Predictability and Familiarity

The entertainment industry, at least insofar as it is involved in telling stories, seeks to give us stories with twists. People jump through hoops to avoid spoiling stories; yes, sometimes people intentionally spoil stories, but those people are mean. We care about the sudden narrative shift, and we expect predictable films to make up for their ‘shallow’ story-line with explosions, action, romance, or some other addition.

This preference for the unexpected isn’t surprising or problematic in the context of entertainment, at all. We use entertainment as a time to remove ourselves from our current lives, to exercise our creative nature, and even flex our emotive muscles, depending on the film or book. Issues can arise, however, when we seek to expand this perceived excitement to our every day lives. In high school, the popular thing to do was ‘be random,’ which was always a bit of a strange statement all on its own. The danger, however, is to look at relationships that are “predictable” and find them lacking, rather than enjoying the familiarity.

There is comfort in familiarity. There’s no place like home, after all, and sometimes that means relationships. For many of my friendships, I have a pretty good idea of how they will respond to a large number of topics. This isn’t to say that I know them perfectly well, but simply to say that I am, in fact, rather familiar with their ways of thinking. Some people, however, see this predictability–this familiarity, that is–as a form of stagnation. While routines can certainly end up toxic (I am not recommending that your life look exactly the same from day to day, or that you settle into ‘comfortable’ conversation topics), there’s something to be said for the comfort gained by spending time with people whose thoughts you needn’t question.

One very important story–the most important story in the world–always ends the same way, no matter how many times I read it. I know the premise, climax, and the conclusion. The Almighty God sends his Eternal Son to die on a cross for the sake of sinners who had infinitely offended Him. The sinners kill Jesus, the Son, and His death atones for the sins of His killers. Three days later, the tomb the Son was laid in is found empty, and Jesus walked and taught again, before ascending into the heavens. This action, this story, this narrative, it allows us to enter into salvation. Jesus offers His Spirit, and we are reconciled to the Almighty God.

I know that story well. I’ve heard it ever since I was a child, and I’ve believed it for nearly as long. I’ve considered the different moments in it rather closely, and I’ve sought to understand the book in which it was originally recorded. There isn’t anything unpredictable about the story, anymore. But rather than finding ourselves bored with this old story, rather than growing jaded to something so predictable, let’s find comfort in the familiarity that we’ve been granted. This is no story for escape from reality or mental exercise: this is the reality of a Savior and a friend. It is something we know, and we live on both in light of and because of it. Thank God this story never changes. I don’t need a remix or a re-release or a director’s cut. Just give me Jesus.

Image via Wikipedia.

Published by

J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).

  • Josh Thompson

    Amen! This pretty much sums up my analysis of movies. The way I see it, the best movies are the ones that mimic (whether intentionally or unintentionally–they can’t really help it) the ultimate story of God and His Son.
    Thanks Cousin!

  • Mackman

    As soon as I read the title, I was reminded of Chesterton’s endless battle against familiarity, because familiarity is always in danger of breeding contempt for the familiar thing.

    I still remember the moment I finished Chesterton’s The Man who was Thursday… The book slipped from my fingers and I collapsed against the couch, amazed by the freshly revealed awesomeness of God. Chesterton had stripped all that was familiar from the gospel, so that I could see how amazing and wonderful it really is.