Better Than Expected
By Anthony Casperson
In a recent podcast, hosted by Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells, they discussed the concept of subverting expectations in stories through various media. Their direct examples were from movies, but since they’re both authors, some of the conversation moved into novel writing as well.
From what I gathered of their discourse, it seems that the less-than-stellar uses of this narrative device utilize the twist just for the sake of having one. But the better examples understand the purpose of the subversion.
Sanderson explained it with an illustrative story, which I’ll paraphrase here. Imagine a dad promises his child that he’ll get them a toy car for Christmas. Then, for the months leading up to the big day, the dad spends time with his kid while playing with a toy plane. And when Christmas finally gets here, the child opens up their present, which is actually the toy plane that they wanted.
A person had an expectation, but something else was given in the end. And they were happy about it when they received it. But the reason why they gratefully accepted something different than what they figured they’d get was because of the middle part of the story. Those months of showing how much fun the toy plane could be, the hard work of building in why something else is better, created joy rather than disappointment.
Essentially, when you take the time to showcase why the subversion is better than the expected, the change becomes eagerly accepted.
I was reminded of this podcast’s discourse during a sermon I listened to this past week. Though the preacher’s point followed a different direction, I couldn’t help but think about Jesus’ own subverting of expectations when it came to his role as the Messiah.
The Jewish people at the time of Jesus’ life on earth longed for the day that their Messiah would come. Everything would be better after he arrived. He would be a savior. But what did they believe he’d save them from?
Their answer would be political injustice. An oppressive governmental regime stood over them. The Roman Empire controlled much of their lives. And though there were a handful of considerations given to the Israelite nation, they were far from free to govern according to their understanding of the Law.
Expectation: The Messiah will overthrow the repressive government over them, and then rule physically over the people (with a leaning toward the preferences of the person finding themselves with this expectation) and lead the nation to the greatest of the world’s kingdoms.
But when the Second Person of the Trinity enfleshed himself in humanity, he showed something much better.
Jesus wasn’t interested in a political agenda. He never sought leadership in that realm. And even when the people tried to force him to be king, he evaded their selfish grasping of his power.
Instead, the life he lived showcased the pure and righteous love of God. The God who heals, forgives, and frees. But also the God who calls us to live by his holy commands rather than our loophole-filled contrivances of living. The one who invites us to die to our selfish desires, pick up our cross, and follow him.
The Messiah that came didn’t follow the myopic expectations of people who twisted the promise of God for their own selfish political freedom. Rather, he lived in line with centuries of God’s actual promises and brought a better freedom that came through (and leads us to) sacrifice.
If the Jesus we follow doesn’t call us to lay down our selfish expectations and join him in selfless sacrifice, then maybe we should consider that we’re not following the real Jesus. The one who already subverted those expectations with something much better.