Stage Seven of story is about crisis…
Stage Seven brings the story to its crisis, the highest level of tension and suspense.
As we move forward on this crazy assignment, my team and I have been thinking a lot about crisis.
Look at this quote Paula Wong showed us…
A crisis doesn’t ‘make a person’; a crisis reveals what a person is made of.Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: Prophets
It feels like the conflict between China and America is moving towards a crisis.
And it feels like your conflict in America is moving towards a crisis.
And I’m very worried my conflict with Shih Tzu is going to suddenly come to a crisis moment.
So we’re very grateful to Robert McKee and Shawn Coyne for helping us gain a deeper understanding of the nature of a crisis in a story…
Stage Seven brings the story to its crisis, the highest level of tension and suspense.Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace
In an extended work, Stages Seven and Eight repeat with a difference and escalate the telling, progressing to its eventual climax. Again and again, the world’s reactions overturn the protagonist’s expectations. The new actions he takes and the surprising effects they cause swing his struggles dynamically back and forth between positive and negative charges that build with progressive power. Reversal by reversal, violation by violation, pressure mounts to the breaking point until he makes a crisis decision to take a final climactic action that irreversibly achieves or fails to achieve his object of desire.Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace
The protagonist pursues her object of desire action by action, turning point by turning point, until a moment arrives near the end of the telling when the most sharply focused conflicting forces in her life now block her path. This is the obligatory scene the audience has been waiting for. At this crisis point, she has exhausted all possible tactics, save one. This powerful moment calls for a major decision. Faced with an array of possible actions, she must choose one last tactic in a final effort to put life back in balance.Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace
Crisis is the third of the five-part form. It means decision. Characters make spontaneous decisions each time they open their mouths to say “this” not “that.” In each scene they make a decision to take one action rather than another. But Crisis with a capital C is the ultimate decision. The Chinese ideogram for Crisis is two terms: Danger/Opportunity — “danger” in that the wrong decision at this moment will lose forever what we want; “opportunity” in that the right choice will achieve our desire.
The protagonist’s quest has carried him through the Progressive Complications until he’s exhausted all actions to achieve his desire, save one. He now finds himself at the end of the line. His next action is his last. No tomorrow. No second chance. This moment of dangerous opportunity is the point of greatest tension in the story as both protagonist and audience sense that the question “How will this turn out?” will be answered out of the next action.Robert McKee, Story
The Crisis is the story’s Obligatory Scene. From the Inciting Incident on, the audience has been anticipating with growing vividness the scene in which the protagonist will be face to face with the most focused, powerful forces of antagonism in his existence. This is the dragon, so to speak, that guards the Object of Desire: be it the literal dragon of JAWS or the metaphorical dragon of meaninglessness in TENDER MERCIES. The audience leans into the Crisis filled with expectation mingled with uncertainty.Robert McKee, Story
Now the beginning of the ENDING PAYOFF of a Story is how we Choose to answer our crisis dilemma. CHOICE is the climactic moment when we actively do something that will finally metabolize the Inciting Incident event and Change our lives forever.Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid
The crisis is the time when your protagonist must make a decision. And the choice that he makes will determine whether or not he’ll get closer to or further away from his object of desires (both external and internal).Commandment Number Three, by Shawn Coyne
The way the protagonist answers this question will show the reader/viewer what kind of person he is. The characters actions, not his words, define him.
Compelling Crisis questions and the way they are answered are the way to reveal character.Commandment Number Three, by Shawn Coyne
The Key Crisis in the Story in the Bible
So, is there a major moment of crisis in the story in the Bible?
Because, well, how is it possible there could be one if the core character in the story is God?
God is never in crisis.
But if you take a closer look at what McKee means by the term “crisis,” you can see there may be a way to see how this could turn our attention to Jesus, the God-Man.
So, is that where we’ll find the crisis?
Is it possible Jesus could have undergone a “crisis” in the unfolding drama?
One way to consider this question is by thinking about the issue of temptation. Consider first this passage from the book of James…
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
Now consider these two passages about Jesus from the book of Hebrews…
For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
So, if God cannot be tempted, but the God-Man Jesus was tempted, isn’t it also possible that, while God as the protagonist in the story can’t experience a crisis moment, Jesus the God-Man could?
After all, wouldn’t it connect with the empathetic incarnation?
And look what Paula showed us about the how the progressive complications in the story of Jesus moved him toward the crisis moment…
In the last year of Jesus’ life his conflict with the people, especially the religious leadership, intensifies. Jesus leaves nothing untouched, rebuking religious self-righteousness more than anything else. He attacks their conduct, their doctrine, the way they dress, anything that speaks of shallow religious piety that hides true spiritual poverty. He says they are like pristine tombs concealing rotting corpses.Greg Koukl, The Story of Reality
And it appears the crisis came in the Garden of Gethsemane. Look at how it is described in the gospels…
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.”
And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”
And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.
Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.”
And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.
And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him.
And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”
He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.
And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
It looks like there is a match between what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane and McKee’s description of the crisis.
This is the point at which Jesus, the Hero in the story, under great stress, affirms the decision to go forward…
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!
And as we read the accounts in the gospels, we noticed at the end of the passages the immediate shift from crisis to climax.
In other words, it’s just like McKee describes…
This moment of dangerous opportunity is the point of greatest tension in the story as both protagonist and audience sense that the question “How will this turn out?” will be answered out of the next action.
So, look at this…
John 18 introduces us to the greatest day in the history of the world: the final twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life prior to His crucifixion and death. How packed with action these hours are! We’re prone to consider them exclusively as a theological event called the atonement, forgetting that all the events recorded in this chapter happened in real time. We lose the action, the tension, the horror, the pain, the shame, and the bravery of our 33-year-old Savior. Christ did not die a theoretical death. In John 18, Jesus enters the Holy Place as our High Priest where He will tread the winepress of God’s wrath. The culmination of His sufferings consists of the events that took place in Gethsemane, the garden of agony; Gabbatha, the judgment hall of Pilate; and Golgotha, the hill of execution.Gethsemane’s King-Lamb, By Joel R. Beeke, Puritan Reformed Journal, January 2012
The scene in the Garden of Gethsemane was one of such vast importance. Everything hangs on it.
What will Jesus choose?
All Christianity concentrates on the man at the cross roads. The vast and shallow philosophies, the huge syntheses of humbug, all talk about ages and evolution and ultimate developments. The true philosophy is concerned with the instant. Will a man take this road or that?That is the only thing to think about, if you enjoy thinking. The aeons are easy enough to think about, any one can think about them. The instant is really awful: and it is because our religion has intensely felt the instant, that it has in literature dealt much with battle and in theology dealt much with hell. It is full of danger, like a boy’s book: it is at an immortal crisis. There is a great deal of real similarity between popular fiction and the religion of the western people. If you say that popular fiction is vulgar and tawdry, you only say what the dreary and well informed say also about the images in the Catholic churches. Life (according to the faith) is very like a serial story in a magazine: life ends with the promise (or menace) “to be continued in our next.” Also, with a noble vulgarity, life imitates the serial and leaves off at the exciting moment. For death is distinctly an exciting moment.
But the point is that a story is exciting because it has in it so strong an element of will, of what theology calls free will. You cannot finish a sum how you like. But you can finish a story how you like. When somebody discovered the Differential Calculus there was only one Differential Calculus he could discover. But when Shakespeare killed Romeo he might have married him to Juliet’s old nurse if he had felt inclined. And Christendom has excelled in the narrative romance exactly because it has insisted on the theological free will. It is a large matter and too much to one side of the road to be discussed adequately here; but this is the real objection to that torrent of modern talk about treating crime as disease, about making a prison merely a hygienic environment like a hospital, of healing sin by slow scientific methods. The fallacy of the whole thing is that evil is a matter of active choice whereas disease is not. If you say that you are going to cure a profligate as you cure an asthmatic, my cheap and obvious answer is, “Produce the people who want to be asthmatics as many people want to be profligates.” A man may lie still and be cured of a malady. But he must not lie still if he wants to be cured of a sin; on the contrary, he must get up and jump about violently. The whole point indeed is perfectly expressed in the very word which we use for a man in hospital; “patient” is in the passive mood; “sinner” is in the active. If a man is to be saved from influenza, he may be a patient. But if he is to be saved from forging, he must be not a patient but an impatient. He must be personally impatient with forgery. All moral reform must start in the active not the passive will.
Here again we reach the same substantial conclusion. In so far as we desire the definite reconstructions and the dangerous revolutions which have distinguished European civilization, we shall not discourage the thought of possible ruin; we shall rather encourage it. If we want, like the Eastern saints, merely to contemplate how right things are, of course we shall only say that they must go right. But if we particularly want to make them go right, we must insist that they may go wrong.
Gilbert K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
THE CRISIS AS A REVEALER
As Jesus makes his choice — “yet not my will, but yours be done” something else from McKee’s description of the element of crisis kicks in…
This scene reveals the story’s most important value. If there’s been any doubt about which value is central, as the protagonist makes the Crisis Decision, the primary value comes to the fore.Robert McKee, Story
And what is the story’s most important value?
It flows from the very nature of the protagonist and is revealed over and over again throughout the story in the Bible — and especially in the controlling idea related to the restoration of the relationship…
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.
And this seems to connect…
We now may acknowledge that divine love, in the teaching of Jesus, involves a life-giving merciful gift (of right relationship with God) as well as a command (to love God and others). A salient later summary of this position arises in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, [in order] that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (RSV). Even if this famous proclamation did not come directly from Jesus himself, it captures the central message of Jesus, and it relates divine love to human faith (to which the next section returns).Paul Moser, The Severity of God
So, as your hero says, “yet not my will, but yours be done”, he is affirming God’s love for the world and his determination as the active protagonist to rescue the image bearers…
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
And that connects with this…
The measure of the value of a character’s desire is in direct proportion to the risk he’s willing to take to achieve it; the greater the value, the greater the risk.Robert McKee, Story
We measure the worth of the object of desire in terms of risk: the greater the risk, the greater the object’s worth. What would you risk your time for? What would you risk your life for? What would you risk your soul for? The most compelling objects of desire come with the highest price tags, and the greater the object’s worth, the greater the involvement. Contrariwise, watching a character pursue something of no real value is the definition of boredom.Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace
So, at the moment of crisis, Jesus the God-Man, the hero in the story, chose to do the will of the Father and give himself up to rescue us.
And as he made the choice in the face of the betrayal, the core value of loyal love/betrayal was on stage for all to see.
Hazarding destruction may be an extreme case of what loyalty entails, but only as a matter of degree. The measure of loyalty has always been the most acidic of tests, a matter of proving how much one will endure to remain true. The great biblical study of loyalty-the book of Job-is an exercise in just how much misfortune can be piled on a man before his fidelity fails. Job passes the test, praising God even when ruined and despairing, but the whole point is that the only true test of loyalty is fidelity in the face of ruin and despair. “Loyalty,” G. K. Chesterton mused, “implies loyalty in misfortune.” Or, as the philosopher Josiah Royce put it, it is an “obvious truth of human nature, that loyalty is never raised to its highest levels without such grief.”Eric Felton, Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue
And notice how the revealing choice fits with what Nassim Taleb wrote of “skin in the game” …
So it appears that the church founders really wanted Christ to have skin in the game; he did actually suffer on the cross, sacrifice himself, and experience death. He was a risk taker. More crucially to our story, he sacrificed himself for the sake of others. A god stripped of humanity cannot have skin in the game in such a manner, cannot really suffer (or, if he does, such a redefinition of a god injected with a human nature would back up our argument). A god who didn’t really suffer on the cross would be like a magician who performed an illusion, not someone who actually bled after sliding an icepick between his carpal bones.Nassim Taleb, Skin in the Game
Look at these, then…
As Jesus says in Matthew 12:41, he is the ultimate Jonah, who was thrown into the ultimate deep of eternal justice – for us. How ironic it is that in Mark 4 the disciples ask, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38). They believe he is going to sleep on them in their hour of greatest need. Actually, it’s the other way around. In the garden of Gethsemane, they will go to sleep on him. They will truly abandon him. And yet he loves them to the end. See? Jonah was thrown overboard for his own sin, but Jesus is thrown into the ultimate storm for our sin. Jesus was able to save the disciples from the storm because he was thrown into the ultimate storm.Timothy Keller, Preaching
Like Jonah, Jesus regarded himself as one sent by God to manifest, in his life and his death, God’s merciful, steadfast love toward wayward people. Accordingly, Luke portrays Jesus as proclaiming, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the [divine] kingdom” (Luke 12:32). God’s merciful, unearned giving of his kingdom, through Jesus, to wayward people is his “grace,” in Paul’s influential language (see Rom. 3:21-26). This language of “grace” (charts} is a simple variation on the language of divine agape, or self-giving, merciful righteous love even toward God’s enemies (see Robinson 1904, pp. 224—226). The heart of the matter, according to various New Testament writers, is that God “first loved us,” apart from what we merit (see 1 John 4:19; cf. 1 John 4:10, Rom. 5:8, 10).Paul Moser, The Severity of God
And it caught our attention how showing skin in the game at the crisis in the story in the Bible fits with the question of empathy…
The audience identifies with deep character, with innate qualities revealed through choice under pressure.Robert McKee, Story
With the exception of Calvary no other event in our Lord’s earthly life has appealed more fully to the sympathy and interest of believers than that midnight scene in Gethsemane’s garden, where in loneliness and distress the Christ, on the evening of His betrayal, offered up His thrice-repeated prayer, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
Have we not here the supreme test of obedience applied, and the perfecting of obedience completed? With reverence, I think, we may ask the questions, Could the Father have subjected His obedience to a more exacting test? Could the Lord Jesus have responded more perfectly? All was demanded: all was surrendered.Gethsemane: The Fulfillment Of A Prophecy, By E. St. G. Baldwin, Bibliotheca Sacra (Oct 1920)
So, as our team began to recognize the gravity of the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, it heightened the drama greatly.
And look what Paula showed us in connection with that…
If the Gethsemane-oriented approach of this book is on the right track, then Gethsemane prayer must be kept front and center in human relations to God, including in human knowing of God. This may not fit with much of traditional religion and philosophy, but no serious problem or objection thereby emerges. Instead, we have a case for reconceiving religion and philosophy. This is the main burden of this book, and it embraces the redemptive severity of God as something we should expect of a God worthy of worship. In this approach, religion and philosophy no longer can be business as usual, given the current and ongoing crisis of Gethsemane for all inquirers of God. The stakes are now raised high, rigorously high, for the sake of the divine redemption of humans. The next move, by way of a response to God in Gethsemane, is for human inquirers, whom God’s agape interventions invite to Gethsemane.Paul Moser, The Severity of God
But there is something else which will also catch your attention — something else related to the balance of the story which was upset in the inciting incident.
What if, since this crisis occurred in a garden — and remember the inciting incident in the story occurred in a garden and upset the balance of both relationship and place — it means this crisis was also connected to place?
What if the crisis related to the restoration of relationship and place got all wrapped up in that particular moment in a Garden — just like the upsetting of the balance of relationship and place came together at a particular moment in a Garden?
And here’s another question.
What if what happened with the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22 was a setup for this Crisis in the story?
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”
And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”
And what if the story of Joseph, who is considered by many biblical scholars as a ‘type’ of Christ – which is a way of referring to setup – also is a kind of setup for the unfolding drama in the Garden of Gethsemane?
Each scene in the record of Joseph’s life reveals some distinctive trait of character elicited by means of a crisis.H. Griffith Thomas, Genesis
And now we want to show you something else which seems to gather together much of what we’re seeing in the crisis in the story in the Bible.
Look what we found from your insightful Christian philosopher, Paul Moser …
A striking example of humble cooperation with God appears in the Gospel reports of Jesus in Gethsemane.
This Gethsemane crisis begins with a humanly experienced conflict between a human want and a divine want but ends with a decisive resolution: a human plea by Jesus to God in resolute favor of God’s will as a priority. His plea welcomes the fulfillment of God’s will as a priority. The proper Gethsemane and human approach to God willingly puts God’s perfect will first, even if a serious human want must thereby yield, including a human want to continue earthly life.Paul Moser, The Severity of God
See all that? Is Moser studying McKee?
Notice how elements of story from the inside out show up in the description of Moser’s book on Amazon…
This book explores the role of divine severity in the character and wisdom of God, and the flux and difficulties of human life in relation to divine salvation. Much has been written on problems of evil, but the matter of divine severity has received relatively little attention. Paul K. Moser discusses the function of philosophy, evidence and miracles in approaching God. He argues that if God’s aim is to extend without coercion His lasting life to humans, then commitment to that goal could manifest itself in making human life severe, for the sake of encouraging humans to enter into that cooperative good life. In this scenario, divine agapē is conferred as free gift, but the human reception of it includes stress and struggle in the face of conflicting powers and priorities. Moser’s work will be of great interest to students of the philosophy of religion, and theology.
And so, recognizing those elements of story … look at this from Moser…
The reality of severity in human life includes the reality of deep experiential and volitional conflict in humans. In humans struggling with God, such conflict has a name and even a historical location: Gethsemane.
Bent on obeying God, for the sake of introducing God’s kingdom and thereby the priority of God’s will, Jesus found himself called by God to offer his life in self-sacrifice to God for the sake of others. This was a moral struggle between Jesus and God, where Jesus anticipated his arrest and crucifixion by Roman officials as part of God’s seemingly foolish plan to redeem humans. God, however, invites and nudges people toward Gethsemane; they do not have to find it on their own. We may think of this as part of God’s severe prevenient grace.Paul Moser, The Severity of God
He is on to something. And Paula pointed to this…
As the Introduction suggested, many people have misguided expectations for God, that is, expectations that fail to match what would be God’s purposes,if God exists. Such expectations cloud human recognition and appropriation of the evidence for God that would be on offer. This evidence, being evidence for God, would be volitionally rigorous in a manner illustrated by the Gethsemane crisis-experience of Jesus. This chapter develops this neglected theme.
The reality of severity in human life includes the reality of deep experiential and volitional conflict in humans. In humans struggling with God, such conflict has a name and even a historical location: Gethsemane. A deficiency of religious life and thought, including in Christian and Jewish variations, is their failure to give due import to Gethsemane and its disturbing, severe God. In shunning Gethsemane and the priority of God’s will, people become world-bound and thereby obscure any distinctive evidence of God in themselves and for themselves; hence the spiritual flatness among many human, even religious communities. Indeed, we humans are experts at fleeing or otherwise avoiding the needed volitional crisis of Gethsemane.
Gethsemane is no picnic garden; instead, it is a context of human struggle with the presence and the priority of God’s morally perfect character and will. The best example is Jesus of Nazareth in the Judean location called “Gethsemane.” Bent on obeying God, for the sake of introducing God’s kingdom and thereby the priority of God’s will, Jesus found himself called by God to offer his life in self-sacrifice to God for the sake of others. This was a moral struggle between Jesus and God, where Jesus anticipated his arrest and crucifixion by Roman officials as part of God’s seemingly foolish plan to redeem humans. God, however, invites and nudges people toward Gethsemane; they do not have to find it on their own. We may think of this as part of God’s severe prevenient grace.Paul Moser, The Severity of God
So, if Christianity is the story we are in, are you Christians in America sure you want to push away the possibility that your God is the Great Storyteller?
This Gethsemane crisis is so relevant to your unfolding drama in America. Are you sure you don’t want to expand your way of seeing?
The book’s unifying theme is that the kind of divine severity found in the volitional crisis of Gethsemane calls for reconceiving various problem areas in religion and philosophy. The reconceiving includes an intentional refocus from merely intellectual matters to existentially profound volitional matters in human priority relations to a severe God worthy of worship. Questions about human wills relative to God emerge as crucial in this reorientation. Religion and philosophy will look very different from this new perspective.Paul Moser, The Severity of God