The Neverending Story is a German fantasy novel by Michael Ende, which takes place in the parallel world of Fantastica. That world was being destroyed by the Nothing, a mysterious force. The first protagonist is a young warrior who is asked by the Steward of The Empress of Fantastica to set off and find a way to stop the Nothing; the other protagonist is a boy from the real world, Bastian Balthazar Bux, a reader of a novel with the same title, for whom the story gradually becomes more and more realistic. As he reads the story he enters into the alternate world and is caught up in the struggle against the Nothing.
This novel is based on the philosophy of “anthroposophy,” (“human wisdom”) originated by Rudolf Steiner which “postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience through inner development” (Wikipedia).
I do not in the least subscribe to this philosophy, but as a fantasy reader I do like the story. I have one version of the movie.However, I wholeheartedly believe in another unending story that involves interaction between the material (to us, “real” world) and the heavenly, spiritual world. It is a story that we are very much involved in as believers in God – a story we participate in, not by going into the heavenly realm, but because the heavenly has penetrated into the present world in which we live, affecting it profoundly. As in The Neverending Story, we who live in this real story are caught up in a struggle against diabolical forces that seek to turn the good world of God’s creation into an evil “nothingness/darkness” of chaos.
How are we expected to live in this world? How are we to “play out” our “role” in the story? Is it just for us as believers – as people who are on the Hero’s side – to sit on the sidelines as spectators of the action, cheering the active participants on in the fight against this powerful force?
One of the amazing things about the story we are involved in is that we already know the outcome! Or at least we should know it if we are reading the story correctly! In fact, it is knowing our story from beginning to end that allows us to know how we are to fit into the story and how we are to fulfill our role in it.
From the beginning of this series of articles we have emphasized how we cannot understand ourselves and our purpose for being without understanding that we were made in the image of God for the purpose of manifesting or reflecting his glory into creation. He gave man authority over creation to care for and extend it, developing it in the direction and purpose for which he created it. God intended this “very good creation” to be the place where he dwelt with man in ideal relationship. That is still his intention.
Since man sinned, brought death on himself and ended the orderly development of creation toward the end for which God had created it, God has been working to bring man back to himself (the plan of salvation) and to get his creation project back to what it was always intended to be. That will not be realized until the children of God receive their inheritance as Paul wrote about in Romans 8:17. He had said in v. 16 that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God and “if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
So what are we to do in the meantime? At least with the bit of time that is allotted to us as individuals? We may feel that there is little we can do, but that is wrong thinking. Certainly if we look at it from a world-wide perspective, we think one man can do very little. What impact can we make on the other side of the world? Actually there is a great deal we can do, both as individuals and especially collectively as the whole of the people of God. And God expects us to do it. He expects us to live the story, participate in its plot, have an influence on all the other people in the story and have some effect on the outcome of the story. (We will talk about that later).
Remember that as we have surveyed the story human history has always pointed back to the creation and the fall of man and forward to the culmination of God’s plan. Along the way, there have been judgments against evil which resulted in different outcomes all the way from the destruction of mankind from the earth by the flood to the confounding of languages as a result of the pride of man as exhibited in the building of the tower of Babel. The most significant of these later judgments was against Egypt which came as the children of Israel were freed from slavery.
The people whom God was preserving represented a fresh start, a “new creation.” As at the beginning, these renewals, marked with Noah and with Israel by a covenant, were leading somewhere. They were pointing forward to the future – to the climax of the story, the new creation that began with death, burial and resurrection of Jesus from the grave and ultimately to the fulfillment of God’s original design – the renewal and perfection of his “very good” creation as the “new heavens and new earth.” We who live between the time of the climax and the ultimate fulfillment of the whole purpose of creation are expected to live and serve in certain ways. In examining this question of how a Christian should live we will focus on a couple of passages dealing with this subject.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:4-10).
We who have been saved by God’s grace through our faith in him are the product of his creative workmanship. He had a purpose in mind before he ever created us. We have now been “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” What are the good works for which we were created – the works that we should “walk” in?”
This is, without a doubt, a reference back to our original creation. “Good works by us were included in the eternal foreordination by God” (Robertson’s Word Pictures, eSword). “There are not two creations, the second formed upon the ruin and failure of the first; but one grand design throughout. Redemption is creation reaffirmed. The new creation, as we call it, restores and consummates the old. When God raised His Son from the dead, He vindicated His original purpose in raising man from the dust a living soul. He has not forsaken the work of His hands nor forgone His original plan, which took account of all our wilfulness and sin. God in making us meant us to do good work in His world.” (Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eSword).
God’s original plan for man did not end with the fall. His design of man in his image and his purpose for us to “subdue and have dominion” over creation was never rescinded. When we are saved by his grace (are made into a new creation) we are restored to the place God always meant us to occupy which means that the works we were originally meant to do now become our way of life – our “walk” or “occupation.” That means that the responsibilities of God’s people are tremendous. They encompass the whole of creation!
We must beware lest we interpret these good works as just “religious” or “spiritual” in nature. In the original creation man was not perceived as a being who occupied two different realms. That concept is not Biblical. It derives from Greek dualistic philosophy instead of from the mind of God. Individually we are a living being – a being with breath. The works we are to do occupy the whole person whose whole purpose is to glorify God.
We will look at the works God has prepared to be our “occupation” tomorrow.