Stage Four: The Object of Desire

Here is Stage Four …

When the CORE CHARACTER senses that the inciting incident has thrown his life out of balance and into jeopardy, he naturally wants to set life back on an even keel. To do so, he conceives of an object of desire. This essential component of all stories is defined as that which the core character feels he must obtain to rebalance his life.

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

In the wake of this starting event, the protagonist senses a sudden, radical, possibly dangerous tilt in the ground he stands on, and so conceives of an object of desire, that which he feels he must have in order to put his life back on an even keel. This could be something physical like a hike in pay, a product innovation, or the right person to love; something situational like a job promotion, a divorce, or revenge for an injustice; or something ideational like a deeper insight into himself, a higher goal in his career, or a faith to live by. From story to story, no two objects of desire are quite the same; ideally, each is unique and specific to its tale. 

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

As we began to explore stage four in the Christian story, our team came to realize that, once again, we had to remember the story in the Bible is a story about both God and humanity.

Because, well, 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 like we said previously, this popular song caught our attention…

So, if Christianity is the story we are in, the audience wants to know if your God wants to fix what’s wrong, and if so, why, and what has your God done since then and what is he doing now to fix it?

You see, Stage Four is about the object of desire…

A story’s spine of action traces the protagonist’s constant quest for his object of desire. His persistent pursuit, driven by his super-intention, struggling against the story’s forces of antagonism, propels the entire telling from the inciting incident through the story‘s progressions to the protagonist’s eventual crisis decision and climactic action, ending in a moment of resolution.

Robert McKee, Dialogue

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

When the CORE CHARACTER senses that the inciting incident has thrown his life out of balance and into jeopardy, he naturally wants to set life back on an even keel. To do so, he conceives of an object of desire. This essential component of all stories is defined as that which the core character feels he must obtain to rebalance his life.

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

In the wake of this starting event, the protagonist senses a sudden, radical, possibly dangerous tilt in the ground he stands on, and so conceives of an object of desire, that which he feels he must have in order to put his life back on an even keel. This could be something physical like a hike in pay, a product innovation, or the right person to love; something situational like a job promotion, a divorce, or revenge for an injustice; or something ideational like a deeper insight into himself, a higher goal in his career, or a faith to live by. From story to story, no two objects of desire are quite the same; ideally, each is unique and specific to its tale. 

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

Ultimately, storytelling becomes the art of merging and organizing many streams of want into a flow of events that aims at a single object of desire.

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

Desire answers what questions: What does the character consciously want? What does he subconsciously long for? Motivation answers why questions. Why does a character want what he wants? Why does he want his particular object of desire? 

Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace

And Paula Wong showed us this, from Shawn Coyne…

So obviously, the first job you have as your own editor is to specify exactly what your lead character(s) want and what they need. What they will strive to attain and what it subconsciously represents to them in their deepest self must be clearly defined. If it isn’t clear to you as the writer, there is no possibility that it will be clear to the reader.

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

No matter what Story you are writing – a sci-fi love Story, a master detective mystery, a fantastical allegory etc.– you must have compelling objects of desire for your lead protagonist. If the protagonist doesn’t want anything or doesn’t need anything, you don’t have a Story. The book won’t work.

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

We are so grateful to Robert McKee. He opened our eyes to such an incredibly important question…

What Does Your God Want?

You really don’t want to ignore that, do you? Because, well…

For nearly everything else in life, whether it’s technology, health care or even the Super Bowl record of your favorite football team, we demand seriousness, detail, and accuracy. Yet we as a culture are ignoring a basic yet obvious truth: If there really is a God, then who He is and what He might want from us are more important than anything else in the universe.


The nature of Truth is that it is true no matter what anyone says about it. In the face of Truth, there is no opinion. Most people already believe that deep down, but they may not apply it to the question that matters most, namely, “Who is God and what does He want from me?”

Andrew Stephen Damick, Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

God’s purposes are central, not yours. Once you are completely clear on this fact, many things are going to change for you. 

Greg Koukl, The Story of Reality

And since your God is the core character in the story in the Bible, coming to see this made us stop and think about something very important.

You see, as we read McKee, it looks like the desire of the protagonist is often driven by a need…

The PROTAGONIST has a conscious desire.

[T]he protagonist’s will impels a known desire. The protagonist has a need or goal, an object of desire, and knows it.

Robert McKee, Story

But … your God is very different than the human characters in the story.

As one of your theologians expressed it…

There is no lack or need in God. He is fully self-satisfied, not needing anything outside of himself to be happy or fulfilled.

Divine Aseity, Divine Freedom: A Conceptual Problem For Edwardsian-Calvinism, by James Beilby, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (December 2004)

And C.S. Lewis put it this way…

God has no needs. Human love, as Plato teaches us, is the child of Poverty – of want or lack; it is caused by a real or supposed goal in its beloved which the lover needs and desires. But God’s love, far from being caused by goodness in the object, causes all the goodness which the object has, loving it first into existence, and then into real, though derivative, lovability. God is Goodness. He can give good, but cannot need or get it. In that sense, His love is, as it were, bottomlessly selfless by very definition; it has everything to give, and nothing to receive.

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

And here is a passage from your book of Acts which also expresses it…

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Acts 17:22-28

So, since your God is an eternal being, it appears he is independent in his very being and therefore doesn’t have any lack or needs.

It’s a common thought: If God made the universe, who made God? There are a few things I would want to say in response to this objection. For starters, I don’t believe in a “made” God. Unlike the universe, the Christian God is not bound by time, for He created time and space. And remember premise 2 of the Cosmological Argument: “Everything that begins to exist has a cause.” It is specifically things that have a beginning in time that require a cause. Why? Because such things did not exist at one time and then they did exist at a later time. That change cries out for explanation. God, on the other hand, was never nonexistent; He never began to exist, and therefore reason does not suggest that He had a maker.

Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Secular Gods

Therefore, the question to focus on is… what does he want?

To remind you of the importance of this question, consider again what McKee says about the Quest…

To understand the Quest form of your story you need only identify your protagonist’s Object of Desire. Penetrate his psychology and find an honest answer to the question: “What does he want?”

Robert McKee, Story

The Conscious Object of Desire and the Super-Intention

As we explored Stage Four, Paula Wong opened our eyes to something. She helped us to see how the conscious object of desire and the super-intention are woven together…

The External Content Genres are driven by Arch-plot quests to attain your lead character’s conscious object of desire. 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


The super-intention motivates a character to pursue the object of desire.

This phrase restates the protagonist’s conscious desire in terms of his deepest need. …. In other words, the object of desire is objective, whereas the super-intention is subjective: what the protagonist wants versus the emotional hunger that drives him.

Robert McKee, Dialogue

STRUCTURE AND CONTENT are intimately related. No matter how you slice it, the Arch-plot and Mini-plot STRUCTURE GENRES require a foundational quest, which in turn requires an external conscious and internal subconscious object of desire.

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

And our team found some descriptions of the story in the Bible which helped give us a sense of how the conscious object of desire and the super-intention are woven together…

So what is this one “story in the stories?” What is this unique interpretation of the universal history of the human race? The essence of this story consists in the reality that God’s creation of both mankind and the world, now ruined by the fall of man into sin, is being restored through the person and work of Jesus Christ. The good news is that both fallen humanity and the fallen world are now in the process of being re-created by God’s Holy Spirit, through His Church, into a Kingdom of God, where one day Christ will return and make all things new in a new heavens and a new earth that will last forever.

You Are Here: Finding Your Story in God’s Story, by Steve Childers, Pathway Learning, January 29, 2014

The story begins with God’s design for his creation and its attendant blessings (Gen. 1-2). The story of blessing gives way to the story of sin and the cursing of the creation (Gen. 3-11) The good, blessed creation unravels as Adam and Eve’s sin leads into exile away from the paradise of God’s intimate presence. What was once blessing has now become a curse. The key question now is, How will humanity be restored to right relationship with God? How will the curses be removed so the blessings of God may be restored? …. More than anything, God wants a restored relationship.

The Story of Israel: A Biblical Theology, by C. Marvin Pate, J. Scott Duvall

The Bible tells the story of God’s mission to restore the entire fallen creation and the whole rebellious life of humankind to again live under His gracious rule.

The Urgency of Reading the Bible as One Story in the 21st Century, By Michael W. Goheen, Public Lecture Given at Regent College, Vancouver, B.C., 2 November 2, 2006

The grand narrative tells the story of God’s mission to reconcile all people to himself and to restore his kingdom reign over all creation.

Adultery, Divorce, And Eldership, By Kevin G. Smith, CONSPECTUS 16:1, September 2013

This book tells the GRANDEST, most compelling story of all time: the story of a true God who loves his children, who established for them a way of salvation and provided a route to eternity.

The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People, by Max Lucado and Randy Frazee

We must approach the bible as a story– The story of God, and God’s people throughout history. …. [T]he bible is a story about God and his heroic love for his people….

Brian Hardin, Passages: How Reading the Bible in a Year Will Change Everything for You

[T]he whole story of the Bible is a story of God’s unmerited love for deeply sinful individuals.

Jerram Barrs, Through His Eyes

The Bible tells the story of God’s mission through God’s people in their engagement with God’s world for the sake of the whole of God’s creation.

Christopher J. H. Wright, The SBJT Forum: Being Missions-Minded, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (Winter 2005)

It’s very clear your God has both a super-intention and a conscious object of desire.

And it seems to fit with certain passages our team found in the mix of genres.

For instance, here’s a fascinating passage which fits with the Social/Political genre, and, highlights the need and want difference, between God and humans …

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Matthew 6:7-13

And here is the famous passage of yours which fits with the Love genre…

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

And here is one which fits with the Action/Rescue genre…

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:1-4

And here are two passages which weave the Society/Political with the War Genre…

They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.”

Revelation 17:14

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Revelation 19:11-16

And this caught our attention…

God’s activity would be purposive, that is, guided by a purpose or goal regarding others. This purpose involves a divine aim to give morally impeccable life to others noncoercively and lastingly, in their companionship, reverence, and worship of God. The giving of such life would include God’s delivering people from what obstructs a morally good life, and God’s empowering the killing of anti-God behavior, without extinguishing human wills. If God extinguished human wills, humans themselves would be extinguished as candidates for genuine moral relationships and companionship with God, thus undermining God’s redemptive purpose. The grand purpose in question is God’s aim to give deep, volitional deliverance to humans. Such deliverance is volitionally deep in its serious moral and spiritual concern, and it includes a cooperative rescue from human moral and spiritual shortcomings that block a cooperative life with God. It frees humans from their selfishness and lack of forgiveness for the sake of a life in reverent companionship with God and in agape and forgiveness toward others, even enemies.

Paul Moser, The Severity of God

But there is also something else which Paula Wong introduced us to, which really caught our attention. There is something wild and crazy which your God did which weaves together the super-intention and the conscious object of desire in a very surprising way.

He himself enters the story…

The Scriptures reveal to us that in this particular drama, the characters are created for a loving relationship with their author.

This world, like all good stories, vibrates in tune to its author’s heart. This fact remains, despite the catastrophe of the fall, for the fall itself is part of the story. The Scriptures flow with a verdurous life-force shunted from the veins of the Almighty. But even this is not enough. The author of life insists on entering his story, Hitchcock-like. Only his role is no cameo. When God enters the story he takes up the central role, and suddenly it becomes apparent that his role was central all along. And since this is the archetype of all stories, it is fitting that in it, the author’s bone, flesh, and blood are all, quite literally, laid bare. Anything else would be anticlimactic.

God Is the Author Who Enters His Story, By Andrew Shanks, The Gospel Coalition, June 9, 2013

You Christians call it “the Incarnation.”

Our team is now calling it…

The Empathetic Incarnation

Paula explained how J.I. Packer, the famous Christian scholar from Green Bay, Wisconsin, caught her attention by opening her eyes to a connection between the Incarnation and story…

Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.

J.I. Packer, Knowing God

Dostoyevsky is to me both the greatest novelist, as such, and the greatest Christian storyteller, in particular, of all time. His plots and characters pinpoint the sublimity, perversity, meanness, and misery of fallen human adulthood in an archetypal way matched only by Aeschylus and Shakespeare, while his dramatic vision of God’s amazing grace and of the agonies, Christ’s and ours, that accompany salvation, has a range and depth that only Dante and Bunyan come anywhere near. . . . [H]is constant theme is the nightmare quality of unredeemed existence and the heartbreaking glory of the incarnation, whereby all human hurts came to find their place in the living and dying of Christ the risen Redeemer.

J. I. Packer, in The Gospel in Dostoyevsky: Selections from His Works, By Fritz Eichenberg

And look what these guys said…

The incarnation of God in Christ Jesus is the most stupendous declaration of the Bible.

The Incarnation, By Mileham L. O’harra, Bibliotheca Sacra, April 1915

There are many glorious truths in Christian theology but certainly the most profound one is the nature of the Incarnation and the glory of God the Son incarnate.

Knowing, Adoring, And Proclaiming God The Son Incarnate, By Stephen J. Wellum, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Summer 2012

The truth of the incarnation as given by the evangelists has been regarded by the Church as of so vital a character that the whole Christian scheme has been staked upon it. It has been the doctrine of a standing or falling Christianity.

Why Jesus Was Called The Son Of God And The Only Begotten Son, By Christopher G. Hazard, Bibliotheca Sacra, April 1925

And here is an explanation of the Incarnation…

Question: “What is the meaning of the Incarnation of Christ?”

Answer: Incarnation is a term used by theologians to indicate that Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh. This is similar to the hypostatic union. The difference is that the hypostatic union explains how Jesus’ two natures are joined, and the Incarnation more specifically affirms His humanity.

The word incarnation means “the act of being made flesh.” It comes from the Latin version of John 1:14, which in English reads, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” Because of the near-exclusive use of the Latin Vulgate in the church through the Middle Ages, the Latin term became standard.

What is the meaning of the Incarnation of Christ?, Got Questions

So, as Paula looked into it, she came to see how, by taking on human flesh, Jesus had become an empathetic protagonist in the story.

Consider again what McKee writes about the compelling nature of having an empathetic protagonist…

The PROTAGONIST must be empathetic; he may or may not be sympathetic.

Sympathetic means likable. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, for example, or Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in their typical roles: The moment they step on screen, we like them. We’d want them as friends, family members, or lovers. They have an innate likability and evoke sympathy. Empathy, however, is a more profound response.

Empathetic means “like me.” Deep within the protagonist the audience recognizes a certain shared humanity. Character and audience are not alike in every fashion, of course; they may share only a single quality. But there’s something about the character that strikes a chord. In the moment of recognition, the audience suddenly and instinctively wants the protagonist to achieve whatever it is that he desires.

Robert McKee, Story

So, if Christianity is the story we are in, when God the Son came to earth, he actually became a man — he was “fully God and fully man.”

Empathy, then…

The Incarnation, it was said, is an act of identification and sharing. God saves us by identifying himself with us, by knowing our human experience from the inside. The Cross signifies, in the most stark and uncompromising manner, that this act of sharing is carried to the utmost limits. God incarnate enters into all our experience. Jesus Christ our companion shares not only in the fullness of human life but also in the fullness of human death. “Surely he has home our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4) — all our griefs, all our sorrows. “The unassumed is unhealed”: but Christ our healer has assumed into himself everything, even death. 

Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way

And notice the interesting “empathetic” language used to describe the incarnation in the following New Testament passage…

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Philippians 2:5-7

That ‘likeness’ language sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It connects to the ‘image and likeness’ stuff we explored related to the balance in the story.

And remember how this all connects to the simple story question…

Who are we, here in the story?

And Paula pointed out how, while Jesus was born in the “likeness of men”, he also is the image of the “invisible” God…

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

Colossians 1:15

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

Hebrews 1:1-3

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

2 Corinthians 4:4

And then Paula showed us the following material, which is connected to the Incarnation…

God is in love with the human race and the story of the Bible is the story of this great love. In ways that puzzle theologians, simple Christians and even angels, God’s purpose embraces the race as human, with all of its attendant weakness and sin. The ultimate expression of this is the crown jewel of Christian orthodoxy: God himself has become eternally human in order to bring the fallen human race back to the creation, back to itself, and back to him! And a subtext to this great meta-narrative is that God has chosen human beings to be his assistants in this work—as ministers of the Word.

Classical Pastoral Practice for Today: Let’s Be Human!, by Thomas N. Smith, Reformation and Revival, (Summer 2003)

The story of the Incarnation has informed and inspired humankind for centuries. It was not a noble lie; it was the noble truth. It was the single greatest life to change the history of the world. At His birth, shepherds who raised sheep for the slaughter at Passover came face-to-face with the perfect Lamb. Born into the household of a carpenter, the very framer of the universe entered history. Offered gifts from rulers from afar, He Himself was the greatest gift of all — the King of kings and Lord of lords. All the power of Rome tried to stop Him. He came to free the captives. He came to announce liberty to an enslaved world.

Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Secular Gods

Baffled that we are not the authors of our own stories, we find to our surprise that, rather than trivializing our lives, the triune terms of this particular story enlarge us, even as they tie us to a particular place and time…. [The incarnation] makes it possible for us to take our own history seriously, even to receive ourselves and others as actors in a temporal drama in which God is not far away but, rather, is as close as the plot and narrative that he unfolds and brings to completion.

The Significance of the Doctrine of the Trinity for the Life of the Local Congregation, Thomas W. Currie III, Insights 111 (1995)

The doctrine of the Incarnation is indeed a scandal, not to say improbable, to the modern mind that does not yet grasp the immensity of the concept or the enormity of its impact on all that would follow from it throughout history from that first Christmas to this one.

That the eternal God should deign to co-mingle in time and space with humanity does tell us something, not about the ‘smallness’ of God, but about the inestimable dignity of the human person who is created in the image of the Lord of History. Thus it tells us about the importance of human history to eternity; of the relation of the visible world to the invisible one; and of the way the mortal life we each live here and now determines our immortal destiny.

This season, which pulsates with nostalgia, memory, sadness as well as with a deep and abiding sense of profound joy and human meaning – and does it all at once – is a season prompted by the very Incarnation of God’s Love, a love that goes beyond words, but rather is a Word – the Logos – that became flesh.

The ‘Small’ God Who Brought Heaven Down to Earth, by Rev. Robert A. Sirico, Acton Institute, December 22, 2010

We answer that the fundamental doctrine of Christianity is the incarnation, the word made flesh. It is God revealed in man. …. But unless there were some human element in the Deity, he could not reveal himself in a human life. The doctrine of the incarnation, therefore, repeats the Mosaic statement that “man was made in the image of God.” Jewish and Mohammedan monotheism separate God entirely from the world. Philosophic monotheism, in our day, separates God from man, teaching that there is nothing in common between the two by which God can be mediated, and so makes him wholly incomprehensible. Christianity gives us Emmanuel, God with us, equally removed from the stern despotic omnipotence of the Semitic monotheism and the finite and imperfect humanities of Olympus.

James Freeman Clarke, “Ten Great Religions—An Essay in Comparative Theology”

The Incarnation gives answers to five great questions. First, what is God really like? John answered, “The Word became flesh.” The Incarnation lifts the veil of people’s uncertainty about God. This is revelation at its clearest.

Second, does God know and understand the human plight? John’s answer is that the Word “dwelt among us.” He identified with humanity, particularly in their weakness and suffering. No religion has the concept of God sharing humanity’s struggle with them. “He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself. He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair, and death. When He was the man, He played the man.”

Third, does God really care? The fact that He “became flesh” answers this question. Believers are reconciled through the incarnate One who was “full of grace and truth.”

The Incarnation of the Word: John 1:14a, David J. MacLeod, Bibliotheca Sacra, January 2004

The doctrine of the incarnation lay at the heart of Christian egalitarianism. The deity was no longer remote and awe-inspiring, like the Jewish Yahweh was. God was within us and “us” meant all of us.

We Shouldn’t Forget Liberalism’s Religious Roots, by David Marquand, The New Republic, September 19, 2014

So, if Christianity is the story we are in, because people are made in the image and likeness of God, when Jesus then takes on human nature to become both fully God and fully man, he plays a fascinating connecting role between God and man.

As a filmmaker, there is no greater satisfaction for me than when an audience member says, “that character in your story? That is me.” It means we have contact; an electric current is complete.

A beautiful example of this from the Christian faith is the scripture that Sunday school children love to memorize: Jesus wept. The virility of two sacred words, found in St. John’s account of the gospel (11:35), tells a remarkable story of the God who suffers because his creation suffers. Jesus grieved with his friends, even though he knew that he could alleviate their pain (and did). Embedded here, in these two words, is an insight into the mystery of the mind of Christ, and they tell of a God like no other—whose love is so invested, so one-with, that our heartbreaks are his. No wonder he wishes us to share with us his reconciling narrative. He means for us to commit as wholly as he has: love, we are told, in the commandments that are empowered by the resurrection, with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind.

Think of story as a conduit for love, as wiring is to electricity. If every human being is made in the image of God, then stories can connect us in a place more elemental than culture, gender, ethnicity, religious conviction, or age. They open a channel for love to flow to the Lord your God and to your neighbor and back again to yourself, completing the connection between all three.

To Have the Mind of Christ? Start by Telling Stories, By Lauralee Farrer, Fuller Studio

In the appearance of this author within his own story, all of the other minor roles foreshadow and echo his critical one. In that grand denouement which is the incarnation, all other lives suddenly take on a whole new meaning and importance. In addition to their contribution to the story within their own plot arches, each individual life becomes a living echo of the story’s main character, Jesus Christ. A whole discipline of theology, known as typology, is devoted to locating these echoes in the Bible.

God Is the Author Who Enters His Story, By Andrew Shanks, The Gospel Coalition, June 9, 2013

And when God the Father sent God the Son to earth, it was an act of revealing himself to human beings — with a very relational point to it…

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

John 1:18

Once again, then, your God is the empathetic protagonist.

And, if Christianity is the story we are in, then we are deeply connected with him.

Paula Wong then pointed out how the empathetic incarnation in the story appears to fit with the controlling idea.

Here is how Shawn Coyne explains the controlling idea…

The controlling idea is the takeaway message the writer wants the reader/viewer to discover from reading or watching his Story.

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

That’s a really interesting theme but technically, the controlling idea is an expression. It’s a formulated sentence so what you have to do is put in the value that’s at stake in the story and explain how it has changed. So in this case and in the traditional controlling idea, generic controlling idea for the thriller is that hero sacrificed themselves, tyranny, justice prevails when heroes sacrifice themselves for the good of everyone else.

Shawn Coyne, in The Foolscap Story Grid, by Tim Grahl

And here is some of what Robert McKee says about the “controlling idea” …

The core meaning of your story is expressed through your Controlling Idea.

The Controlling Idea is the purest form of a story’s meaning, the vision of life the audience members carry away into their lives. This idea must be dramatized in an emotionally expressive Story Climax.

What Is Your Story’s Meaning?, Robert McKee Email

Controlling Idea, the story’s ultimate meaning expressed through the action and aesthetic emotion of the last act’s climax.


A CONTROLLING IDEA may be expressed in a single sentence describing how and why life undergoes change from one condition of existence at the beginning to another at the end.


The Controlling Idea is the purest form of a story’s meaning, the how and why of change, the vision of life the audience members carry away into their lives.

Robert McKee, Story

Now consider this from Coyne, which connects the controlling idea to change…

The other thing about a controlling idea and the theme is that you have to have in one sentence the cause of the change.


Remember when I said that your controlling idea or your theme has to convey change?

Beginnings Differ from Endings, by Shawn Coyne

And consider how this fits…

Ben Montgomery, the terrific reporter/writer for the Tampa Bay Times, uses loglines for his long narratives. “Early in the reporting,” he told me, “I think: ‘If I had to pitch this story in two sentences, what would I say? What is the central idea, or driving question, that would pull readers through the story?’ It helps bring my stories into sharper focus. Then, when it comes to writing, I take that logline and try to wrap every fact around it, like stripes on a barber pole.”


I love his analogy, “like stripes on a barber pole.” That’s what creating a logline allows you to do: stay on or close to the one true path, the line that runs through your story in its best, strongest form.

Want to write great narrative? Study screenwriting. By John Capouya, NiemanStoryboard, March 14, 2014

So our team is beginning to wonder about something. Since story is about change, then what if these two passages — which both are about massive, climactic change — may be somehow combined to express the controlling idea in the story in the Bible…

Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Matthew 6:7-10

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 in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:16-17

And these insights helped us to see a little bit more clearly about the role which the empathetic incarnation played in the story…

The Incarnation, then, is God’s supreme act of deliverance, restoring us to communion with himself.

Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way

The story of man’s failure and the consequences is too well known to be here described. He sinned by disobeying God, and he thereby brought the curse of God upon the whole human race. God was now faced with the problem of just how to save the fallen race of man and at the same time maintain His justice and His holiness. His problem was, to speak the words of Romans 3:26, ”…that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”

To say that the Incarnation is the solution of this problem is simple, but to explain just how this act could solve the problem is a more difficult task. Perhaps the full import of this can never be seen until we possess clearer vision than we have at present, but one can at least get a faint glimpse of the reason.

When sin gained its entrance into the world, it not only affected man but also had its effects on God. His love for the work of His creation could not find its complete satisfaction if all His creatures were instantly blotted out of existence. Nor could His justice be satisfied if He saved men apart from a just payment for the wrong sin had wrought. Some go so far as to say sin caused a disruption between these two attributes, but this seems to me hardly plausible. Both His love and His justice are infinite and one must not think of the love coming to the rescue of the justice nor can the justice be said to come to the rescue of the love. It was the death of Christ on the cross, made possible by the Incarnation, that satisfied God in every respect.

The Seven-fold Purpose of the Incarnation, By Howard C. Zabriskie, Bibliotheca Sacra, January 1939

Still another reason why the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us is this: Nothing so appeals to the human heart as does unselfish sacrifice for others. The story of a mother’s sacrificial love for her children always melts the heart. Altruistic love is the most winsome and touching quality of which men know anything.

The Incarnation Of The Son Of God, By Leander S. Keyser, Bibliotheca Sacra, July 1928

Christology is committed to exploring the deepest mystery which consists in the act of incarnation. God the Father so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son to the world in order to bring salvation and redemption to the world. So it is no surprise to discover as we read the Gospels that the love of the Man, Jesus (the Incarnate Son), for man is the most poignant mark of His earthly life. And this love is the very love of the Father for the Son and of the Son for the Father.

Truly Man, But More Than Man: Reflections In Christology, By Peter Toon, Reformation and Revival, Fall 1999

The Incarnation is an act of beautiful and astonishing humility. When a person who is great and powerful treats you with kindness and respect, as if you were on the same level with him, you are deeply touched by his humility. Christ’s Incarnation displays infinitely more humility than the President of the United States might by taking the place of a lowly private in the Army. God displayed His greatest glory with the greatest act of humility. The Incarnation overthrows all glory-seeking and calls us to be servants (Phil. 2:1-13).

Trust in the Incarnate Word, By Joel R. Beeke, Puritan Reformed Journal, January 2011

And look how this fits…

Paul anchors spiritual wisdom not in an abstract principle or a Platonic Form, but instead in a personal agent who manifests God’s power without defect. He refers to “Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24) and to “Christ Jesus who became for us wisdom from God … and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). An immediate question concerns what particular features of the person Jesus Christ constitute his being the power and the wisdom of God.

Part of Paul’s answer includes the following:

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equal­ity with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5-8)

A key feature is the willing conformity of Jesus to God’s will, even when the result is self-sacrificial death. Paul introduces the idea of Jesus’s humble obedience to God to capture this feature. This obedience differs from grudging obedience and even mere obedience; it ultimately welcomes God’s perfect will, even if one is initially ambivalent and faces rigorous consequences. In his conformity to God’s will, Jesus exemplifies the power and wisdom of God as an agent humbly and reverently cooperating with God on the basis of God’s distinctive wisdom and power, including the power of self-giving agape.

Paul Moser, The Severity of God

All this is so different from our version of the story we are in.

So, now we’d like to explore something else Paula begin to see. It looks like, if Christianity is the story we are in, that Jesus is the Active Hero in a Love Story.

But before we jump into that, we thought you may be interested in some of what we have learned about genres, since that will help you see another way  how, if Christianity is the story we are in, your God is the Great Storyteller.

The Power of Genre in Story

Our crazy assignment has been full of surprises for our team. For instance, we never expected Shawn Coyne’s insights about the essential importance of genre would also help us to begin to see the greater depth of your unfolding drama in America.

And they also helped us see why you may be struggling with the binary core value.

So, Coyne has caught our attention. Look what wrote…

So what’s the very first thing an editor or a writer needs to do? Well the very, very, very first thing they need to do is to figure out what genres their story is going to be a part of.

Genre Review, by Shawn Coyne

The first questions we need to ask ourselves are, ”What are the Genres of our Story?” and, ”What will we have to do to meet those Genres’ expectations?” 

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

Genre choices are the most important decisions you need to make. 
Those choices will tell the reader what they are in for if they pick up your book. They will direct all efforts from your publisher from the front cover art to the publicity tour. If you are not writing in ”Genre,” you’re lost. Every Story ever told has Genre classifications. 

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

And as we thought about that, Paula Wong showed us this, from one of your well known Christian writers…

What sort of tale have I fallen into? is a question that would help us all a great deal if we wondered it for ourselves. It just might be the most important question we ever ask.

John Eldredge, Epic

And look at this…

Everyone believes in or buys into a big story, whether they realize it or not. The only question is which great story we will accept as the one that tells us the truth about the way things really are. Which guiding story will we claim as our story?

Living God’s Word: Discovering Our Place in the Great Story of Scripture, by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays

So, we are wondering now if there is some sort of parallel importance between the genre question and the question, “Which story are we in?”

What is Genre and Why is it So Important?

Our team was confused at first about what is a genre in the Bible. 

You see, your Christian scholars seem to talk about it in a different way than Shawn Coyne and Robert McKee. Here is how Coyne explains it…

A Genre is a label that tells the reader/audience what to expect. Genres simply manage audience expectations. It’s really that simple. Don’t let the French etymology and pronunciation scare you. 

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

What is a genre? A genre is a very fancy word classifying every story ever told since the beginning of time. That’s really all it is. The classifications are all about managing audience expectations. This is just a fancy way of saying what exactly is it that you’re going to want to know before you read a book or watch a television show? These are all the things that marketers and advertising people put on covers of books and movie posters. And the classic genres are things like the crime genre, the mystery genre, the love story, the science fiction story. These are all those things that a lot of literary people kind of turn their nose up at. Every single story has a genre.

Genre Review, by Shawn Coyne

But here is some of what we found from your Bible scholars…

Genre is a French word which means “kind, sort, style.”1 Gattung is a German word which approximates the French Genre, roughly translatable as “form” or “type.” “In German, Gattung denotes a group of things which have … distinguishing characteristics in common.”2 Gattung has been used to designate longer literary units, for example, Gospel, Epistle, Apocalypse. English often translates Gattung as Genre. The German word form is sometimes used to designate smaller literary units often thought to have arisen in “oral traditions.”


This paper will frequently use the term genre to indicate major kinds of literature, especially in the Old Testament, such as, Narrative, Prophecy, Psalms, and other categories. The term subgenre will designate what appear to be various categories of literature within one of the broader genres.


Genre, as in the title of this paper, means a unit of scripture which has a combination of vocabulary, mood, ordering of its “parts,” and purpose in common with other units of Scripture with similar features. Each unit of scripture so characterized may be said to participate in that genre. This definition does not necessarily conform to published definitions.

The Use Of Genre In Bible Interpretation, By Richard W. Engle, Journal of Ministry and Theology, Spring 2000

Thus, for our purposes let us stipulate that the word genre involves focus on style and form, as primary aspects, and on content only as a possible supplemental or secondary contributor. I think that, for the most part, that is also what biblical interpreters have had in mind when they talk about genre.

Dealing With The Genre Of Genesis And Its Opening Chapters, Vern S. Poythress, Westminster Theological Journal, Fall 2016

Perhaps the reason for this great lack of agreement lies in the fact that “no consensus exists as to a precise definition of genre” and this results in great liberality to assert opinion. Daniel Chandler, describing the concept of genre as a whole, wrote, “The classification . . . of genres is not a neutral and ‘objective’ procedure. There are no undisputed ‘maps’ of the system of genres within any medium (though literature may perhaps lay some claim to a loose consensus). Further, there is often considerable theoretical disagreement about the definition of specific genres.” Chandler’s description leaves the field all too easily malleable to the whim of the interpreter.

Genre Override In Genesis 1—2, By Jeremiah Loubet, Journal of Dispensational Theology, (Dec 2011)

And such a difference in the way of seeing genre can lead to an unfortunate distinction between story and doctrine…

Leslie Leyland Fields: But we will not tell the story and the stories of Scripture right without the “telling” of the rest of Scripture, the non-narrative portions that help us interpret them. Nor will we fully understand the non-narrative portions of Scripture without the stories that illuminate them. We need to embrace all the genres that God chose to reveal Himself in, recognizing that each one has an important place in communicating God’s redemption to us. We don’t get to pick and choose and declare one form of expression superior to another. Of course story is more fun than law or even a book like Ecclesiastes, with all its complexity, recursion and seeming contradiction. But we’ve got to wrestle with those more difficult books as well and not simply gloss over them.

There’s nothing shocking about efforts to shrink and simplifying the Scriptures this way. We’re always reducing God’s Word in some way, just because it is so vast, so layered, so alive, and spans such history that we cannot contain it all at once.

But when we make story primary, and when we hoist a single sail, we’re going to drift off in a number of directions because we’ve lost the rudder of the rest of the Scriptures. We’re called to submit to God’s Word – all of it – not to submit God’s Word to our red pens.


I think we can consciously teach both, that children and adults are capable of grasping both story and doctrine concurrently.


And yet, you can see from the following how the differences may not be as great a chasm as it seems…

Considerations of genre as part of the introductory matter of recent commentaries have become virtually required because most commentators hold that genre is important for interpretation. A recent text on hermeneutics puts it this way: “Biblical authors used different literary conventions in order to accomplish different purposes.. .. Each literary form, therefore, reveals literary function. Determining what the author is trying to say involves our recognition of the genre employed —a literary decision which facilitates authorial intent as well as a reader’s comprehension. Hence, before we can discover the meaning of what was written, we need to understand how it was written.” Grant Osborne states this view in a manner that is quite typical: “As I will argue in appendix two and in the section on special hermeneutics below, the genre or type of literature in which a passage is found provides the ‘rules of the language game’ (Wittgenstein), that is, the hermeneutical principles by which one understands it. Obviously, we do not interpret fiction the same way as we understand poetry. Nor will a person look for the same scheme in biblical wisdom as in the prophetic portions.” These are not isolated examples of this conviction. Leland Ryken asserts, “Each genre has its distinctive features and its own ‘rules’ or principles of operation. As readers, we need to approach passages in the Bible with the right expectations. Our awareness of genre programs our encounter with a biblical text, telling us what to look for and how to interpret what we see.” As we have said, this view is pervasive and almost universally accepted as a critical feature of a good hermeneutic.

Does Genre Determine Meaning?, By Thomas A. Howe, Christian Apologetics Journal, Spring 2007

So perhaps those struggles could be helped by looking at the story in the Bible through the lens of genre in the way Coyne and McKee see.

Consider how the following fits with that…

Having selected the passage, we must first examine it in its context. The passage does not exist in isolation. As individual verses rest within a paragraph, the paragraphs are part of a chapter, and the chapters are part of the book. If you were reading any other book, you would not open it to page 50, read a paragraph, and from that, assume that you could speak with some authority about the author’s meaning. The author may be giving you the argument of an opponent, not his own. At the very least you would want to read the whole chapter to discover how this one paragraph fits within the larger section. If you really want to understand your paragraph, you would also ask questions about how the chapter that contains your paragraph fits within the entire book. The old saw still has a sharp edge: “The text without the context is a pretext.”

For this reason, we begin our study of a biblical passage by relating it to the broader literary unit of which it is a part.

Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching

The main truth for preachers here is that they must preach in such a way that they integrate their sermons into the larger biblical story of redemptive history. Those in the pews need to see the big picture of what God has been doing, and how each part of scripture contributes to that picture. We do not want to preach in such a way that our people fail to see what God is doing, so that they lose the larger perspective.


We may get many compliments from our people for our moral lessons and our illustrations, but we are not faithfully serving our congregations if they do not understand how the whole of scripture points to Christ, and if they do not gain a better understanding from us of the storyline of the Bible.

Preaching and Biblical Theology, By Thomas R. Schreiner, Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, (Summer 2006)

The meaning of a word is its use in a sentence; the meaning of a sentence is its use in a paragraph; and the meaning of a paragraph is its use in the larger document to which it contributes. Details are vitally important, but they are important as part of the overall picture. And the burden of my song in …. this book is that we’ve all forgotten what the big picture actually is.

N.T. Wright, How God Became King

But before we go on, you might find it helpful to keep in mind what McKee says about different genres in relation to the overall story…

From the point of view of the writer looking from the Inciting Incident “down the Spine” to the last act’s Climax, in spite of all we’ve said about genres and the various shapes from Archplot to Antiplot, in truth there’s only one story. In essence we have told one another the same tale, one way or another, since the dawn of humanity, and that story could be usefully called the Quest. All stories take the form of a Quest.

Robert McKee, Story


The Flexibility of Genres

So, can genres be mixed in a story? Coyne says yes…

Mixing genres is a natural act. That is, if you are full bore on your core focus—executing your global Story spine—you won’t be able to not layer in other external and/or internal genre elements into your work. It’ll just happen.

Mixing Genres, by Shawn Coyne

And it fits with these observations about your Bible…

The literary feature of the Bible that is perhaps most noticeable is the heterogeneous nature of the material. Judged by classical standards of unity, the Bible is an untidy patchwork of diverse material. Nonliterary material like genealogies, historical notes, commands, and travel itineraries is mingled with literary material. Poetry appears right in the middle of expository and narrative prose. As we read the stories of the Bible, we seem always to be interrupted by extraneous documentary or didactic material. Narrative and discourse jostle for supremacy in the Gospels. Nearly every book in the Bible exhibits a mixed-genre format in a degree unparalleled in other literature.

The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible, By Leland Ryken, Tremper Longman III

But the literary genres of the Bible are quite diverse and demand vastly different approaches.

Living By the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible, By Howard G. Hendricks, William D. Hendricks

More broadly, the Bible’s many books and numerous literary genres are all set within a detailed storyline that must be deeply absorbed.

Can There Be a Christian University? By D. A. Carson,Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Fall 1997

And as we explored how the approach to genres by Coyne and McKee fit with the story in the Bible, we found these insights to be very helpful…

Needless to say, no Story ever aligns perfectly with a single Genre, and like Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, the closer you analyze and pick at a particular Story to classify it, the more it moves away from your microscope.

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

But with all of the above said, Genres are fluid. 

They morph and combine and adapt to the tenor of time. That is, Genres shift and change to reflect the anxieties of the particular historical period. I’ll make a case later on that the thriller is the dominant Story form today because it serves the largest segment of society, those overwhelmed by the threats of modern life. 

Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid

Robert McKee: The term “ground rules” is inappropriate when talking about any aspect of writing, Inciting Incident included. As I’ve said many times: Art forms have no rules; all art is guided by principles. Rules are rigid. They say, “You must do it this way!” Principles are flexible. They say, “This form underlies the nature of the art and is conventional in practice. However, it may be bent, broken, hidden or turned upside down to serve unconventional uses that may enhance the telling.” Rules are objective applications that require no feeling for the story’s characters or events; their use is justified by their traditional function and their comfortable familiarity to the audience/readers. Principles require a deeply subjective understanding of a technique’s effect forward and backward along the timeline of a story’s events. A principle guides the writer’s use of his materials – motivations, characterizations, coincidences, settings, flash-backs/flash-forwards, set-ups/pay-offs and the like – in terms of their effect on both characters and audience/readers. A rule is microscopic; a principle is macroscopic.

An Interview with Robert McKee, by Debra Eckerling, StoryLink, August 18, 2009

And Paula showed me this, from a book she has been reading as she thinks about me…

Structure is a form, but it needn’t be a box. It’s not something that you have to do. This doesn’t have to happen at page 52. You don’t have to do that at the 75% mark. 

All of the stages in the Comic Hero’s Journey happen in most movies, but not at set page numbers or percentage points. These are stations of the cross that may happen at different points or in different sequences in different narratives. So yes, many scripts have the dark night of the soul moment about two-thirds, three-quarters of the way through the script. But it’s not a rule, not obligatory. What’s necessary is following your characters through their story and telling their story authentically and honestly. 

Steve Kaplan, The Comic Hero’s Journey

So, if your God is the Great Storyteller, we recognize he is not bound by “ground rules,” and so the story in the Bible may not perfectly align with whatever rules we want to lay down.

Is Jesus the Active Hero in a Love Story?

So, sure the short-term primal genres (Action, Horror, War, Thriller) concern the concrete foundation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs…how to survive today. 

But the Love Story is the long-term mother of all Genres. 

It’s not just about how to survive today; it’s about how to last a lifetime…and even how to gain a measure of immortality by co-creating offspring. 

Pride and Prejudice: The Story Grid Edition, by Jane Austen (Author),‎ Shawn Coyne (Introduction)

As we began to think about your God as the Great Storyteller, we also began to see something else.

It looks like Jesus is the active hero in an archplot story which appears to weave in the love genre.

And look what Paula showed us…

Love is the force that not only binds us to the rest of humanity…it’s the very thing that preserves our species. To fail to love, therefore, is not only an external threat to our own private lives; a love breakdown across humanity will take down our entire life-form.

Pride and Prejudice: The Story Grid Edition, by Jane Austen  (Author),‎ Shawn Coyne (Introduction)

So, here is that famous passage of yours which fits with the love genre…

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

And here is how we began to connect the dots. First, look what Jesus declared about the greatest love there is…

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:13

And then Paula showed us how Jesus fits with the description of the hero in a story…

[A] lead character that is heroic in nature meaning that they end up sacrificing themselves for the greater good of humanity.

That’s what a hero does.

Shawn Coyne, in Hero’s Journey – Moments

The sacrifice of one’s own life (or happiness or future prospects or whatever) for the good of others is the defining act of the hero.

Give Your Hero a Hero Speech, By STEVEN PRESSFIELD, Steven Pressfield Online, JANUARY 17, 2018

Can we really say that horror has no heroes? That depends, to some extent, on what you mean by “hero.” So, at a break in the session, I approach McKee and ask him to define the term. It’s a question that has been pondered by scholars and writers throughout the ages, but McKee dismisses it with a swing of his hand. “A hero,” he says in the voice of God, “is willing to sacrifice his life for another.”


That is the heroic tradition, where the hero sacrifices themselves for the good of the larger good.

Shawn Coyne, Nailing the End of Your Book

So, that sounds a lot like…

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Luke 19:9-10

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

John 10:11-15

And after he arrived, he made it clear he was going to do it…

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Matthew 16:21

There it is. You know the story…

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

1 John 3:16-18

And look at this…

When a gentile convert stood in the baptistery on Easter’s eve and, before descending naked into the waters, turned to the West to renounce the devil and the devil’s ministers, he was rejecting, and in fact reviling, the gods in bondage to whom he had languished all his life; and when he turned to the East to confess Christ, he was entrusting himself to the invincible hero who had plundered hell of its captives, overthrown death, subdued the powers of the air, and been raised the Lord of history.

Christ and Nothing, David B. Hart, First Things, October 2003

And look at this big picture description…

“YOUNG HERO WINS HEARTS.” Had there been newspapers in Jerusalem in the year we now call AD 33, this was the headline you would not have seen. When Jesus of Nazareth died the horrible death of crucifixion at the hands of the Roman army, nobody thought him a hero. Nobody was saying, as they hurriedly laid his body in a tomb, that his death had been a splendid victory, a heroic martyrdom. His movement, which had in any case been something of a ragtag group of followers, was over. Nothing had changed. Another young leader had been brutally liquidated. This was the sort of thing that Rome did best. Caesar was on his throne. Death, as usual, had the last word.

Except that in this case it didn’t. As Jesus’s followers looked back on that day in the light of what happened soon afterward, they came up with the shocking, scandalous, nonsensical claim that his death had launched a revolution. That something had happened that afternoon that had changed the world. That by six o’clock on that dark Friday evening the world was a different place.

Nonsensical or not, they were proven right. Whether we believe in Jesus, whether we approve of his teaching, let alone whether we like the look of the movement that still claims to follow him, we are bound to see his crucifixion as one of the pivotal moments in human history. Like the assassination of Julius Caesar around seventy years earlier, it marks the end of one era and the start of another.

And Jesus’s first followers saw it as something more. They saw it as the vital moment not just in human history, but in the entire story of God and the world. Indeed, they believed it had opened a new and shocking window onto the meaning of the word “God” itself. They believed that with this event the one true God had suddenly and dramatically put into operation his plan for the rescue of the world.

N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion

And the more we looked, the more we began to see something related to this…  

The structure is archplot, which is what Joseph Campbell calls the hero’s journey.

Genre Review, by Shawn Coyne

So, look at how it fits with the story of your hero, as described by one of your famous preachers…

But perhaps the single most consoling and appealing theme is what theologian Roger Nicole has called the one, irreducible theme that runs through every single one of these models…. Nicole taught that, regardless of the grammar being used, the essence of the atonement is always Jesus acting as our substitute. Jesus fights the powers, pays the price, bears the exile, makes the sacrifice, and bears the punishment for us, in our place, on our behalf. In every grammar, Jesus does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He accomplishes salvation; we do nothing at all. And therefore the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus is at the heart of everything.

This act- giving one’s life to save another– is the most compelling, attractive, and electrifying story line there is. J. K. Rowling, for example, could hardly end her Harry Potter series in any other way because it is the ultimate drama, the most moving ending possible. Lifting up the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ is the ultimate way to appeal to any culture, to attract them to him. The various ways of speaking about the atonement furnish us with wonderfully fitting ways of showing each culture how this atoning work of Jesus specifically solves its greatest problems and fulfills its greatest aspirations.

We live in the first era of history that considers happy endings to be works of inferior art. Modern critics insist that life is not like that – rather, it is full of brokenness, paradox, irony, and frustration. Steven Spielberg was denied Oscars until he stopped making movies with happy endings and directed Schindler’s List. Yet people continue to flock to movies and read books that have fairytale endings. There are deep human longings that modern realistic fiction can never satisfy: to escape death and live forever; to hold communion with other personal beings like elves or aliens or angels; to find love that perfectly heals and from which we never part. Most of all, we want to see and, if possible, participate in the final triumph over evil in the world. People turn to fairy tales because they depict these desires coming true.

The gospel is by no means a sentimental view of life. In fact, the Bible has a far darker vision of reality than any secular critic. It tells us that Satan and his legions of demons are at work in the world. It tells us we are so deeply flawed and cruel we can’t save ourselves without God’s intervention. And yet the gospel has an astonishing message about these longings for love and death and triumph. First, the gospel explains them. Human beings have been made in the image of God, which means we were originally designed to know and experience all of these things. We were created to live forever. Second, the gospel tells us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is hard proof that all of these things will come true again. If you believe in Jesus Christ, you will see and know escape from death, love without parting, and triumph over evil. You will talk to angels and supernatural beings. You will live forever. And why will we get eternal life? Because he was killed. We get eternal love because he was forsaken. We triumph over evil because he was tortured, murdered, and defeated. In the salvation of Jesus Christ, we learn that the happy ending we long for is not a fairy tale.

The gospel is the deepest consolation you can offer to the human heart. Once you have taken care to enter and have found the courage to challenge the world of your hearers, be sure to offer this consolation with the passion of one who has experienced it firsthand.

Timothy Keller, Loving the City

And look at this…

The staggering part is that God doesn’t just permit us to know Him, He sacrificed deeply to make it happen! God doesn’t simply leave an invitation on the table – He paid the highest possible price to make it a reality. 

There is no greater love story. The Judge of the universe chased after those who rebelled against Him. People made themselves God’s enemies by rejecting His rule and following their own desires. Yet God so loves His “enemies” that He sent His Son to pay the penalty for their crimes. God’s wrath was satisfied as Jesus hung on the cross. Through His death, believers are cleared of their sin and reconciled to the God they once rejected. This makes God both fair and forgiving, just and justifier (see Rom. 3:21-26). He is just because His judgment against our sin was carried out. We are justified because His innocent Son suffered on our behalf. 

You and Me Forever, By Francis Chan and Lisa Chan

Jesus is the hero. We get that. But the Party hopes the Christians in China don’t begin to think this way…

Just as we might instruct a young person in a given sport by showing examples of the greatest practitioners of that game, so we show the nature of Christianity best, perhaps, in its heroes.

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

As the author of biographies of great men and women I have seen firsthand just how deeply encouraging and inspiring the stories of heroes can be. There seems to be something within the human breast that naturally responds to such stories, that positively longs for them. For some reason having to do with our nature, heroic examples call forth from us a powerful desire to be good and great and heroic ourselves.

Eric Metaxas, If You Can Keep It

So when you say, “I felt good about this story because it’s true,” that you’re absolutely right, and the reason why it’s true is that it mirrors the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey is really deep, deep stuff.

Truth vs. Truth, By Tim Grahl, Story Grid Podcast

So, your God is on a Quest.