stories even if we barely notice them and even if they rarely get a mention in the credits. God is life. God is the paper and the pen, the words, the desire for meaning. God is with us on our journey whatever story we want to wrap around Him/Her/It.