In Christopher Nolan's film, “Memento,” Guy Pearce plays Leonard Shelby, a man who has anterograde amnesia. He can't remember anything for more than a few moments at a time, so he records everything with polaroid pictures and tattoos to retrace his steps. He's looking for a second attacker, who he believes killed his wife and and bludgeoned him to the point of his amnesic condition.
The big reveal, however, is after he kills one of the men who had been helping/using him. What we find out is that days before, this man who had been helping him shared information that exposed he had been using him. Knowing that he would forget this in a matter of moments, he wrote on the back of a polaroid not to trust this man, and tattooed this man's license plate number on himself, leading him to believe that this man was indeed the second attacker. He told himself a story that wasn't true, only to follow it so much that he would believe it as fact and act on it. It resulted in murder.
Stories are really helpful. They help us understand how we interpret life. They entertain us. We long for hopeful, happy endings, and we long to be affirmed and loved. Sadly, many of us have encountered huge bumps on the way to encountering our happy endings. Many of us, in fact, have been mistreated, abandoned, or wronged. The stain on the story can affect us dramatically, and for good reason: it wasn't supposed to be that way.
In Genesis 3, we see the beautiful story of mankind enjoying God in eternal bliss interrupted due to choosing a deceitful serpent's words over the trusting words of God. Beauty became chaos in an instant. And from that moment on, as sin and shame invade our life stories, we tell ourselves stories that are often more lethal and destructive than the bumps and bruises that we've encountered in our own personal stories.
None of us would say we are like Leonard. For one, we don't struggle with amnesia. And certainly, we would never murder someone because we believed a lie about them, right?
Yet, how often do we forget sin, brokenness, and God's sovereignty when we are wounded? How often, when we are busted and bruised, do we seek to destroy with our words? As hurting people, we can let our the stories we believe lead us down a destructive path. Much like Leonard of Memento, our hurt and confusion can lead us to devastating results, all because we reinforced over and over in our minds a story that is untrue.
How do we guard against this?
We remember God's Role: Frequently, God puts us in situations that we wouldn't put ourselves in. He sends Joseph to prison. He allows Satan to take everything away from Job. He sends Israel to exile. He directs Jonah to Ninevah. He places the disciples in the midst of a horrific storm. In all of it, He is seeking to bring about obedience, trust, and sanctification. No thing that happens to us is due to God turning His back, rather He is patiently trying to point our gaze back to Him. He cares far more about our heart than our circumstances.
We speak God's Word: Psalm 73 is a great lesson in this. As the psalmist pours His heart out about how he doesn't understand why the wicked have everything and he has nothing, He draws near to God. He spends time with God. “You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.” (v. 24) He listens to God's Word, and He speaks it to Himself.
We trust God's Greater Story: In the midst of the stories we tell ourselves, we must tell ourselves a better one. We deserve hell. We deserve wrath. We deserve abject alienation. We hated God. We disowned Him. And God's response is to come Himself and take on that punishment, so that He might reconcile us to Himself. The cross is the most pertinent image of this story, because if the cross is true, and we trust in Jesus' saving power, there is no sin, no action, no thought that can cause God to punish us. He can discipline and allow consequences, He can place us in difficult circumstances and hardships, but they never communicate God's wrath. Rather, they are meant to point us to God's love and mercy, that we might draw nearer to Him. Believe God's Greater Story of the Gospel.