Every day I am invited to pay attention to stories. At the top of our social media feeds run the stories of our friends and connections--though to call them stories seems to slightly exaggerate their aims. The news headlines direct us to the latest accounts of the follies of the powerful, the fracturing of our political systems, and the fragility of our planet. The shows we watch on TV invite us into tales of action and fantasy. Everywhere, stories.
These stories shape our view of the world, in ways good as well as bad, subtle as well as obvious. The stories of world troubles might move us to action, or they might lead us to long for escape, whether in lonely retreat or destructive habits. The stories of our friends' successes could fill us with joy if they didn't tempt us to cast a disappointed eye on the ordinariness of our own circumstances. The fictional stories we watch can as easily inspire us, in some cases, to bold, courageous generosity as they can, in other cases, shrink our dreams to triviality or plain selfishness. We are moved and changed by the stories we're told.
The basic power of stories has always been recognized in human culture. Even before we wrote them down, we told stories orally. It shouldn't be a surprise that when God decided to communicate with us using words, he did it by telling stories.
In his ministry on earth, Jesus constantly told stories, characteristically short ones called parables that aimed to help us come to a new vision of the world. He spoke of the kingdom, the in-breaking rule of God--its value, its hiddenness, its unshakable power, how it impacts the lives of those who recognize it. He told stories that led his hearers to see themselves in a new and bigger context, their daily lives now becoming a crucial part of a story of the activity of God.
And the book that God has given us, the Bible as a whole, comes to us as a story. It's a story that invites us to see our lives on the widest possible scale. It tells of the creation of a good world by a good creator God. It tells of the marring of that world by human rebellion of a form and scale that looks suspiciously like some of our own actions. It tells of the Creator's commitment to take responsibility for us--completely undeserved--and care for our restoration as well as that of the world as a whole. It tells how he took that responsibility by becoming one of us and, in a sense, undoing all of the wrong actions and attitudes that characterized our lives, ultimately carrying those wrongs to their demise in his death on the cross. It tells of a community of people whose desires and wills are being changed and who are now meant to point other inhabitants of God's world to his good intentions for everyone. These intentions include the restoration of creation and the healing of all its relationships. It tells us finally that God's intentions will all come true.
This is the story that God wants to tell us, and tell us again. It gives us both a greater meaning and a greater responsibility than the other stories we hear each day. Thankfully, it also tells us that God is in the story with us as our daily helper, loving us extravagantly and ready to keep company with us. The story invites us to see ourselves in its plot, and never to forget that our finite lives have become infinitely valuable as a part of the greatest story of all.
To read the Bible with faithful eyes and hearts is to let God tells us this story, the story of us, of the world and, above all, of his love. Far from a story designed to frighten us, sell us something, or lull us to sleep, God's story wakes us up, calls us to attention, and fills us with meaning and hope.