Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stories Part I

Stories are something that I really enjoy.  I don't know why.  And the closer they get to being unbelievable, the better.  Forget the ones about having to pee in the woods because you were camping.  After all, everyone's done that.  But tell me more tales about my Grandpa evading the police.  Tell me them all, and tell them to me over and over again.  I love 'em.  But why?

Stories scratch the age old itch of communication.  They connect us to other people and other times, and even other worlds.  They give us messages in a way that is both informative and normative.  That is to say, it gives us practical examples of how we should live, and why we should live that way, or how we shouldn't live and why we shouldn't live that way.  When I think about the best books I've read, they have been the ones that made me 'experience' whatever it was that the characters were experiencing.  When the characters were tempted, I felt the temptation, and when they reaped the fruit of their actions, I felt the stinging consequences, and therefore understood the error of their ways and changed my life and made decisions accordingly. 

However, in this current period of human history, stories and myth are shunned for 'facts' and information.  The Enlightenment and the resulting victory of Reason over human experience has left us with few sources of truth and beauty.  We can only believe what dull textbooks and boring geniuses tell us, and our only justification is that they are smarter than us.  The average person can no longer trust his feelings and justifications regarding what is Beautiful, he has to double-check it with the definition of beauty that comes down to us from the ivory towers of the critics.  Even in the Church, especially my beloved Reformed churches, stories have been abandoned for point by point logic, as if the Apostle Paul were a robot and not a man.

This is a mistake because we as humans don't live in a world of abstractions and theories.  We live in the real world--one of flesh and bone and tears and sweat and blood and sin and broken relationships.  For the past 150 years we have heard about the progress of mankind, and how science and knowledge is directing us toward a better life.  But we haven't seen increases in the quality of life, just the quantity.  Sure, we live longer and are more comfortable than ever, but that just means we have more time to hurt each other.  There as many wars today as there were then.  It's obvious that this method of communication isn't sufficient by itself.  Alright, enough science bashing for today.  I'm just a little prejudiced, but trying to remain objective.

That's where stories come in.  They take all the abstractions and theories, and give them hands and feet, flesh and bone.  Instead of just reading the book of Romans in the New Testament, filled as it is with tight arguments, we can see that theory worked out in Paul's life.  They are complementary.  We read a commandment and know that we should obey it, but when we can read stories about what happens to people who disobey, or the pain God feels when we disobey, we have a more human reason and desire to obey.  It's like 3-d morality.

For example, the Hebrews taught their children to say something called the Shema every day.  It was something like, "Hear O Israel, the LORD your God is one."  It was a commandment that they teach it to their children, just it was commanded that they teach the law to the next generation.  But, these mandates were always accompanied by stories.  Why should you believe that the LORD is one, or not worship idols?  Because He is the only God who could send the plagues down on Egypt, lead the Hebrews out of slavery and through the Red Sea as if it were dry land.  Only the true and living God, the God of the Bible, could lead his people through the desert forty years and provide for them miraculously.  Only He could drive out the nations before them as they headed toward Canaan.  

And so it was these commandments, coupled with the stories that reinforced why they were trustworthy commandments, that have given all of us a reason to keep believing, even in the face of trials and persecution.  So don't be like so many Christians today who say, "the Old Testament was for the Jews and the New Testament is for us."  Learn about who your God is and how His power, mercy, correction, and love have guided His people since the beginning of time.  Read the Old Testament and remember that God still moves teenage boys to slay giants, and closes the mouths of lions--be they physical, spiritual, or emotional.

Hear, O Christians!  You who are the children of Abraham by faith: The LORD your God is one.  He wants to do great things with your life, and he wants you to tell His stories and give hope to the world.

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