It was the first time I ever saw a man wearing a skirt. At least, I thought it was a skirt. Come to find out, it was actually a red plaid kilt, the kind worn by men in Scotland. The man’s name was Rowdy Roddy Piper, the professional wrestler. Being that he was actually from Canada, someone clearly thought that the Scottish ancestry angle made for a more interesting story.
Whoever made the decision to clothe Rowdy Roddy Piper in a Scottish kilt is not alone in looking for significance in ancestry. The human desire to connect with the past is now big business. Ancestry.com claims on their webpage that “20 million members have connected to a deeper family story” by using their research. It is believed that as many as 1 in 10 Americans have sent DNA samples to such companies in order to connect with their ancestral past.
All of this confirms something that the Bible already makes clear: we all want to be a part of something bigger than our own lives. We are searching for significance, and we find it by rooting our lives within a bigger story. As one writer put it, “I can only answer the question, ‘How should I live?’ when I’ve answered the prior question, ‘Of what story do I find myself a part?’”
When our children put on superhero costumes and pretend to save the world, they are merely acting out something for which we all intuitively long. We want our lives to matter. We want our individual stories to be connected to a larger, transcendent story. We are telling ourselves a story every day, whether we acknowledge it or not.
When my dad wanted me to be more aggressive on the basketball court, he told me stories about my outlaw uncles who fought and stayed in trouble with the law. He knew I needed to connect to a larger story. When politicians seek our votes, they tell us stories about the way the world is going and how they have the answers. Whether or not you vote for them depends largely on the viability of the story they are telling.
Nehemiah knew how important the story was when he led Israel to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The people had been exiled for decades outside of the land of their ancestors. In Nehemiah 8 we find a whole generation of people who had been cut off, not only from the land but also from their ancestral story. While the newly-built walls provided protection and physical stability, Nehemiah knew they were still missing something essential.
So what does do? He orders all the people to gather in the public square to hear the “Book of the Law of Moses” read. For around six hours, the people stood to hear Ezra the scribe read God’s Word. Nehemiah tells us that upon hearing, the people answered, “’Amen, Amen,’ lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground” (Neh. 8:6).
The people were undoubtedly aware that such a book existed. I’m sure they were familiar with the story of God calling out Abraham and forming a nation out of his lineage. I’m sure the story of God’s redemption through the Exodus had been passed own orally through their families.
But this was probably the first time in many of their lives that they had actually heard the story from the mouth of God. They were ecstatic. As Ezra read, they weren’t just hearing a story; they were hearing their own story. They were finding the significance that they were so eager to know. They were finding out who they really were and what their purpose was.
That longing for significance hasn’t gone away. 20 million people with ancestry.com profiles proves it. The longing for a story by which to make sense of our lives will continue as long as the world continues. The question is never about whether or not you have a story; the question is always about which story you are living by.
The Bible tells us the only true story which happens to also be the greatest story ever told. It’s the one about the Son of God becoming man in order to fulfill all righteousness by dying on a cross in place of undeserving sinners and being raised to life in defeat of sin, suffering, and death. It’s a wonderful story of love and sacrifice and victory.
But here’s the best part: it’s a story you and I are invited into. You don’t need $59.99 and a DNA swab to find significance and lasting joy. You can have it by grace for free. You can join the story of Christ by repentance and faith.