You were made to rule the world.
How did you react to that sentence? Did you scoff? “Wow, that’s crazy talk.” Maybe swell up with pride? “I always knew I was special.” Or perhaps you felt uneasy; immediately some red flags in your “error filters” went up. A statement like that doesn’t fit into your theological categories, and now you’re wondering whether this book is full of rank heresy. If that’s you, please don’t burn my book just yet. Hang in there with me for another minute, and let me elaborate on what I mean.
Let me ask you a Bible trivia question: What’s the very first thing and very last thing that the Bible says about humanity? Ever thought about that? Until relatively recently, I hadn’t given it much thought either. In my attempt to be theologically “God-centered,” (which is undoubtedly a good thing), I tend to pay more attention to what the Bible says about God, rather than what the Bible says about me (which, again, is a good thing; the Bible is not primarily about me but about God).
And yet, the first and last word on who God designed you to be just might be significant. So grab a Bible and look at the first page and the last page, and this is what you’ll see:
God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” –Genesis 1:27-28
No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. –Revelation 22:4-5
Do you see the emphasis on “dominion” in the first passage and “reigning” in the second? The Bible begins with God creating humans to rule the world, and the Bible ends with humans ruling the world. At the beginning, God creates humanity “in his image,” as his representatives, and gives them dominion over the whole world. Their purpose—our purpose—is to rule the world as God’s regents, on God’s behalf. And at the end of the story, we see that original purpose of creation fulfilled, as a redeemed humanity takes its rightful place on the throne with Jesus, beginning an everlasting human reign over the universe. In between those bookends is the whole story of history, redemption, and God’s purposes for creation. This is the story that we were made for.
This design which was woven into the very fabric of the world and our souls is also the crisis in the storyline of the Bible, the world, and our lives: humans created to rule and to have relationship with God have abandoned both privileges. We now find ourselves dethroned from our position of authority and exiled from fellowship with God. Everything wrong in the world and in our hearts flows from this abdication. Creation, made to submit to the righteous reign of mankind, now bucks against the occupation of an enemy power with earthquakes and cancer and disaster and death. And every human heart, made to rest with peace and joy and purpose in union with the Creator, is consumed by restless, rebellious, homesick longing.
God’s solution to these twin problems—kinglessness and homelessness—is what the storyline of the Bible is all about. Through the Old Testament, God is on a mission to provide a new King—a restored human ruler; and a new Country—a restored paradise of fellowship with the Creator. This is the ultimate meaning of “the kingdom of God”—the place where God’s presence resides and God’s king reigns. This is the story that carries us from the garden, to Abraham, to the Exodus, to the Promised Land, to the Davidic dynasty, to the temple, to the Exile, and finally to the culmination of all the prophetic longings in the person of Jesus Christ.
All the threads of the biblical narrative come together in Jesus, who in the opening pages of the New Testament is revealed to be the long-promised human King who alone can dethrone the cosmic usurper, and the return of God’s presence to dwell with his people. He fulfills and completes all the stories. He is the second Adam who crushes the serpent’s head and leads a renewed humanity back into obedience to the Creator. He is David’s greater son, who builds God’s Kingdom and takes the helm of an ever-expanding government of peace. He is the true Temple, the meeting place between God and man.
And now, in the age between his first and second coming, this is the gospel invitation that his kingdom—the church—proclaims: “Join the renovation of the cosmos and the restoration of the human project by bowing to the rightful King who conquered death and is coming back to make everything new.”
Much ink has been spilled in unpacking the biblical theme of “the kingdom of God.” Many authors have traced the storyline of God’s Word along this particular thread, weaving together a compelling vision of what the Bible is all about. But in all the discussion about the kingdom of God, I think we’ve missed something: from cover to cover, the Bible’s portrayal of God’s kingdom is not primarily defined as where God rules, but rather where God’s king rules. The kingdom of God in Scripture is where God’s presence resides and God’s king rules. The storyline of Scripture and the goal to which history is moving is not God’s unmediated reign over the world, but rather his delegated reign expressed through righteous humanity, his regal image-bearers. That’s why the kingdom of God isn’t just wherever God is reigning (after all, he’s sovereign everywhere), but rather is found wherever humans are submitting to, representing, and extending his rule. From Eden, where God walked alongside his regents; to the Davidic dynasty with God’s chosen king and God’s presence in the temple; to Jesus Christ, who is simultaneously God’s incarnate presence and God’s perfect human king; to a restored humanity ruling alongside Jesus in the new creation, God’s Kingdom is more than just him ruling over you. It’s about you ruling over the world for him. This is the story that we were made for.
MADE FOR STORY
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but as human beings we eat, drink, and breathe stories. Narrative to us is like water to a fish; we spend nearly our entire lives swimming in story. And by “story,” I don’t just mean books. I mean the songs on the radio telling tales of a boy trying to win a girl’s love, the five hours of television that the average American watches every day, not to mention dreams in which our subconscious paints elaborate alternative realities to inhabit. People used to think that we only dreamed during relatively brief REM cycles; new research suggests that we actually dream all night long. And of course our dreaming doesn’t end when the alarm clock goes off. Studies examining daydreams have concluded that the average daydream lasts about fourteen seconds, and that the average person has about two thousand of them per day. The moment we stop doing a task, our minds immediately wander off to make-believe land. Nearly half of our waking hours, and possibly all of our sleeping ones, are consumed by story-telling.
The preponderance of story in the human experience is so overwhelming and all-consuming—and yet so unnoticed, like water to a fish—that it leads to some interesting questions and conclusions. Professor and author Jonathan Jonathan Gottschall, writing from a secular and evolutionary perspective, goes so far as to say that our narrative-building minds are what make us human. He calls us “homo fictus, the great ape with the storytelling mind.” In his spell-binding book, The Storytelling Animal, Gottschall argues that “we are soaked to the bone in story.” He notes not only the universal experience of story, but also the universal elements that structure every tale humanity has ever told. Campfire ghost stories, ancient myths, daydreams, toddler make-believe play, twenty-minute sitcoms, and every great work of literature alike all carry the same literary genetic code, a DNA of drama. He writes,
“No matter how far we travel back into literary history, and no matter how deep we plunge into the jungles and badlands of world folklore, we always find the same astonishing thing: their stories are just like ours. There is a universal grammar in world fiction, a deep pattern of heroes confronting trouble and struggling to overcome… Stories universally focus on the great predicaments of the human condition.”
Pay more careful attention to the next TV show you watch or analyze the latest New York Times bestseller, and what you’ll see is much more than simple entertainment. You’ll witness characters confronting challenges and navigating danger. Even toddler make-believe play is not as simple as you may think. Eavesdrop on a group of four-year-olds playing, and you’ll discover a shade of darkness that seems to run through all our storytelling. Gottschall writes,
“Grownups have a tendency to remember the land of make-believe as a heavenly, sun-kissed bunny land. But the land of make-believe is less like heaven and more like hell. Children’s play is not escapist. It confronts the problems of the human condition head-on… Images of good and evil, birth and death, parent and child, move in and out of the real and the pretend. There is no small talk… Pretend play is deadly serious fun. Every day, children enter a world where they must confront dark forces, fleeing and fighting for their lives.”
Children’s imaginations are neither sweet nor simple. The world to them is full of monsters under the bed, bad guys that must be vanquished, and crying baby dolls refuse to take their bottles. And when we grow up, we don’t outgrow the monsters, we simply rename and relocate them. Our daydreams (and nightmares) constantly play out scenarios of danger, confrontation, betrayal, and loss. Even optimists do this. It’s as if our souls are hardwired for the epic struggle of good versus evil. In fact, in light this storytelling universe that we inhabit, Gottschall arrives at a conclusion which is remarkable for a secular evolutionist, but shouldn’t surprise those of us who believe in a storytelling God: “The human mind was shaped for story, so that it could be shaped by story.”
THE STORY WE WERE MADE FOR
Our souls were shaped from the ground up for story, so that we could in turn be shaped by story. Every person instinctively and unconsciously constructs a narrative in which to live, which gives their lives meaning. For some, it’s the narrative of overcoming obstacles—“I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and made something of myself.” For others, it’s the narrative of family or friendships, a life defined by those we love. Whatever it is, every one of us lives our lives within a mental construct in which “all the world’s a stage.”
But before we live out the rest of our lives in a narrative framework of our own designing, we should stop and examine the story we’re living for. If we were shaped for story so that we could be shaped by story, the question we should ask is, “What story were we made for?” Elie Wiesel wrote that “God made Man because he loves stories.” With a storytelling God at the helm of reality, all of history is “his story,” revealing the grand narrative which he wrote in Scripture, in the stars, and on our souls. Christian hip-hop artists Lecrae once said, “Better to have a small role in God’s story than to cast yourself as the lead in your own fiction.” The story of the Bible, the epic tale of king and country, is the story we were made for, the story that gives shape and purpose to our existence. To know the story that the God of the universe is writing, a story in which we play surprisingly central roles, is to learn what it means to be human and how life is designed to be lived.
This book will follow that biblical storyline, from God’s original purposes for mankind, to the insurrection that wrecked the world, through the quest to restore paradise in the Promised Land, and the re-establishment of human rule on the throne of David. The ultimate failure of both the promised land and the promised line of David sets the stage for the New Testament and the arrival of God’s promised, perfect King, who leads God’s perfected people to God’s promised, perfect Country.
Along the way, we’ll see emerging themes that transform our lives, themes that will find their resolution in the “practical” section of Part III. Every chapter of Parts I and II of this book, which trace the biblical story of king and country—are trending towards the practical application of Part III. So in your reading, don’t short-circuit God’s designated process for transformation, either by giving up halfway through the story, or by skipping to the seemingly more relevant chapters at the end. If we want to be changed by God’s story, we must learn to live in it, swim in it, and see the whole Bible in relation to it. Only by seeing the Bible’s great themes slowly emerge as the story progresses will we be able to make proper application to our lives. All the work of tracing the story will be worth it in the end when we arrive in Part III. There, having been soaked in the story for which we were made, we’ll finally be ready to see how this story shapes us, and what it means to live as royalty both in the fallen kingdom of Adam and in the already-arrived and not-yet-come kingdom of Jesus.
As we follow the biblical storyline and see these life-changing themes begin to emerge, here’s my hope and prayer for the practical effect of these truths: that God would open your eyes to the spectacular calling on your life, far beyond what you may have previously conceived; that you would tremble at the awesome glory and shame of being human; that you would come to view the “common grace” and “image-bearing” of both your friends and enemies with a glad and sober reverence; that he would awaken in your soul a holy discontent with worldliness and a bittersweet longing for your heavenly home; and that he would shape you into a zealous, winsome participant in all his kingdom purposes in this broken world. In other words, that the story for which you were made would become the story that defines your entire life.