The Resolution Paradox: How Stories Show our Desire for God Part 1

Ever watch a movie, TV show, or read a book that made you think about life? Sometimes we ask if we have false memories like in Total Recall or Inception and sometimes we wonder if we are worth the cost paid for us like in Saving Private Ryan. Stories can touch the mind and impact the heart.

C.S Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity that “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists”. Basically, the desires we have must have some sort of way of satisfying them. We hunger and that desire gets satisfied when we eat, we get tired and that desire is satisfied when we sleep; Lewis writes that this works for all desires, even non-physical ones such as justice, love, peace, and so on. According to Lewis we cannot desire something that does not exist or could not exist.

Let’s take a look at stories themselves:

Observation 1 – Every society tells stories and every story must end.

One could call these ‘myths’ in the sense that these are the stories that can teach direct lessons such as the fables of Aesop but not necessarily so. These could be done in a theater showing of the massive explosions that only a Summer blockbuster can or around a campfire about ancestors in a tribal setting. No matter the venue or length of the tale, there is still a story being told and by the nature of time itself every story must stop. This can be the chapter ending before you tuck your child into bed or the conclusion of a giant epic that resolves every plot line. It is as Aristotle said

“A whole is that which has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A beginning is that which does not itself follow anything by causal necessity, but after which something naturally is or comes to be. An end, on the contrary, is that which itself naturally follows some other thing, either by necessity, or as a rule, but has nothing following it. A middle is that which follows something as some other thing follows it. A well-constructed plot, therefore, must neither begin nor end at haphazard, but conform to these principles.” [1]

Basically what Mr. A is saying in fancy philosophical language is that there are three parts to a whole story: beginning, middle, and end; and each part is directly linked to the other in the order in which they are – beginning first, then middle, which leads to the end.

Observation 2 -We desire stories to be resolved when they end.

What do storytellers do with this impending ending? They find a way to end it well. Read your child a story and stop in the exciting part and they will beg you to finish it before the light goes out. Television and movies make money by leaving threads unresolved until the next episode or movie. I am not saying that every story ends well, but we still desire them to be resolved. We like unresolved stories as much as things or characters from outside the story fixing things such as a Deus Ex Machina.

For examples of this think of any cancelled TV show that was not resolved and the outcry on that: Firefly got a movie to resolve things, Farscape got a TV miniseries years after the show was cancelled, and even regarding shows that ended (like Lost), people argue that it did not resolve things to their liking.

Observation 3 – Even though stories end and we want them to be resolved, we still want them to continue.

At the same time even when all things are resolved we still hunger for more. Sherlock Holmes was “brought back from the dead” in the form of prequels/sequels because the public demanded more after his death at the Reichenback Falls in “The Final Problem.” Hollywood makes sequel after sequel of films that try to resolve things. If not sequels then remakes – where the same story is retold. Even after everything is resolved in a story, we want more.

Conclusion – We both desire resolution and the continuation of stories.               

This is a paradox! How can we both want resolution and then non-resolution? Yet, if this argument/observations follow then this paradox is something we desire. If C.S. Lewis is right in his argument of desire then how can we desire something that is seemingly contradictory?

We will find out in the next part!


[1] You can read a good translated version of the Poetics here: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/poetics.html.

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