By: Kevin Bennett
Understanding the greater story of humanity provides us with a greater capacity to understand, empathize, and observe the complexities of our current political, social, and economic climate.
Let’s take a less nerdy approach at viewing the power of story, shall we? Cogitate about art for a second. One of its fundamental pillars seems to be the story. Good paintings invoke emotion and thought in the beholder because they give a background, a contemporaneous element, and a futuristic hope or ideal. Good artwork goes well beyond the dimensions your eyes behold and draws you into dimensions nearer to the human soul’s foundation. The story interpreted from good art is what gives art its depth. Is there more to art than the story, no doubt. Beauty encompasses more than just a good story, but a good story is most definitely beautiful. Now think about music. Perhaps my favorite song, Claire de Lune by Chopin resonates with me because it depicts, without the use of words, a story. Consider our draw to television and movies. Yes, it keeps us occupied and entertained when we want to be our typical sloth-like selves. But at its core, the silver screen presents characters we engage with by means of the story. Emotion is evoked by a well presented rising action and a carefully crafted climax resulting in either a deeply satisfying or mystifying conclusion.
“Great art must tell a major story” - Joshua Reynolds, 18th Century Philosopher
Stories have more than just power over our minds, they have power over our souls. Thus, as the soul is a uniquely human quality, the story is one aspect of that humanity. This is where I fold my thoughts about the story into my theology, or my thoughts about God. I am a Christian, believing in one true God who created all things, including humans. I believe, as the Bible teaches, that He put a divine stamp on us humans called the Imago Dei, or the “image of God”. Besides the fact that it is stupendous that we share unique likeness to God among creation, this Imago Dei concept leads me to examine what makes humans unique in the universe and thus determine things about God. Particularly, I am submitting that the story is part of that Imago Dei stamped on us all. Mushrooms don’t grow faster when they hear a story. Jupiter’s moons don’t get excited and fall out of orbit because they hear a good story. There are only two types of existences that resonate with a good story: humanity and deity. Us and God.
God loves good story.
The Bible as Story
The Bible is many things. It is beautiful literature. It is absolute truth given in human language. It is full of individual principles that shape how we live. It is also a story. A great, grand, giant story. As a pastor, one of the many things I ache for in my sheep is for them to understand and intimately know not just certain texts or principles from scripture, but also the grand story running above, through, and underneath it all. The flow of the word of God, from creation to consummation, is a magnificent story. THE magnificent story. There is no question too grandiose or fundamental that this story cannot speak to.
All of the little stories found throughout the different books and different styles of literature are to be read with the greater story of the Bible in mind. Reading the teachings of Jesus, the creation account, or the commands of the epistles without understanding how they are part of the greater story is akin to watching 3 seconds of a basketball game and determining the current status, potential, chemistry, and style of the team. You don’t know that the point guard was just traded to the team yesterday and will take some time to mesh with the rest of the starters because he is mainly an assist-man, so the errant pass you saw in your 3-second clip is better understood and responded to knowing its context in the greater story. Likewise, you are less likely to be moved to awe-filled worship as you read the account of Christ’s death in the gospels if you haven’t journeyed through the story of the Old Testament, explaining God’s holiness and our sinfulness and remarkable need with vividness that gives the gospel its depth.
One of my biggest concerns as a college/young adult pastor, is the Biblical illiteracy of the Church. Sure, a good number of Christians might know individual passages or stories well enough to survive AWANA or small group time, but when I ask them to relate anything to the grand scheme of things, I get the blankest of stares in return. They cannot get past the one principle they are supposed to draw from that text. For example. when God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son in Genesis 22, I get a response that Abraham had faith to do what was asked even when it seemed crazy, and so should we. This is definitely the principle to be drawn from this text, among others. The problem comes when no connection is made between God’s provision of a perfect sacrifice (the ram in the bushes) to be killed in the place of the inheritor of God’s covenant with Abraham (his son, Isaac). Later on, God would provide another perfect sacrifice, His own Son, to take the place of us, who are inheritors of a New Covenant with good by the blood of Christ. This is the gospel foreshadowed in Genesis 22, thousands of years before the incarnation of Jesus, and it is largely missed. And that is an easy one! Another example is the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Chapters 5-7. Jesus gives a series of “you have heard it is said…….but I say to you” statements. This text really comes to life if we are familiar with the Law from which Jesus quotes, and the whole story that goes with it. The significance of what Jesus is doing in those chapters is lost, if we don’t understand that He is adding to, or extrapolating on the perfect law given to Moses and Israel by God Himself. These aren’t merely “good teachings” from Jesus to live life by, this is Him declaring that He is the fulfillment of the law, and indeed the Author if the law. Suddenly, knowing the Old Testament story makes my stomach lurch as I hear Jesus say these things, and imagine the thoughts and feelings of those hearing Him say these things. How bold Jesus was! Now I know why they marveled at the end of the sermon at the “authority” with which He taught. He was no mere rabbi. He was THE Rabbi! Do you see the need for understanding the big story?
Reclaim Good Story
If you are a leader, disciple-maker, mentor, or whatever you kids call it these days, of a young Christian, make it a point to teach them the big story. Constantly relate things across the testaments, and interweave themes together that run throughout scripture. Above all, look for Christ in every text (Romans 10:4).
If you are biblically illiterate (don’t know the story), then it’s simple. Begin in Genesis 1. Then read Genesis 2 in light of Genesis 1. Then read Genesis 3 in light of 1 and 2, and so on. Then read Exodus, keeping in mind Genesis. Look for repetition and the main point of the story across the books. Then eventually, get to Revelation and read it keeping the whole story of the Bible in mind (good luck making sense of it if you don’t!).
Learn to explain the Bible like the good story it is. Learn to tell YOUR story like the good story it is. Read good stories, and write good stories. Think about what makes a story good, then become a good story teller. Good story tellers are world changers. The best Story Teller is the World Maker. He loves a good story, and He has given us one….and it isn’t fiction.
Perhaps it is time to set-aside the footnotes, verse numbers, paragraph headings, and razor-thin paper that makeup most Bibles. Maybe its time to get a book that is comfortable and enjoyable to read. Maybe we should just pick it up and read it like any good literature, as a great story. This is not to come at the expense of careful and contemplative study of the Word, but rather in addition to it. Let’s reclaim the Good Story.
So get in touch with your Imago Dei side. Fill the story-sized imprint of your soul with the Good Story, and fall in love with a God who has a story He doesn’t just want to tell us, but wants to involve us in.