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The Backstory

I don’t often watch the extra features included on DVDs these days, but a while back I must have been bored, because I sat and watched a couple of hours of extras for a series I enjoy. I was interested to learn that the creators of this show, before they began creating episodes, spent a long time crafting the backstories of the main characters. For each of these characters they created a whole history including such details as their family situations, the schools they had attended as children, past relationships, past jobs, and on and on. All of this information is kept in giant binders, ready for reference purposes. They created all of this backstory to ensure that, as they show goes on, they do not provide contradictory details for any of the characters. Though it would be a small thing, it would still be an annoyance if in one episode the character mentioned going to one high school and then, three years later, she mentioned going to a different one. And so the writers go through this process of creating background information for all of their characters. As the show progresses they continue to update this backstory binder, adding to it as they invent new details. Though you and I might never be privy to such information, it is still important that they do this as it creates a more complete, more realistic atmosphere within the show.

In a similar vein, over the past couple of months I’ve been reading The Lord of the Rings to my children (we’ve just passed “The Taming of Smeagol” if you must know). J.R.R. Tolkien was a master of the backstory. He did not create just a story about a hobbit and a ring, but he created a whole world. And in that world were languages and mythologies and expansive histories. This is part of what makes reading The Lord of the Rings such an immersive experience. There are no loose ends in Tolkien’s world. Neither are there many elements that seem disconnected to some part of the wider world. I’m sure people laughed at Tolkien when he went on and on about the Elvish tongue, and yet without this language and others like it the book would not be what it is today. All of these elements work together to justly gain the book the complimentary adjective “epic.” The story truly is epic in every sense.

I was thinking about such things the other day when pondering God’s creation. I wonder sometimes why God needed to create a whole universe. Let’s assume that earth is the only planet that contains life forms. And let’s assume that even spiritual realities, the kind that concern spiritual creatures, are also centered around earth (safe assumptions, both, I think). Yet for some reason the universe is expansive beyond imagining. No one can conceive of an end to it and yet no one can conceive of what it means that it has no end. We cannot gaze to its furthest extents and cannot imagine what lies beyond what our eyes can see. The best of us are baffled by it. We are all in awe of it.

A little while ago I saw an incredible photograph taken by the Hubble telescope. Hubble snapped a shot of distant space and in that single photo captured thousands of galaxies. And yet the whole portion of space captured in that photograph could be blocked out by holding a grain of sand at arm’s length. Recent estimates say that the observable universe has around 100 billion galaxies. And beyond that, who knows. The mind cannot conceive of such things.

I don’t know why God saw fit to create 100 billion galaxies and then center his redemptive work on just this one. To think that God created 100 billion galaxies and then allowed himself to be born as a tiny child on a tiny planet in a tiny galaxy is beyond the imagining of this tiny mind. All I can conclude is that all of these galaxies, this vast expanse of space, is a part of God’s backstory. That somehow it is crucial to the story he is telling here and now, the story that began long before Creation and that will never, ever end.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.