Public Square

We are Characters in the Theater of the World

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Photo courtesy of Jeremy Marshall

We are, all of us, characters in the “theater of the world.” The phrase is from Swiss theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar, though the idea itself isn’t uniquely Christian. Various Greek and Roman myths described human beings as actors on a stage set by the gods.

Still, clearly history can’t have a plot, it can’t be a drama, unless the drama has an author that can transcend it.

Von Balthasar, perhaps more than any theologian in history, worked out this idea in exquisite detail in a four-volume set called Theo-Drama.

Christopher Morrissey, a professor at Redeemer Catholic, explains,

What Balthasar did was refine this notion of the global theatre in light of what the Bible has to say about God’s interaction with the human race.

Unlike a passive god who might set things up and let the drama run its course, the God of the universe has not only written the story, he has entered the story directly.

As von Balthasar puts it,

Theo-drama (as distinct from merely human drama) is only possible where “God,” or a “God,” or some accredited representative of God, steps onto the stage of life’s play as “a person” in the action, separate from the other characters.

The incarnation and resurrection of Christ is the supreme example of such a theo-drama, but most of the other plot points are a bit less dramatic. Sure, you may say that everything happens for a reason. But if you’re searching for a first job, working in a cubicle in an position that seems to be going nowhere, caring for an elderly parent with no hope of recovery, working retail at the local mall, or washing dishes in the bowels of a hotel kitchen, the idea that you are a character in a vast cosmic drama might seem like so much trumpery.

But, as Morrissey says, “In the drama of your life, you have a role to play.” Take some time this week to pray that God will give you at least a glimmer of the drama you’re a part of. Sometimes, the hints are right in front of us.

Read Morrissey’s entire article here.

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