In Michael Ende’s The Never Ending Story, the young schoolboy Bastian escapes bullying schoolmates by dodging into a bookstore where he comes upon a mysterious book so intriguing he plays hooky to read it. The story contains all the elements of a captivating adventure: a lost world, fierce conflict between the forces of good and evil, and valiant heroes and heroines caught up in a daring rescue to save the lost world and restore Fantastica to its original beauty.
The jaw-dropping moment comes when Bastian discovers to his complete amazement that he is a character in the story he is reading – a hero on whom much depends.
Sometimes when I read my Bible, a Bastian-like feeling comes over me too. This best of all stories contains all the elements of a captivating adventure: a lost world, fierce conflict between the forces of good and evil, and valiant heroes and heroines caught up in a daring rescue to save the lost world and restore planet earth to its original beauty. And just like Bastian, I realize to my complete amazement that I am a character in the story I am reading – a hero on whom much depends.
The jaw-dropping moment for me comes early, when God speaks these words, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness” and commissions his image bearers, male and female, to rule the whole earth on his behalf. This is the point at which we all enter God’s story, not as bit players, but in leading roles. God calls all humanity to enter the story as his representatives, speaking and acting on his behalf and advancing his kingdom on earth.
I’ll spend the rest of my life unpacking all that God is giving us here. Yet, if even a little of this sinks in, nothing will be the same when my feet hit the floor in the morning. Knowing I have a strategic role in God’s story changes everything. Here are just a few ways being God’s image bearer is changing things for me.
I was created to know God. This relationship is the image bearer’s lifeline. We can’t know who we are or how we live in this world if we don’t know the God we were created to become like. Actress Helen Mirren illustrates. When given the role of Queen Elizabeth II, she didn’t coast on her British heritage or superb acting skills. Instead, she made the queen her study, scrutinized everything about her, and then relentlessly practiced imitating what she saw. Hard work earned her the Best Actress Oscar. We’re aiming for the Oscar when we embrace our image bearer calling.
My life has kingdom significance. My story is a subject in the bigger story God is weaving. What I do with my life, from cradle to grave and no matter how mundane and ordinary, carries kingdom significance, a point made repeatedly in the Bible where so-called “little” people operating behind the scenes regularly advance God’s kingdom. On separate occasions, Palestinian Tamar and Jordanian Ruth rescue the promised royal line that leads to Jesus from the threat of extinction. Mary of Bethany steels Jesus for the fiercest battle of all when she affirms his mission by anointing him for his burial. God calls every image bearer to take their part in advancing his kingdom wherever he stations them.
I am a leader. God’s image bearers are responsible for what is going on in the world. Poverty, injustice, and suffering are our business. We are God’s preferred method of working in this world. And so I expect him to put opportunities in my path, and he expects me to step up and act on his behalf.
When Bastian embraced his place in The Never Ending Story, his days of running from bullies ended. And when we embrace our place in God’s never-ending story, we’ll stop telling ourselves our lives don’t matter, that we’ve lost of missed or spoiled our purpose. For God’s image bearers, kingdom matters are at stake in the ordinary and extraordinary moments of our lives, the highs and the lows.
You’re in the story, a true hero on whom much depends!
Carolyn Custis James (BA, Sociology, MA Biblical Studies) thinks deeply about what it means to be a female follower of Jesus in a postmodern world. As a cancer survivor, she is grateful to be alive and determined to address the issues that matter most. She travels extensively both in the US and abroad as a speaker for churches, conferences, colleges, theological seminaries, and other Christian organizations. She is an adjunct professor at Biblical Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, blogs on www.whitbyforum.com and Huffington Post/Religion, is a consulting editor for Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament, and a contributing editor forLeadership Journal. Carolyn and her husband live in Sellersville, Pennsylvania.