Where to Turn in a World of Competing Narratives

I was reading Psalm 73 this morning, and Asaph reminded me of Reason #372 why it is so important to be in church on Sunday mornings. He begins his Psalm bewildered by the conflict of what he believes to be true in his heart and what seems to be true in the culture:

Truly God is good to Israel,

to those who are pure in heart. 

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,

my steps had nearly slipped. 

For I was envious of the arrogant

when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Psalm 73:1-3

While Asaph knows in the depth of his soul that God is good to the pure in heart, everything around him seems to proclaim–from the magazine racks and the news and the movies and the workplace and Netflix and Facebook and politics–a contradictory truth: “The wicked prosper.”

For they have no pangs until death;

their bodies are fat and sleek.

They are not in trouble as others are;

they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. 

Therefore pride is their necklace;

violence covers them as a garment.

Their eyes swell out through fatness;

their hearts overflow with follies.

They scoff and speak with malice;

loftily they threaten oppression. 

They set their mouths against the heavens,

and their tongue struts through the earth. 

Psalm 73:4-9

The horrifying story unfolding before Asaph’s eyes seems so true, and it threatens to dethrone the truth hidden in his own heart. What are we to do when the narratives playing out in society are a direct affront to our Christian faith? We are surrounded by conflicting stories; how do we keep our feet from stumbling into false narratives? Asaph shows us the way.

Postmodernism and False Narratives.

I remember the first time I encountered the word postmodernism. I was in high school in the early 2000s, and Christians were certain postmodernism was going to be the downfall of society. At the time, postmodern thought in my limited understanding boiled down to one basic tenet: Truth is relative. It was a dangerous truth claim to be sure.

What I realize now is how I failed to comprehend the point of a postmodern perspective. Postmodernism was descriptive before it was prescriptive. The mantra, “Truth is relative,” was not necessarily the way postmoderns wanted the world to be; it was simply the way the world already operated.

Postmodernism aimed to be apocalyptic. Much like the book of Revelation, it sought to remove the masks and reveal the power struggles beneath the surface. What was really happening when individuals, political parties, genders, races, classes, or religious organizations claimed to have the truth on their side?

From a postmodern perspective, truth is never really about truth. Truth is about power. The truth is malleable—easily refashioned to fit whatever narrative our team is pushing. And whoever controls the narrative controls the world.

Certainly, we cannot deny this often to be the case today. Everyone is pushing a narrative. Everyone is weaving a tale. Just turn on cable news. You will hear two totally different accounts of the “facts” depending on which network you choose. That is because each has a story it is telling, and that story is aimed at expanding the power of their team.

Politicians push narratives. The strange thing is that we all know this. Pundits perform fact checks after debates and town halls, and we are never surprised to find that a politician has stretched the truth—or even fabricated the truth—in order to further the story he is trying to sell to the public. And why? It’s all aimed at election. It’s a vie for power.

Social media push narratives. Instagram and Pinterest are telling tales about what the good life looks like. Twitter is weaving together stories to shape the narrative of social justice and to control whose voices deserve to be heard. Facebook—well, who knows what Facebook’s narrative is these days. But all stories being told by these platforms aim at one thing: maintaining the power, status, and importance of social media in society.

Hollywood pushes narratives. Whether through award shows, celebrity activists, or the content of its art, television and movies are weaving together narratives through the telling and retelling of stories. They are telling us something about the regal place of entertainment in society.

Religious organizations push narratives. The oldest stories in the world originated among religious peoples, and these stories held sway over societies. Even Christians must admit this to be true. Much of the Old and New Testaments narrates how people conquered and fought one another in the name of their gods.

We Need a True Story.

The point is, we live in a storytelling world. And that, brothers and sisters, is why you and I need to be in church on Sunday morning.

Asaph wandered around wearied and discouraged by the narratives of this world, until he entered a space shaped by a different narrative. A space—and a people—shaped by God’s story. He writes,

But when I thought how to understand this,

it seemed to me a wearisome task,

until I went into the sanctuary of God;

then I discerned their end. 

Psalm 73:16-17

It was when Asaph entered the sanctuary of God, when he entered the presence of God’s people, when his ears were filled with God’s Word, that the narratives of this world lost their power. He was comforted by the narrative of the unbending, unshakeable truth—God’s truth.

Friends, we spend six days wandering about in a world that seems to proclaim, “The wicked prosper! The wicked prosper! The wicked prosper!” And if we are not careful, we grow to envy the proud. We become jealous of co-workers who succeed by clawing their way to the top. Our appetites and desires are shaped by daily scrolling through social media. We begin to believe that politics will save us. And for six days, our hearts grow sick with worry and anxiety and doubts and temptation because we begin to believe the false narratives the Serpent hisses in an effort to exercise power over us…

Until.

Until we enter the sanctuary of God. Until we hear God’s people singing. Until we stand and sit and rise and kneel. Until we read aloud the truths handed down to us from the Apostles. Until we confess our sins and hear afresh the grace of God given to us in Christ. Until we lay our treasures at his feet. Until we taste and experience his presence at the Lord’s Table. Until we hear the eternal Word of God and our hearts are kindled afresh by the only true story in all of the universe.

This is why we so desperately need Sunday mornings. Sunday liturgy and worship among the gathered people of God is a rehearsing and a retelling and a reliving of God’s story—the narrative of salvation history. We live the story together of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Re-creation. It is a reminder that despite the narratives around us that proclaim, “The wicked prosper!”, Jesus Christ, the Crucified and Risen Savior is still on his throne.

When we stand in the sanctuary, the story is reset. The truth reigns, and we proclaim with Asaph:

You guide me with your counsel,

and afterward you will receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?

And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:24-26

(photo credit)

Published by Chad Ashby

Pastor at College Street Baptist Church Newberry, SC

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