One technique I have come to appreciate in the art of storytelling is dramatic irony. Dramatic irony describes a situation in which the reader/audience understands the full significance of a character’s words or actions in a story but the character himself does not. Dramatic irony is often used to create humor. For example, in the movie Toy Story, the audience knows from the beginning that the character Buzz Lightyear is a toy, while Buzz thinks he is an actual space ranger. Thus, when the toy Buzz gets all worked up about fulfilling his galactic mission with Star Command, the audience appreciates how silly and ridiculously Buzz acts. But dramatic irony can also be used to highlight tragedy. For example, Shakespeare’s famous play Romeo and Juliet actually begins with a poem telling you exactly how the play will end: “a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.” Knowing the ending from the beginning changes the way you watch the play and heightens the sadness of it: you know that any character’s momentary hope or happiness will soon be shattered and that, no matter how hard the characters try to salvage the situation, they cannot escape the fated calamity.
However storytellers use dramatic irony, the technique is almost always poignant, including in the Bible. One book of the Bible in which we see dramatic irony is the book of Job. At the beginning of Job, the reader is treated to a behind-the-scenes look at a conversation between Satan and God that results in the utter devastation of Job’s life. What then follows is a mixture of humor and tragedy as Job and his three friends argue over why what happened to Job happened to him. They go on and on in their poetic debate (35 chapters!), but the reader knows all the while that the speakers are not even close to figuring out the real reasons for what God was doing. Even when God appears to Job, God does not explain to Job what God was doing but reminds Job of who God is, implicitly calling on Job to trust God. One of the great lessons of Job, then, is similar to what Solomon expresses in Ecclesiastes 8:14-17: man cannot discover all that God is doing in each situation of life, so rather than grope in a frenzy for answers, man should humble himself, fear God, and enjoy his portion in life.
The greatest dramatic irony in the Bible, though, must be with the life of Jesus, even in the Gospel of John. As we began to explore together in the last Sunday sermon, John begins his Gospel record with a vital clarification of who Jesus is: the Creator Word, who before the beginning of creation was both God and with God (John 1:1). Consider how that beginning clarification changes the way we ought to appreciate the words and events that unfold in John’s gospel, like Jesus’ conversation with the immoral, outcast Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42); the Jews’ resentment of Jesus offering himself to them instead of literal bread (John 6:1-65); Jesus’ grief over Lazarus’ death (John 11:1-46); Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-20); Jesus’ praying for his disciples (John 17:1-26); Judas’ betrayal of Jesus (John 18:1-11); Jesus’ trials by the high priests and Pilate (John 18:12-19:15); and Jesus’ crucifixion and burial (John 19:16-41). Because we, the readers, know who Jesus is from the beginning of John’s Gospel, we can see just how outrageous created man’s treatment of their Creator God is! But we also see God’s glorious grace in spite of man’s sinful reception as well as the Son’s confidence in the plan of and future vindication by the Father. Truly, there is no god like the true God! What a wondrous salvation he has revealed! And he has given us an example to follow (Heb 12:1-3).
This Christmas, may we remember afresh who Jesus really is and who he has made us to be by his mighty incarnation, death, and resurrection.
John 1:14, And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Questions to Consider:
1. How is the reception to Christians today similar to Christ’s reception in the Bible?
2. Should we expect the world to understand and judge Christians fairly? Why or why not?
3. Do you know who Jesus really is? If so, how does your life reflect that?