I love stories. I love them in print, on stage, in film and on television. They help me find my way in life.
Good stories explore what it means to be human and live in this world. They get at who we are and why we do the things we do. They tell us something about ourselves, the world we live in and the people around us.
And the best stories are true — not that they actually happened but in that they reflect human nature and the way the world works in reality. And stories like that provoke us to examine what we believe and why. They help us think through the issues facing us in our own lives. They can even change the way we approach life, people and the world.
The really good stories bring God’s truth into open spaces. As Paul puts it, God has made himself known to all people: “But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being” (Rom. 1:20, Message).
Paul puts this concept into action “in the open spaces” of Mars Hill (Acts 17), when he talks with a group of philosophers and thinkers and uses bits and pieces of religions, literature and stories they are familiar with that reflect truth and, ultimately, God. God is all around us, he tells them: “He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him!” (Acts 17: 28, Message).
It makes sense, then, that our stories, especially our good ones, would reflect him and our own Story — the one in which we all live and breathe.
Our Story begins with one perfect, life-giving breath that creates an amazing universe where humans walk with its Author. That creation comes under a curse — but from the beginning, that Author longs and relentlessly works to free his world and us so that we can walk with him again and be again the people we were created, called and enabled to be. (Spoiler alert: He succeeds, gloriously.)
This Story is full of messy people — broken and healed, lost and found. In the stories of the likes of Noah, Abraham, Ruth, Esther, Hannah, David, Jeremiah, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Paul and, most of all, Jesus, we discover more about ourselves and God than any doctrine could tell us.
“A story does not say, ‘Let me tell you what is true,’ but ‘Let me tell you what happened,’ ” says Daniel Taylor in The Skeptical Believer, and that “may also cause you to change — to modify your present story or even to abandon it for another.”
No story can change us more than the Bible. “Stories are God’s idea,” says Taylor. “The Bible does not simply contain stories; it reflects God’s choice of the story configuration as the primary means by which to tell us about himself and how to be in right relationship with him.”
Threads of this Story are woven throughout the stories around us. The best of them flesh out its wisdom, truth, beauty, darkness and light, depth and breadth. Those stories can help us better understand who we are and who God is. They remind and invite us to reclaim our identity and purpose, to join with God as he works toward our happy ending.
I will always be grateful for the opportunity to use this space to reflect on those stories. May good stories help you find your way, too.
Carmen Andres, a former editor of the Mennonite Brethren magazine Christian Leader, lives in Alexandria, Va.