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Epic: The Story God Is Telling

Epic: The Story God Is Telling

4.0 98
by John Eldredge

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Life, for most of us, feels like a movie we’ve arrived to forty minutes late.

Sure, good things happen, sometimes beautiful things. But tragic things happen too. What does it mean? We find ourselves in the middle of a story that is sometimes wonderful, sometimes awful, usually a confusing mixture of both, and we haven’t a clue how to make sense of it


Life, for most of us, feels like a movie we’ve arrived to forty minutes late.

Sure, good things happen, sometimes beautiful things. But tragic things happen too. What does it mean? We find ourselves in the middle of a story that is sometimes wonderful, sometimes awful, usually a confusing mixture of both, and we haven’t a clue how to make sense of it all. No wonder we keep losing heart.

We need to know the rest of the story.

For when we were born, we were born into the midst of a great story begun before the dawn of time. A story of adventure, of risk and loss, heroism . . . and betrayal. A story where good is warring against evil, danger lurks around every corner, and glorious deeds wait to be done. Think of all those stories you’ve ever loved—there’s a reason they stirred your heart. They’ve been trying to tell you about the true Epic ever since you were young.

There is a larger story And you have a crucial role to play.

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Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
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5.00(w) x 7.10(h) x 0.50(d)

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From Epic, copyright © 2004 by John Eldredge. All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means-electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, scanning, or other-except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles, without the prior written permission of the publisher.


"I wonder what sort of tale we've fallen into?"

-J. R . R . Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

It's been quite a journey for Frodo and Sam when the little gardener wonders this. Ever since they left home they've encountered more wonders and more dangers than they could have possibly imagined. The battle on Weathertop. The flight to the ford. The beauty of Rivendell. The dark mines of Moria, where they lost their beloved Gandalf. Their fellowship has fallen apart; their friends are now far away on another part of the journey. Into the shadow of Mordor they've come, two little hobbits and their cooking gear on a journey to save the world. It's at this point Sam says, "I wonder what sort of tale we've fallen into?" Sam could not have asked a better question.

He assumes that there is a story; there is something larger going on. He also assumes that they have somehow tumbled into it, been swept up into it. 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.

Life Is a Story

Life, you'll notice, is a story.

Life doesn't come to us like a math problem. It comes to us the way that a story does, scene by scene. You wake up. What will happen next? You don't get to know-you have to enter in, take the journey as it comes. The sun might be shining. There might be a tornado outside. Your friends might call and invite you to go sailing. You might lose your job.

Life unfolds like a drama. Doesn't it? Each day has a beginning and an end. There are all sorts of characters, all sorts of settings. A year goes by like a chapter from a novel. Sometimes it seems like a tragedy. Sometimes like a comedy. Most of it feels like a soap opera. Whatever happens, it's a story through and through.

"All of life is a story," Madeleine L'Engle reminds us. This is helpful to know. When it comes to figuring out this life you're living, you'd do well to know the rest of the story.

You come home one night to find that your car has been totaled. Now, all you know is that you loaned it for a couple of hours to a friend or your teenage daughter, and now here it is, all smashed up. Isn't the first thing out of your mouth, "What happened?" In other words, "Tell me the story."

Somebody has some explaining to do, and that can be done only in hearing the tale they have to tell. Careful now-you might jump to the wrong conclusion. Doesn't it make a difference to know that she wasn't speeding, that in fact the other car ran a red light? It changes the way you feel about the whole thing. Thank God, she's all right.

Truth be told, you need to know the rest of the story if you want to understand just about anything in life. Jokes are like that. There's nothing to them at all if you walk in on the punch line. "Then she said, 'That's not my dog!'" Everyone else is in stitches. What is so dang funny? I think I missed something. Love affairs, layoffs, the collapse of empires, your child's day at school-none of it makes sense without a story.

Story Is How We Figure Things Out

Bring two people together, and they will soon be telling stories. A child on her grandmother's lap. Two men in a fishing boat. Strangers stuck another hour in an airport. Simply run into a friend. What do you want to know? "How was your weekend?" "Fine" is not a good answer. It's just not satisfying. You heard something about a mariachi band, a fifth of tequila, and a cat. And you want to know more about that story.

Look at our fixation with the news. Every morning and every evening, in every part of the globe, billions of people read a paper or tune in to the news. Why? Because we humans have this craving for meaning-for the rest of the story. We need to know what's going on.

Our boys are ambushed somewhere in Asia. What's happening over there? A virus is rampaging on the Internet. What do we need to do to protect ourselves? Somehow we don't feel as lost if we know what's going on around us. We want to feel oriented to our world. When we turn on the news, we are tuning in to a world of stories. Not just facts-stories. Story is the language of the heart.

After all, what's the world's favorite way to spend a Friday night? With a story-a book, a favorite show, a movie. Isn't it true? Good grief! There's a video store on every corner now. They've taken the place of neighborhood churches.

It goes far deeper than entertainment, by the way. Stories nourish us. They provide a kind of food that the soul craves. "Stories are equipment for living," says Hollywood screenwriting teacher Robert McKee. He believes that we go to the movies because we hope to find in someone else's story something that will help us understand our own. We go "to live in a fictional reality that illuminates our daily reality." Stories shed light on our lives.

We might know that life is a journey, but through Frodo's eyes, we see what that journey will require. We might know that courage is a virtue, but having watched Maximus in Gladiator or Jo March in Little Women, we find ourselves longing to be courageous. We learn all of our most important lessons through story, and story deepens all of our most important lessons. As Daniel Taylor has written, "Our stories tell us who we are, why we are here, and what we are to do. They give us our best answers to all of life's big questions, and to most of the small ones as well."

This is why, if you want to get to know someone, you need to know their story. Their life is a story. It, too, has a past and a future. It, too, unfolds in a series of scenes over the course of time. Why is Grandfather so silent? Why does he drink too much? Well, let me tell you. There was a terrible battle in World War II, in the South Pacific, on an island called Okinawa. Tens of thousands of American men died or were wounded there; some of them were your grandfather's best friends. He was there, too, and saw things he has never been able to forget.

"But in order to make you understand," explained novelist Virginia Woolf, "to give you my life, I must tell you a story."

I expect all of us, at one time or another, in an attempt to understand our lives or discover what we ought to do, have gone to someone else with our stories. This is not merely the province of psychotherapists and priests, but of any good friend. "Tell me what happened. Tell me your story, and I'll try to help you make some sense of it."

You seem . . . stuck. Things fall apart. What does it all mean? Should you have chosen a different major after all? Were you meant to take that teaching job? Are you going to find someone to spend your life with, and will he or she remain true? What about the kids-are they headed in the right direction? Did you miss an opportunity in their lives, some key moment along the way? And if crucial moments are about to happen, will you recognize them? Will you miss your cues?

We humans share these lingering questions: "Who am I really? Why am I here? Where will I find life? What does God want of me?" The answers to these questions seem to come only when we know the rest of the story.

As Neo said in The Matrix Reloaded, "I just wish I knew what I am supposed to do." If life is a story, what is the plot? What is your role to play? It would be good to know that, wouldn't it? What is this all about?

"Seeing our lives as stories is more than a powerful metaphor," wrote Taylor. "It is how experience presents itself to us."

We Have Lost Our Story

And here's where we run into a problem.

For most of us, life feels like a movie we've arrived at forty-five minutes late.

Something important seems to be going on . . . maybe. I mean, good things do happen, sometimes beautiful things. You meet someone, fall in love. You find that work that is yours alone to fulfill. But tragic things happen too. You fall out of love, or perhaps the other person falls out of love with you. Work begins to feel like a punishment. Everything starts to feel like an endless routine.

If there is meaning to this life, then why do our days seem so random? What is this drama we've been dropped into the middle of? If there is a God, what sort of story is he telling here? At some point we begin to wonder if Macbeth wasn't right after all: Is life a tale "told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"?

No wonder we keep losing heart.

We find ourselves in the middle of a story that is sometimes wonderful, sometimes awful, often a confusing mixture of both, and we haven't a clue how to make sense of it all. It's like we're holding in our hands some pages torn out of a book. These pages are the days of our lives. Fragments of a story. They seem important, or at least we long to know they are, but what does it all mean? If only we could find the book that contains the rest of the story.

Chesterton had it right when he said, "With every step of our lives we enter into the middle of some story which we are certain to misunderstand." The world has lost its story. How that happened is quite a story as well, one we haven't time for here. But the latest chapter of that story had to do with the modern era and how mankind looked to science to solve the riddle of our lives. As Neil Postman said about the scientific view:

In the end, science does not provide the answers most of us require. Its story of our origins and our end is, to say the least, unsatisfactory. To the question, "How did it all begin?", science answers, "Probably by an accident." To the question, "How will it all end?", science answers, "Probably by an accident." And to many people, the accidental life is not worth living. (Science and the Story That We Need)

Since then we've pretty much given up on trying to find any larger story in which to live. We've settled for uncertainty-we can't really know. Listen to the way people offer their thoughts or opinions on just about anything these days. They always start or finish a sentence with a qualifying comment like this: "But that's just the way I see it."

That's not merely a show of humility. It's a sign of our shared belief that nothing certain can be known. All we have now are our opinions. "The lost sense," poet David Whyte observed, "that we play out our lives as part of a greater story."

It was one of those great stories That you can't put down at night The hero knew what he had to do And he wasn't afraid to fight The villain goes to jail And the hero goes free I wish it were that simple for me. (Phil Collins and David Crosby, "Hero")

What sort of tale have we fallen into?

There Is a Larger Story

Walk into any large mall, museum, amusement park, university, or hospital, and you will typically meet at once a very large map with the famous red star and the encouraging words You are here. These maps are offered to visitors as ways to orient themselves to their situation, get some perspective on things. This is the Big Picture. This is where you are in that picture. Hopefully you now know where to go. You have your bearings.

Oh, that we had something like this for our lives. "This is the Story in which you have found yourself. Here is how it got started. Here is where it went wrong. Here is what will happen next. Now this-this is the role you've been given. If you want to fulfill your destiny, this is what you must do. These are your cues. And here is how things are going to turn out in the end."

We can.

We can discover the Story. Maybe not with perfect clarity, maybe not in the detail that you would like, but in greater clarity than most of us now have, and that would be worth the price of admission. I mean, to have some clarity would be gold right now. Wouldn't it? Start with the movies you love.

I'm serious. Think about your favorite movies. Notice that every good story has the same ingredients. Love. Adventure. Danger. Heroism. Romance. Sacrifice. The Battle of Good and Evil. Unlikely heroes. Insurmountable odds. And a little fellowship that in hope beyond hope pulls through in the end. Am I right? Think again about your favorite movies. Sense and Sensibility. Don Juan DeMarco. Titanic. The Sound of Music. Sleepless in Seattle. Gone with the Wind. Braveheart. Gladiator. Rocky. Top Gun. Apollo 13. The Matrix. The Lord of the Rings. The films you love are telling you something very important, something essential about your heart.

Most of us haven't stopped to ask ourselves, Now why that heart? Why those longings and desires? Might we have been given our longings for love and adventure, for romance and sacrifice as a kind of clue, a treasure map to the meaning of Life itself?

Next, I want you to notice that all the great stories pretty much follow the same story line. Things were once good, then something awful happened, and now a great battle must be fought or a journey taken. At just the right moment (which feels like the last possible moment), a hero comes and sets things right, and life is found again.

It's true of every fairy tale, every myth, every Western, every epic-just about every story you can think of, one way or another. Braveheart, Titanic, the Star Wars series, Gladiator, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. They pretty much all follow the same story line.

Have you ever wondered why?

Every story, great and small, shares the same essential structure because every story we tell borrows its power from a Larger Story, a Story woven into the fabric of our being-what pioneer psychologist Carl Jung tried to explain as archetype, or what his more recent popularizer Joseph Campbell called myth.

All of these stories borrow from the Story. From Reality. We hear echoes of it through our lives. Some secret written on our hearts. A great battle to fight, and someone to fight for us. An adventure, something that requires everything we have, something to be shared with those we love and need.

There is a Story that we just can't seem to escape. There is a Story written on the human heart.

As Ecclesiastes has it,

He has planted eternity in the human heart. (3:11 NLT)

Look, wouldn't it make sense that if we ever did find the secret to our lives, the secret to the universe, it would come to us first as a story? Story is the very nature of reality. Like the missing parts of a novel, it would explain these pages we are holding, the chapters of our lives.

Second, it would speak to our hearts' deepest desires. If nature makes nothing in vain, then why the human heart? Why those universal longings and desires? The secret simply couldn't be true unless it contained the best parts of the stories that you love. Yet it would also need to go deeper and higher than any of them alone.


Christianity claims to do that for us. Not the Christianity of proper church attendance and good manners. Not the Christianity of holier-than-thou self-righteousness and dogmatism. Not another religion, thank God.

That is not Christianity. Oh, I know it's what most people, including the majority of Christians, think Christianity is all about. They are wrong. There is more. A lot more. And that more is what most of us have been longing for most of our lives.

A Story. An Epic.

Something hidden in the ancient past.

Something dangerous now unfolding.

Something waiting in the future for us to discover. Some crucial role for us to play.

Christianity, in its true form, tells us that there is an Author and that he is good, the essence of all that is good and beautiful and true, for he is the source of all these things. It tells us that he has set our hearts' longings within us, for he has made us to live in an Epic. It warns that the truth is always in danger of being twisted and corrupted and stolen from us because there is a Villain in the Story who hates our hearts and wants to destroy us. It calls us up into a Story that is truer and deeper than any other, and assures us that there we will find the meaning of our lives.

What if?

What if all the great stories that have ever moved you, brought you joy or tears-what if they are telling you something about the true Story into which you were born, the Epic into which you have been cast? We won't begin to understand our lives, or what this so-called gospel is that Christianity speaks of, until we understand the Story in which we have found ourselves. For when you were born, you were born into an Epic that has already been under way for quite some time. It is a Story of beauty and intimacy and adventure, a Story of danger and loss and heroism and betrayal.

It is a world of magic and mystery, of deep darkness and flickering starlight. It is a world where terrible things happen and wonderful things too. It is a world where goodness is pitted against evil, love against hate, order against chaos, in a great struggle where often it is hard to be sure who belongs to which side because appearances are endlessly deceptive. Yet for all its confusion and wildness, it is a world where the battle goes ultimately to the good, who live happily ever after, and where in the long run everybody, good and evil alike, becomes known by his true name . . . That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that the claim made for it is that it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still. (Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth)

But I rush ahead. Let's discover the Epic for ourselves.

Meet the Author

John Eldredge is an author, a counselor, and a teacher. He is also president of Ransomed Heart, a ministry devoted to helping people discover the heart of God, recovering their own hearts in God’s love, and learning to live in God’s kingdom. John and his wife, Staci live near Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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Epic 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 97 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago

Upon beginning to read Eldredge¿s latest book, I found myself with a knife in one hand, a razor in the other, ready to cut, shred, slice and dice my way through--what I had falsely believed-- was going to be another milquetoast, week-kneed ¿inspirational¿ piece of nonsense foisted upon the unsuspecting masses. How very wrong my initial perceptions were! Rather than cutting and ripping my way through this book, I found my self pleasantly delighted by each wonderful page. I can honestly say that this is the best little book I¿ve read in the past year.

What is it about certain stories that capture the imagination and adoration of so many people? Just in the past fifty years or so, we have had the great pleasure of being blessed with many wonderful stories, both in book and film, like ¿The Lord of the Rings,¿ ¿The Chronicles of Narnia,¿ ¿Star Wars,¿ ¿The Matrix,¿ ¿Titanic¿ and a host of others. Something about these films and stories spoke to us on a deep, emotional level, bypassing our analytical minds and moving upon us in a genuinely spiritual fashion. Eldredge has discovered the common theme that unites all these wonderful stories, and shows us how they all are very similar to the Greatest Story Ever Told.

Could it be that all these famous, well known stories have become so popular because there is something in us that wants, or possibly even knows that they are true? Whether it be the heroics displayed upon the decks of the sinking Titanic, or the courageousness of two lonely little hobbits trekking across forlorn lands to destroy ultimate evil, there is something about those stories that we wish were true for ourselves. But what if these stories could, in fact, be speaking of a reality that is available for us? Is it possible that we too could live ¿happily ever after¿ upon completion of a heroic deed? The surprising but honest answer Eldredge gives us is a resounding ¿yes.¿

The ultimate story of all history is that of the God/man Jesus. Here is a man who lived a simple, but powerful life. He was a champion and a friend to many, and a bitter enemy and a thorn in the side of a few. But those few were the power-brokers of the day, and decided it would be convenient to do away with this miracle worker who so rudely upset their conscience. But the miracle worker, so quickly and violently put to death, had one last message he wanted to deliver before he left this planet: death is NOT the end, but the beginning of Real Life.

Eldredge correctly points out that films like ¿Titanic¿ and ¿Gladiator¿ succeed because they plainly show that there is life after death, there is a happy ending no matter the tragedy. Isn¿t that what we long for, hope for, pray for? Our lives are not just meaningless little accidents that are the results of random chemical reactions, but we are here for a purpose, not matter how wonderful or horrible the circumstances around us. But the purpose does not reach it¿s ultimate fulfillment until we¿ve reconciled with the Son of God.

In this short, six chapter book, Eldredge presents us with God¿s plan of salvation. But though he quotes from the Bible where appropriate, the book never, ever becomes one of those dry, dull theological treatments that read more like a recipe for meatloaf than an introduction to the living God. Theological terminology has been banned from this book, and it is all the better for it. Rather than aiming at the brain, Eldredge correctly and expertly aims at the heart, and hits the bulls-eye page after page. This book is the finest gospel presentation I¿ve ever come across in my many years of Christianity.

But there is a group who will hate this gem of a book, who will easily find tremendous fault with it. They would be the modern Pharisees of today, the holier-than-thou religious folk who can¿t stand a presentation of Jesus that can¿t be read without a theological dictionary in one hand and a King James Bible in the o

Barb Hartman More than 1 year ago
I bought this on my e-reader and now purchasing a hard copy to share with my family and friends! Amazing, quick read that fully explains the desire for a loving relationship that God has for US! If you have ever wondered why our loving, omnipotent, and omnipresent God allows bad things to happen, please read this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is a very quick read, but also extremely engaging. I was hooked after reading the first paragraph. If you are a movie-lover, this book will speak to you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am buying copies for my friends and family! It is unlike anything i have ever read before. Profound and compelling....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Slashers room. Smells rotten, dont you agreee?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love the way he tied some very good books/movies into the gospel!
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Joel_M More than 1 year ago
John Eldredge launches his fresh look at Gospel with this quote: "I wonder what sort of tale we've fallen into" (J. R. R. Tolkien, LOTR). Christianity is not a series of rules and church attendance, but the opportunity to participate in "the story God is telling." Eldredge draws frequent parallels with various books and movies to show that our best loved stories reflect God's great true story because "eternity is written in our hearts." This short book is both thought-provoking and beautiful.
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Rafikinhos More than 1 year ago
It's not too early to start thinking about gifts for Christmas and this is definately a great stocking stuffer which I entend to take full advantage of. I read this book on the recommendations of the readers ratings and all I can say is Thank You! Thank You! John Eldredge gave full insite of how we should look at ourselves as a story which does indeed have a happy ending if you've made the most important decision of your life...accepting Christ as Lord and Savior. I enjoyed this book tremendously. I did notice one error in print.."God made man a little lower than the angels"...not God. I can't rememeber what page that error is on...ayway I hope this correction is made in the next reprint. I would correct it in my copy...but I have a Nook. Other than that...this is definately a MUST READ!!!
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