Stage Five: The First Action

Here is Stage Five…



To rebalance his life, the core character takes an action, a tactic designed to cause a positive, enabling reaction from his world that will either deliver his object of desire or at the very least move him toward it.

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

And then Paula began to show us how all this fits with Stage Five in story. Because when we first began to explore Stage Five, we weren’t sure the story in the Bible connected with it. But then Paula helped us begin to see something…

Stage Five launches your protagonist’s quest. To reach his object of desire, the core character takes an action based on his best sense of expectation. Spontaneously or consciously, he uses words and deeds as tactics to evoke the positive reactions he hopes to get from his world. The unique identity of the protagonist determines the unique actions he will take. 

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

And the action taken can be verbal…

Second, whether mental or vocal, whether thought inside the mind or said out into the world, all speech is an outward execution of an inner action. All talk responds to a need, engages a purpose, and performs an action. No matter how seemingly vague and airy a speech may be, no character ever talks to anyone, even to himself, for no reason, to do nothing. Therefore, beneath every line of character talk, the writer must create a desire, intent, and action. That action then becomes the verbal tactic we call dialogue.

Robert McKee, Dialogue

[T]he two primary principles of effective dialogue:

First, each exchange of dialogue creates an action/reaction that progresses the scene.

Second, although these actions find expression in the outer behavior of talk, the wellspring of character action flows invisibly from the subtext.

Robert McKee, Dialogue

And as we talked about the verbal action possibility, Paula Wong showed us this…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

John 1:1-4

That has our attention. And look at this…

It is important to know not only in general that the Bible is true but also that in the Bible God’s words are identical to his actions. When he says, “Let there be light,” there is light (Genesis 1:3). When God renames someone, it automatically remakes him (Genesis 17:5). The Bible does not say that God speaks and then proceeds to act, that he names and then proceeds to shape – but that God’s speaking and acting are the same thing. His word is his action, his divine power

So how do we hear God’s active Word today if we are not prophets or apostles who actually sat at Jesus’ feet? God’s words in the mouths of the prophets (Jeremiah 1: 9-10), written down, are still God’s words to us when we read them today (Jeremiah 36:1-32). Ward says that it is crucial for the preacher to recognize this. “God’s ongoing dynamic action through the Spirit” is “supremely related to the language and meanings of Scripture.”10 In other words, as we unfold the meaning of the language of Scripture, God becomes powerfully active in our lives. The Bible is not merely information, not even just completely true information. It is “alive and active” (Hebrews 4:12)–God’s power in verbal form. It is only as we understand the meaning of the words that God names us and shapes us and recreates us.

Timothy Keller, Preaching

So, did your God take an action? A verbal action?

Turns out he did. And as you’ll see, it was the launch of his quest.

Here is the text in Genesis Chapter 3

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

Genesis Chapter 3

And seeing this action eventually left our jaws dropped.

I know it is hard to believe, because we are still loyal Party members. But because of our loyalty, we are going to keep an open mind and try to fulfill our assignment, despite the continued pressure from Shih Tzu.

So, here is what happened.

Paula Wong saw something. And then she began to connect the dots. And without her, we would have missed all this.

“Comrade Chow,” she said, “remember the famous passage in the gospel of John, which we suspect may in some manner express the quest of the protagonist?”

And she showed it to us…

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

John 3:16-18

“It’s possible, then, that this first action is setup which runs through the rest of the story. Look what Coyne wrote.”

There’s one more: Clues. It also has to have very, very specific clues that are usually put in and seeded at the very beginning of the story and don’t pay off until much later on.

Genre Review, by Shawn Coyne

And she then showed us these comments…

Is the story of the world to end so soon and so sadly? By no means. Even in the tragic tale of sin’s entrance into the world, God does not give up his purposes for his creation and his kingdom. Though Adam and Eve flee from him, God graciously takes the initiative to seek them out. In declaring judgment, God curses the serpent and promises to put enmity between the serpent’s offspring and that of the woman (Genesis 3:15). The woman’s offspring will crush the serpent’s head: God promises to extinguish the evil forces Adam and Eve have unleashed. This is the first biblical promise of the Gospel: Christ is to be “the seed of the woman” and will defeat Satan, though at great cost to himself, in the “wounding” of his “heel.”

The Drama of Scripture, by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen

Like a stained glass window, the Prophets and the Writings give us the important bits and pieces of the prophets’ vision. I have in mind something like the way Isaiah 63 draws a glimmer of light from the poem in Gen 3:15 and passes it on to Daniel 7 through the prism of Genesis 49. From there on it passes through the NT on its way to the vision of the “rider on the white horse” in Revelation 19. Isaiah takes as his starting point the picture of the king who, in Genesis 49, “washes his clothes in the blood of grapes.” He then builds that picture into one of a mighty warrior treading in the wine presses of divine wrath. In doing so, Isaiah consciously links Genesis 49 to the first messianic poem in the Pentateuch, Gen 3:15. …. But also like a stained-glass window, these points of light converge into the larger picture.

The Messiah And The Hebrew Bible, By John H. Sailhamer, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, March 2001

While the opening chapters of Genesis allude briefly to God’s blueprint for the earth, his plans are almost immediately overturned — for Adam and Eve betray their Creator and give their allegiance to his enemy. Expelled from God’s presence, they forfeit their unique status as viceroys of the divine king. Against this tragic background, the rest of the biblical meta-story describes how God acts to reclaim the earth, and especially its people, from Satan’s control. In the process of denouncing the serpent, God indicates that his eventual punishment will come fittingly through ‘the woman’s seed’.Thereafter Genesis traces a unique line of descendants that moves initially from Adam to Noah, and then from Noah to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Beyond Genesis, this line is linked centuries later to the royal house of David and ultimately to Jesus Christ. As we have noted, through Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God the Father, Satan is defeated, preparing the way for the future establishment of God’s uncontested reign in the New Jerusalem.

Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem

This is the first statement of “good news” from God after Satan introduced sin into the world: One will come to make things right. There will be a struggle–both will be bruised. But the Serpent will suffer a permanent bruise to the head and the See of the woman only a temporary bruise to the heel.

In Short, the entire Bible is the working out of this promise. The first few chapters of Genesis make a prophetic promise — the fulfillment of which is recorded in the last few chapters of Revelation. In between is the telling of the story begun in Genesis 1:1.

Dr. David Jeremiah, The Jeremiah Study Bible

Wherever we go in the Bible, Jesus is the main subject. And even the breakdown of our topic is not completely left up to us-we are to lay out the topics and points about Jesus that the biblical text itself gives us. We must “confine ourselves” to Jesus. Yet I can speak from forty years of experience as a preacher to tell you that the story of this one individual never needs to become repetitious – it contains the whole history of the universe and of humankind alike and is the only resolution of the plotlines of every one of our lives.

Timothy Keller, Preaching

And then she pointed out how the book of Romans begins and ends…

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord….

Romans 1:1-6

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.


Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Romans 16:20, 25-27

And then she pointed out how at the end of the story, in Stage Eight, the crushing of the serpent results in irreversible change for him…

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Revelation 20:7-10

But she didn’t end there.

“Here’s something else,” she said. “If Christianity is the story we are in, and their God is the Great Storyteller, what if this first action here in Stage Five is also a kind of ‘setup answer’ to the Major Dramatic Question?”

“Explain,” I smiled back.

“Okay,” she smiled in return. “Since story is about change, look at this, from Robert McKee.”  

Change and revelations incite the story-goer to wonder, “What’s going to happen next? What’s going to happen after that? How will this turn out?”

Robert McKee, Dialogue

And then she connected it to Stage Three, the inciting incident…

From the audience’s point of view, the inciting incident causes four effects:

First, it captures attention. As we pointed out earlier, the mind keys on change, and the inciting incident’s sudden pivot of the protagonist’s life sharply focuses the audience’s interest. 

Second, it raises the major dramatic question, “How will this turn out?” This MDQ is very adhesive mental glue. When you think back, how many perfectly lousy stories have you sat through for no other reason than to get the answer to the nagging question: “How does this piece of dreck turn out?” 

Third, when curiosity over the MDQ merges with empathy for the protagonist, a story generates the compelling magnetism known as suspense. Suspense doubles involvement. This blend of subjective identification with objective wonder magnifies a story’s power tenfold.  

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

“So,” she continued, “look again at what McKee says about how suspense connects with what he calls the ‘Major Dramatic Question’”.

Curiosity drives the thirst for knowledge – our intellectual need to solve puzzles and answer questions. Empathy drives the hunger for connection – our emotional need to identify with others and root for their well-being.

When the rational and emotional sides of life merge, they generate the phenomenon of suspense. Suspense, simply put, is curiosity charged with empathy.

Suspense focuses the reader/audience by flooding the mind with emotionally tinged questions that hook and hold attention:

“What’s going to happen next?”

“What’ll happen after that?”

“What will the protagonist do? Feel?”

And the major dramatic question (MDQ) that hangs suspended over the entire telling: “How will this turn out?”

These powerful questions so grip our concentration that time vanishes.

Robert McKee, Dialogue

And then she pointed out how the Major Dramatic Question shows up in this description of the inciting incident…

An Inciting Incident must “hook” the audience, a deep and complete response. Their response must not only be emotional, but rational. This event must not only pull at audience’s feelings, but cause them to ask the Major Dramatic Question and imagine the Obligatory Scene.

Robert McKee, Story

“So, comrades,” she said, “what if this passage, from the book of the prophet Isaiah, expresses a way of seeing how their God is both the Active Protagonist and the Great Storyteller. Notice he says he is “declaring the end from the beginning.”’

Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

Isaiah 46:8-11

“And that,” Paula added, “sure seems to fit with something Shawn Coyne wrote.”

The conscious object of desire is the tangible thing that the protagonist wants and actively pursues from the Inciting incident of the Story forward.

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

It’s very useful to remember that the BEGINNING is all about HOOKING your reader…getting them so deeply curious and involved in the Story that there is no way they’ll abandon it until they know how it turns out. The MIDDLE is about BUILDING progressive complications that bring the stress and pressure down so hard on your lead character(s) that they are forced to take huge risks so that they can return to ”normal.” The ENDING is the big PAYOFF, when the promises you’ve made from your HOOK get satisfied in completely unique and unexpected ways.

STORY distilled is…HOOK, BUILD, PAYOFF. That’s it.

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

“And look what Jesus told his disciples,” she also said. “It looks like he is into setup and payoff.”

I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.

John 13:19

And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.

John 14:29

“Something is going on,” said Paula. “And we can’t ignore it. Because there may be some connection with something else McKee wrote.”

The use of backstory to turn story is the single most powerful technique in the execution of exposition.

Robert McKee, Dialogue

And she continued, “But strangely, it looks like the Christians in America are mostly ignoring it.”

Then she showed us this… 

Do you ever feel that pastors are always preaching on the same Bible verses? Or that theologians always seem to reference the Gospels and Paul, but rarely the Old Testament?

You’re likely right, according to a new study of the 100 Bible verses cited most frequently in systematic theology books. Faithlife, the organization behind Logos Bible Software, examined more than 830,000 verses across more than 300 works to produce the list.

Unsurprisingly, the New Testament gets used a lot more than the Old Testament, with references to Paul’s letters making especially frequent appearances. The Gospel of John, the Gospel of Matthew, and the Book of Hebrews are also frequently cited.

By contrast, only 9 of the top 100 most-cited Bible passages in systematic theology come from the Old Testament—with Genesis accounting for 8 of them. (Isaiah is the ninth).

References to 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, and Ezra are among the least common, with most of the historical literature in the Old Testament receiving very short shrift from theologians. Wisdom literature and prophecy faired a bit better, as did the Pentateuch. But only Genesis and Isaiah cracked the top 100 list.

Sorry, Old Testament: Most Theologians Don’t Use You, By CALEB LINDGREN, Christianity Today, JUNE 13, 2017

“So, comrades, if Christianity is the story we are in, and their God is the Great Storyteller, then they clearly don’t understand the story they have been given,” she said. “And I suspect you may also find the following to be relevant.”

Let me conclude with a bold, but sincere, claim: What I have tried to suggest is that it can be argued that the books of the OT are messianic in the full NT sense of the word. The OT is the light that points the way to the NT. The NT is not only to cast its light back on the Old, but more importantly, the light of the OT is to be cast on the New. The books of the OT were written as the embodiment of a real, messianic hope—a hope in a future miraculous work of God in sending a promised Redeemer. This was not an afterthought in the Hebrew Bible. This was not the work of final redactors.

I believe the messianic thrust of the OT was the whole reason the books of the Hebrew Bible were written. In other words, the Hebrew Bible was not written as the national literature of Israel. It probably also was not written to the nation of Israel as such. It was rather written, in my opinion, as the expression of the deep-seated messianic hope of a small group of faithful prophets and their followers.

The Messiah And The Hebrew Bible, John H. Sailhamer, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (March 2001)

N.T. Wright has argued that most of the Christology of the past two hundred years, Protestant and Catholic, has been largely Marcionite in form—that is to say, developed in almost complete abstraction from the Old Testament. Consider Schleiermacher’s presentation of Jesus as the human being with a constantly potent God-consciousness, or Kant’s account of the archetype of the person perfectly pleasing to God, or Bultmann’s paragon of the existential choice, or Tillich’s appearance of the new being under the conditions of estrangement, or Rahner’s insistence that Christology is fully realized anthropology. All of these approaches are intelligible apart from the dense texture of Old Testament revelation and expectation. When Jesus is presented in this manner, he devolves into a sage, an exemplar of moral virtue, or a teacher of timeless truths. But evangelization—the declaration of good news—has precious little to do with any of this. It has to do with the startling announcement that the story of Israel has come to its climax, or to state it a bit differently, that the promises made to Israel have been fulfilled. Not to understand Israel, therefore, is not to understand why Jesus represents such good news.

EVANGELIZING THE NONES: THE 2017 ERASMUS LECTURE, by Robert Barron, First Things, January 2018

Phil: The Old Testament is a story without an ending. That’s the Old Testament. It is a story that has no ending. The New Testament fulfills every promise of God that we find in the Old Testament.

The Bible—Fun?, Guest: Phil Vischer, FamilyLife Today® Radio Transcript, September 10, 2012

And look what she then showed us about your famous Martin Luther guy…

His first lectures were on the book of Psalms. We must bear in mind his method of reading the Psalms and the Old Testament as a whole. For him, as for his time, it was a Christian book foreshadowing the life and death of the Redeemer.

Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther

Something really is going on here. If Christianity is the story we are in, then God the Great Storyteller is doing the setup.

The Status of Humanity and the Betrayal in the Garden

So, as a result of the inciting incident, the audience of human beings want to know something in the story…

One of our deepest questions about our world is “What went wrong?” We know the world is broken, but we wonder how that happened, and we want to fix it.

Greg Koukl, The Story of Reality

And these popular songs caught our attention…

And by looking through the lens of story, you can get a sense for why people are so frustrated with life in general.

We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

As our team came to understand the original status we had in the balance in the story – if Christianity is the story we are in, that is – we also began seeing how our status helps light up the betrayal in the inciting incident in the story in the Bible… 

Against this background, the familiar account in Genesis 3 of how the serpent deceives the woman and the man into disobeying God is highly significant. In the light of their royal status and their divine commission to rule over the animals, it is especially noteworthy that Adam and Eve obey the serpent’s instructions rather than those of God. By submitting to the serpent, Adam and Eve fail to exercise their God-given dominion over this crafty animal.

Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God is an act of the utmost treachery. On the one hand, they knowingly betray the Creator who had entrusted them with his authority to govern the earth. On the other hand, they give their allegiance to a cunning creature who challenges God’s authority with the deliberate intention of overturning his careful ordering of creation.

Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem

So, look what happened to their status after the betrayal… 

While the opening chapters of Genesis allude briefly to God’s blueprint for the earth, his plans are almost immediately overturned — for Adam and Eve betray their Creator and give their allegiance to his enemy. Expelled from God’s presence, they forfeit their unique status as viceroys of the divine king.

Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem

Tell ya’, that T.D. guy really opened our eyes. And he explains how the human relationship with your God was deeply impacted by the inciting incident…

By obeying the serpent rather than God, Adam and Eve fail to maintain the sanctity of the temple-garden. Consequently, they are deprived of their priestly status and expelled from the sanctuary complex.  No longer do they have immediate access to God; no longer do they live within the temple-garden. All importantly, their actions jeopardize the fulfillment of God’s blueprint that the whole earth should become a holy garden-city. The very ones meant to extend God’s dwelling place throughout the earth are excluded from his presence.

T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem

And look at this, from your Lennox guy…

The human condition is worse than many realise. It is surely evident to anyone who takes Scripture seriously that the entry of sin into the world has brought about major change and disruption. The consequences of and the damage due to the loss of Paradise are to be felt at every level. Humans are no longer what they once were.

John Lennox, Determined to Believe?

And here’s another summary which describes the impact of the betrayal in the Garden…

With the sin of the third chapter everything changes. The general context of blessing for the creation is altered by a curse on the ground (3:17). The man and woman are judged in ways that make begetting of progeny painful and their sustenance the fruit of harsh toil (3:16-19). Yahweh God’s warning about the certain consequences of disobedience (2:17) is fulfilled in a surprising number of ways, as the following narratives describe how death is unleashed upon humankind.  While death at first glance is apparently postponed but not forgotten in the decree that humans will return to the dust (3:19), what is not explained there is just how death will come. The following texts provide a series of answers; death is everywhere. Some will experience a bloody end through fratricide and uncontrolled vengeance (4:8, 14, 23-24); others will live long but succumb to natural causes (the refrain “and he died” in 5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31); the rest, except for Noah and his family, will drown by divine judgment through the flood because of the corruption and violence that had filled the earth (6:5-7, 11-12; chaps. 6-8); finally, God delegates the authority to punish by death (9:5-6). Clearly, there is no tree of life east of Eden.

Blessing the Nations: Toward a Biblical Theology of Mission from Genesis, M. Daniel Carroll R, Bulletin for Biblical Research (NA 2000)

And here’s a passage in the New Testament book of Romans which fits…

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

Romans 8:19-22

And then Paula raised another question.

“What if – if Christianity is the story we are in, of course – the status genre can help us understand the story human beings are experiencing now?”

And then she began to walk us through and connect some dots.

First, here is a very helpful description of the status genre…

Status stories are about a change in social position. They’re driven by the nature of the protagonist’s inner conflict. Characters in a Status story WANT validation from others because they NEED esteem and self-respect. In short, their external object of desire is different from their internal need. …. [A] Status story arises from the need for esteem. The Status protagonist’s primary goal isn’t survival, safety, or love. It’s esteem, standing, third-party validation. A firm place in the social order.

SECRETS OF THE STATUS GENRE, by Rachelle Ramirez, Story Grid

So, look at this connection the status genre has with the balance in the story in the Bible…

Status is anchored in self-respect.

SECRETS OF THE STATUS GENRE, by Rachelle Ramirez, Story Grid

Of course, in our version of the story, we have is no ultimate value from which our desire for self-respect can flow. But, if Christianity is the story we are in, our status as image bearers sure gave us our sense of self-respect.

And now look at how the status story fits with what happened in the inciting incident in the story in the Bible…

An inciting incident challenges the protagonist’s status quo ….

A Status story isn’t going to be incited by a deadly tornado, but by a threat to the protagonist’s position.

SECRETS OF THE STATUS GENRE, by Rachelle Ramirez, Story Grid

And then Paula reminded us of how the need and desire to restore the balance is a basic part of story…

But let me try to answer that question by making a simple and clear definition of story itself. Story begins when an event, either by human decision or accident in the universe, radically upsets the balance of forces in the protagonist’s life, arousing in that character the need to restore the balance of life. To do so, that character will conceive of what is known as an “Object of Desire,” that which they feel they need to put life back into balance. They will then go off into their world, into themselves, in the various dimensions of their existence, seeking that Object of Desire, trying to restore the balance of life, and they will struggle against forces of antagonism that will come from their own inner natures as human beings, their relationships with other human beings, their personal and/or social life, and the physical environment itself. They may or may not achieve that Object of Desire; they may or may not finally be able to restore their life to a satisfying balance.

StoryLink: An Interview with Robert McKee, August 18, 2009

If an event were to throw your life out of balance, what would you want? What would any human being want? Sovereignty over existence. By throwing life out of balance, the inciting incident arouses the natural human desire to regain control and restore balance.

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

And again, this analysis by Stephen Prothero fits so much with the shared human need and desire to restore the balance…

What the world’s religions share is not so much a finish line as a starting point. And where they begin is with this simple observation: something is wrong with the world. In the Hopi language, the word Koyaanisqatsi tells us that life is out of balance. Shakespeare’s Hamlet tells us that there is something rotten not only in the state of Denmark but also in the state of human existence. Hindus say we are living in the kali yuga, the most degenerate age in cosmic history. Buddhists say that human existence is pockmarked by suffering. Jewish, Christian, and Islamic stories tell us that this life is not Eden; Zion, heaven, and Paradise lie out ahead.

Religious folk worldwide agree that something has gone awry. They part company, however, when it comes to stating just what has gone wrong, and they diverge sharply when they move from diagnosing the human problem to prescribing how to solve it.

Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One

And Koukl’s too… 

It is clear to most people that the world is not the way it ought to be. Something has gone terribly wrong, and everybody knows it.

Greg Koukl, The Story of Reality

So then Paula suggested that, if Christianity is the story we are in, part of what went wrong was the loss of our status. And so it makes sense there is a universal desire for status…

Decades of research have shown that we’re all deeply affected by status. …. We can all relate to a Status story because status-seeking is in our basic nature, in our biology as social animals.

SECRETS OF THE STATUS GENRE, by Rachelle Ramirez, Story Grid

Nevertheless, both the exultation and the depression were real emotions, curious emotions, on the face of it, entirely aroused by status concerns. The surprising insinuations of status concerns into every area of life must be understood if one is to understand the nature of the human beast.

Tom Wolfe, The Human Beast, Jefferson Lecture, National Endowment for the Humanities, May/June 2006

That a wound to one’s status, not to one’s body, not to one’s bank account, not to one’s general fortunes in life, that such a wound to one’s status could have such a severe effect upon the psyche of the human beast, is no minor matter. It means that we have come upon a form of anguish that is somehow primal. Even the most trivial and the most unlikely circumstances can be colored by the beast’s constant and unrelenting concern for his own status. Which is to stay, his own standing, his own rank, in the eyes of others and in his own eyes.


I kept coming upon situations in which I thought surely other emotions would rule, love, if not love, passion, or if not passion, at least lust. Instead, as elsewhere, status ruled.

Tom Wolfe, The Human Beast, Jefferson Lecture, National Endowment for the Humanities, May/June 2006

And if Christianity is the story we are in, this issue of status runs throughout the story…

Central to the redemptive activity of God is the cross of Christ, for through it Satan is defeated and human beings are enabled to regain the holy, royal status Adam and Eve lost.

Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem

You can see why the simple story question, “Who are we, here in the story?”, has the attention of our team.

And this verse from one of your Psalms is causing us to scratch our heads…

The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man.

Psalm 115:16

No wonder we want to rescue the planet as we fear the danger of climate change.

And there is something else which McKee helped us see in relation to the pain we are experiencing in life as a result of the inciting incident in the story.

Look how your God responded to the betrayal, here in Genesis Chapter 3

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.”

And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

Genesis Chapter 3

So, it appears the impact of the inciting incident fits with Robert McKee’s description of our human situation…

As Jean-Paul Sartre expressed it, the essence of reality is scarcity, a universal and eternal lacking. There isn’t enough of anything in this world to go around. Not enough food, not enough love, not enough justice, and never enough time. Time, as Heidegger observed, is the basic category of existence. We live in its ever-shrinking shadow, and if we are to achieve anything in our brief being that lets us die without feeling we’ve wasted our time, we will have to go into heady conflict with the forces of scarcity that deny our desires.

Robert McKee, Story

And we saw another indicator that, if Christianity is the story we are in, then your God is the Great Storyteller…

The creative force that rouses powerful storytelling is, as Jean-Paul Sartre taught, scarcity. There simply isn’t enough of anything in this world to go around: not enough food; nor enough love, and never enough time. To satisfy human needs from their most basic to their most dream-filled, we must battle paucities that deny our yearnings. In short, the essence of reality is humanity’s ongoing strivings against negation.

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

Okay, then, that’s what they got. Scarcity.…

When God created man, his design was that man till the soil as an extension of God’s hand to carry on the work which God had made (Gen 2:4–7). Man’s purpose, then, was to work upon the earth, an earth which yielded readily to the hands of Adam to produce only those things which “were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (cf. Gen 2:9). But the curse of God came upon man and his environment because of Adam’s rebellion. It changed the scene drastically so that no longer would man’s work be pleasureable. Instead it is characterized by laboriousness and pain and yields a meagerly disproportionate return for the energy expended (Gen 3:17–19). Thorns and thistles grow where once beautiful and luscious produce sprang forth. Man was made to eke out a living under adverse conditions. His whole life became involved with this effort.

Qoheleth: Enigmatic Pessimist Or Godly Sage?, By Ardel B. Caneday, Grace Theological Journal, Spring 1986

And it hasn’t gone away…

I believe that, at a fundamental level, American desires for the “good life” are basic and ordinary. That is not to say that everyone has the same standards of adjudicating quality of life, but that when many people say “prosperity,” they mean survival. People long for the necessities that sustain life and rejoice when those goods overflow.

Kate Bowler, Blessed

Seeing all this helped us so much. Because, if Christianity is the story we are in, then the fear and anger we all experience so fits with the story.

And so does this…

Herein then is the task or burden which God has laid upon the sons of Adam: the search for meaning in a disjointed and topsy-turvy world. It is not a burden because man is a creature who has only limited and derived knowledge. It is a heavy and frustrating burden because man’s quest for meaning is now performed in a cursed world wherein inexplicable paradox dominates—there is birth and death, hate as well as love, and more war than peace fills the earth.

Qoheleth: Enigmatic Pessimist Or Godly Sage?, By Ardel B. Caneday, Grace Theological Journal, Spring 1986

And Paula opened our eyes to something else. It looks like it was the curse, there in Genesis 3, which gave human beings the ongoing experience of the binary core values in the story …

The curse has created a world where rebel and remnant alike experience both birth and death, love and hate, peace and war (3:2, 8).

Shepherding Wind And One Wise Shepherd: Grasping For Breath In Ecclesiastes, By Jason S. DeRouchie, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Fall 2011