This post is the second in a series on the Power of a Story. Last week, we looked at our human need for stories; we are created to hear and tell stories. But more than the tales we hear around the campfire, read in a book, or even watch on a screen, there are also master narratives. What I mean by “master narrative” is an overarching story where we get our greater understanding and meaning of the world and all that is in it. Some of us can tell this story, while others are unaware of it. Some consciously claim a particular narrative, others subconsciously accept the stories transmitted to them from family, faith community, culture, media, etc. The question is, how does the story of God fit into all of this?
Worldview or Narrative?
A worldview (as I use the term) is the particular “lens” through which we see and interpret the world around us. Are events the work of God, luck, karma, or just random? Is this action good or bad? This is your “point of view,” perspective, or bias. This all depends on what you believe about the world informed by your previous experiences, etc.
How does this relate to a story? Sometimes your master narrative looks more like a traditional story with a beginning, middle, and end, conflict, themes, etc. Other times, the story is less coherent. But there are still characters, settings, and events/actions (plot), with purpose or meaning (or specifically without purpose or meaning), which constitute the basis of a story. The narrative we consciously or subconsciously accept informs our worldview, since we interpret the actions and events around us according to this story.
What Is the Bible?
While we might subconsciously think of the Bible as one book (as everything in it is usually collected into one volume), we know that it is more like a library of collected works. Determining when different portions of Scripture were written is difficult (so I’m told), so I can’t report with any certainty how long the span of time is, but what we know as the Bible was probably written over a period of between 500-1,000 years. The number of authors and/or contributors? Let’s just go with “many.” We even have a lot of different genres of writing represented, some of which are nothing like a narrative. With this much diversity, how can we even think of the Bible as one? You may have your own answer, but I say that the Bible tells a unified story of God.
What Is the Story of God?
When I talk about the story of God, I am referring to the narrative thread that runs through the Bible. It’s important to state, though, that on the surface (and several layers below that), this thread is beyond messy. It goes all over the place and sometimes seems to argue with or contradict itself. Different parts of Scripture were written down by many people, but they were all people who had a significant experience with God, a specific God: YHWH. The Bible is a collection of the testimonies of this lineage of people. Can we see all this diversity as a single story? We can if we look at the main characters of the Bible as God and the people of God. The relationship between these two “characters” has a beginning, millennia of conflict, a climax, and an ending.
Of course, if the story of God is at least one piece of our personal master narrative, it’s not just what’s in the Bible, but our interpretation of it, how we tell the story. For me, the story that the Bible tells is the story of the Creator of the universe who had a vision of how the whole world would be, a vision that would later be called the kingdom of God. To accomplish this vision, God chose to have a special relationship with a certain people. Throughout their very rocky relationship, God was always faithful, even when the people were not. At the right time, God became incarnate in the person of Jesus, the anointed leader God had promised. Jesus brought with him the kingdom of God in his actions and teachings throughout his life, but most powerfully in his death and resurrection. He sent to his people God’s Holy Spirit, with the command to spread God’s kingdom through acts of love. The story will end at some point with the return of the Messiah and the complete establishment of this kingdom for all people.
A Good Story
You might see the story with different details or even a different plotline. However we interpret this story, we generally agree that the story is good news for all people. It is a story defined by God’s great and unconditional love for all of creation, a story that calls us to respond with lives defined by acts of love. This is a story that promises the transformation of the world. This story remains relevant to us in that we are included in this story. We are the people of God in relationship with our God. Our individual stories are a part of this grand narrative.
Stories versus Doctrine
From this story, we can answer specific questions about God, the universe, ourselves, and many other things, and teach these answers (doctrines) apart from the story. These answers are then used to understand/interpret the story. This is a natural and important series of steps. However, I believe that it is the story that has the power to change lives, not the teachings divorced from the story.
The Story Redefined, Redefining
As history and people move onward, the story of God is in a constant state of being understood by people in a variety of contexts. This story is a living story, with the core unchanging but also adapting to our contexts. This is critical for two reasons. First, this story remains relevant to us throughout time and space so that we can continue to see ourselves in it. Second, we can see the unessential interpretations of the story in new lights, especially those aspects which have been oppressive to others, those who have been pushed to the margins.
Telling the Story, Living in the Story
As the Church, within our mission of faith formation, there are two critical results in this understanding of God’s story.
- We must understand the story of God for ourselves, see our lives as a part of this story, and live out this story throughout our lives. The story of God becomes our master narrative.
- We must be able to tell this story in an engaging way (or ways), help others to see their lives as a part of this story and to live out the story in their lives.
This approach to the Bible as God’s story is one of the things I find most attractive, and effective, about the Narrative Lectionary. And, the fact that I find the Narrative Lectionary so powerful is why our major series of faith formation resources produced here at Spirit & Truth Publishing supports the NL. This series is called Living the Word and has a total of nine products covering all ages in a variety of ways. Download an overview of the upcoming year’s readings, a free planning tool, and full sample lessons of each of our products!
God’s blessings on your holy work!
Gregory Rawn, Publisher
High-quality tools make faith formation easier! Check out our resources for all ages on the Narrative Lectionary, as well as elementary-age worship education, cross+generational confirmation, and even special orders.