Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Fourth Wall

The Forth Wall - It is the imaginary boundary between those within a story and those beyond it. Intuitively you know what it is, even if you cannot put a name to it. It is the invisible “wall” between the actors in a drama and the audience, the joint, the seam between this world and that. It is the plane that both separates and joins, the window behind which we in the “real” world exist unseen alongside the realm of the narrative.

To my mind, there is something very potent and suggestive about this idea. Perhaps it’s because, like you, I find myself enmeshed in a story I did not write. In a way altogether unknown to me, I woke up one day in a coherent world and found myself playing a bit-part in something the scope of which I cannot begin to imagine. Like you, a far sight into the story I entered stage-left and found that this thing was well underway. Multiplied ages had already passed when I was not, and yet here I was and am, plain as day. And that is that.

Now, if your response to this is: “What of it?” - forget everything you think you know and take another crack at this. Just step away from the computer for a while and listen to your own engine idle. Think about thinking, the inscrutable feedback loop that makes you aware of you in all your you-ness. Think about the simplest of things - colors, sounds, memory. Feel, as if for the first time, the texture of your life. Take your time. I’ll wait here.......

In the early part of the last century Neils Bohr helped usher in a new era in our understanding of the world. He and others pioneered a hyper-surreal and yet uncannily accurate model of matter and energy know as quantum theory. Bohr once quipped, “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.”

This sentiment, in my judgement, applies here. If at some level you’re not taken aback by who and what you are and where you find yourself, you have not, to be brutally honest, understood it. We, you and I, have an incredible knack for cutting ourselves off from this fundamental awe, either distracting ourselves with all kinds of inanities or permitting ourselves be blinded by over-familiarity. But let’s stop letting ourselves get away with this. I’ll wake up if you will.

Let's take this a step further. It's not enough to say the world is a mysterious something and leave it at that. It's a mystery alright, but a mystery with a particular shape. You get the distinct impression when looking at it that the meaning is not something you’re just imposing on it. That is, it’s decidedly not like the ink-blot in the Rorschach test. Rather, the meaning seems to be independent of you, really out there in the world, beckoning, indeed demanding to be unearthed.

Then again, perhaps it's best to say that final meaning is not exactly out there in the world, but somehow, necessarily, beyond it. For the world, like you, cannot account for itself. It woke up one day, just like you, and here it is. And that is that.

In the last posts we’ve alluded to the fact that the strangest truth in this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction world is this: The secret of my existence and of yours and of the entirety of this great drama is hidden in a reality that exists beyond the horizon of our world. And we’ll never know ourselves, or why we are, or what we’re for unless, somehow, someway, there is contact.

You’ve seen shows in which an actor turns aside from the happenings on the stage and, peering, as it were, through the boundary between realms, addresses the audience. And you’ve seen moments when someone from the outside, a narrator perhaps, speaks into the world of the story. At times someone from beyond will even penetrate into the story itself. It’s called breaking the frame or breaking the fourth wall.

Let me suggest that your hope, my hope, and the hope of the world rests squarely upon this - the breaking of the fourth wall. Then again, it is a hope realized. For, I think we have every reason to believe this unthinkable thing has already happened, that the One who enacted the story stole into it once upon a time in this the real world. And with him he brought the resolution to the whole story, because he is himself that resolution.


  1. Josh, you are an excellent writer~ you have a true gift with words and deep thought. Thanks for sharing~

  2. I knew at some point that this would come up...a question that I have been contemplating for some years now. It is one of those "big" questions that keeps me at a distance from God and Christianity and giving my all to the Father. I do like however when you say, "if at some level you’re not taken aback by who and what you are and where you find yourself, you have not, to be brutally honest, understood it." I feel as though the "big" questions need to be asked and can't just be skipped over. In order for us to understand our God we must be willing to understand ourselves and question everything that we believe to be true and real.

    Which religion is the truth? Most religions at the core have a very similar message: love your neighbor, do not kill, do not steal, forgive, etc. Some even have the same God. How is salvation only possible through Christianity? Will millions/billions of people go to hell because they don't believe in the salvation through Jesus Christ?

    I don't think getting a question like this was your intention for this blog, but in order to break the fourth wall questions like this need to be answered for me. I'm not so naive to think that I am the only one reading and responding, but I do believe questions need to be asked...and sometimes those questions are the most difficult and complicated to answer.

    I don't believe that the answer to this question makes or breaks my relationship with the Lord and Savior, but I do think that this type of dialogue can strengthen that relationship and lead me closer to the reality that "with him he brought the resolution to the whole story, because he is himself that resolution."


    **Thank you Josh for not only sharing, but for listening and responding as well.

  3. Great questions. I guess the first thing that I would say is that I would question the premise that Christianity shares a common core with other religions. I just don’t think this is the case. There are certainly common elements, but I would contend that Christianity is something very distinct and unique.

    What I mean is this: In their basic essence, all other religions provide man with things that he must do to be reconciled with God or ultimate reality. In sharp contrast, Christianity is saying that God himself entered the world in the person of Christ and did for you what you could never do for yourself. That is, he lived the life you should have, but have not, and died the death you should have but need not. In so doing, he fully accomplished all that was needed to reconcile you to God forever. So, salvation is not something that man acquires for himself by following principles or walking a certain path. It is, rather, a free gift received by faith. (It does result in living for God, but as a consequence, not as something that procures salvation.)

    This, according to Christianity, is the only way that man can be made fit for everlasting life with God. Jesus, the God-man must take our guilt upon himself and give us the gift of righteousness and life. It doesn’t matter who you are. The message is for any and all, from the poor fisherman on the Yellow River to the Professor in Jersey.

    Hope that helps. I intend to touch on many of these things in future posts, so stay tuned for fuller responses in that form. Thanks for the question.

  4. Thanks for sharing that and for opening my mind and heart to a different perspective...I have never thought of it in that way before.



Join the conversation!