Every story is filled with meaningful conflict. If there’s no conflict, there’s no story. And there’s really no getting around this. The very structure of a story requires that the protagonist(s) experience significant conflict that challenges their character and pushes them to grow.
Stories begin with the protagonist in an established, familiar world, the place where everyday life happens. Good stories push a protagonist to cross the threshold out of his/her safe and secure world and into the unknown, into adventure, into inevitable conflict. This is illustrated in the classic “hero’s journey” circle seen below:
The hero’s journey is a commonly used template for our favorite stories. It’s used because it’s a timeless format that speaks to our souls. In fact, it is believed by some that this model story is hardwired into our brains to help us make sense of the world around us.
Our daily lives are like this story. We experience calling, trial, failure, conflict, growth, etc.
But what happens if we take a shortcut? If we try to avoid meaningful conflict and just cut across the circle like this?
Honest to God, I’m genuinely alarmed by the sheer amount of “life gurus” flooding the world. Relatively young people who have decided, I’m qualified to direct someone else’s life.
It’s a strange phenomenon.
I know of a life coach who infuses Jesus with his coaching, helping his clients achieve their best lives now. Overall, he’s accomplished his goals. Then one week, a couple of his clients experienced significant life struggles after pushing themselves too hard. The life coach responded with deep feelings of doubt, saying, “I thought God was in this. I’m not sure why this is happening.”
James writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4, ESV)
We can’t short circuit the discipline of conflict. Though we know this, we don’t like that it’s true.
There’s something my wife says to our daughter, “God is not a genie.”
Of course, this sounds like a “duh” truth.
But is it?
Sometimes it’s easy to recognize the prosperity gospel, as smiley televangelists promise that God wants to make all our wildest dreams come true.
But there’s a subtle, sneakier teaching of “conflict = bad” that sets us up to believe that hardship is God’s judgment on our lives. Or that, when we’re suffering, we’ve simply taken a wrong turn. Or we begin to believe that the reason others are suffering is because they’ve taken a wrong turn.
The conclusion of this terrible theology is that suffering has no meaning. Instead, life’s meaning is bliss.
We then run the risk of the conflict-free loop of hell – a path of least resistance that eventually bores a hole of meaninglessness into our souls.
A homeless friend of mine told me he believes God chose him to be a witness on earth, and that God promised him blessings upon blessings for fulfilling this roll. He thought perhaps God was going to bring him riches.
When those riches didn’t come (but the exact opposite) this friend realized the real blessing was getting to walk with God.
His acceptance of this truth is developing a personal faith that is unmatched by many Christians I know. In fact, several Christians with whom he interacts treat him like a faithless moron because of his conflict-filled life.
In the next post I’m going to flesh out his story a little more. For now, consider how God might be calling you to cross the threshold away from self-manufactured security and into the conflict-filled adventure of faith.