"Let Me Tell You A Story": Finding Yourself in God's Story, Pt. 1
Introduction: "The Story of My Life!"
What do we mean when we say: "That's the story of my life!" Usually it is a reactionary phrase of response that means that a certain event, or certain happening or occurrence is a consistent or recurring reality in our lives. We may not think about, or unpack this phrase much when we say it, but what we are really revealing about ourselves is that whether we acknowledge it or not, we are "actors" or "players" in a narrative world, or narrative universe.
Allow me to introduce my thinking on the importance of story, or a storied context in which we all live. I would like to focus on this "narrative world" in which God the Father wants all of us to imagine ourselves in the Bible as Christians. The Bible teaches us the true story of creation, fall, redemption and new creation. We are to see ourselves as people in this Grand Story that God has communicated in his holy inerrant and infallible Word.
[Note: I do not use the word "imagine" in this post to imply that it is an "imaginary world" in which God calls us, in the sense of "not real", but a place of truth where are imaginations are actively engaged with and by God's truth (a "narratable world"- Robert Jenson, 'How the World Lost It's Story', First Things, 36 (Oct. 1993): 19-24).
This is a two-part study that will be concluded later this week on finding ourselves in God's Truth, or His Story!
Let Me Tell You A Story...
God's promise to Abraham and His seed is a promise that can be covenantally summed up in the phrase "like father, like son". The father's story, written by God, might then be the story passed on to the next generation and become the son's (and daughter's) story by faith as well (think of the Scriptures where the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law say that they are Abrahamâ€™s children (seed)! The importance of knowing God's Story and passing it down to succeeding generations is because it is so easily forgotten and it is truly the truth that will set us free from alternative myths and stories of our own making! This is why in the Proverbs (particularly in the first nine chapters), you have instructions from parents to son, or children to remember the story of which they are a part as covenantal people.
Each of our lives has a storied-narrative that is "read" or the plot revealed as we live each day of our lives learning about ourselves and our world. For instance, as a Christian, you are a worshiper of the living God, the True Creator, and you who participate in His Redemptive-Action "for you" in Christ, you are a life-character in this great story and narrative of His! Your story is understood in light of His Story and HIS STORY is important for us all to realize each and every day of our lives.
You could say that all creatures either begin each day living their own made-up, individualistically created life-story (you know seeking to â€œreinvent oneselfâ€ or to be whoever one wants to be by perceiving themselves a certain way and wanting others to perceive them this way to!), or we rely on God's Story in Christ to inform and enlighten us, giving us wisdom, and serving to reveal our true identities as those who live and move and have their begin in Him!
Whoâ€™s Story are You Living?
The story of the Christian finds meaning in worship, loving service and community with other participants, or characters in God's story. As Church, we are not merely passive spectators (as some would act and portray in many worship services around America), we are active actors and active participant-players whereby we hear God's Story preached and read, then we respond as those living in His Story. Each worship service as the covenantal community of actors reminds us of our identity and explains how we "fit into" each chapter of His story.
The plot/narrative of God's story is guided by and written out in historical pages by His providence and divine guidance. He guides or directs the plot/narrative to His divine ending that is beyond your imagination and belief!
As the new world, the new creation has dawned in Christ, the volume of grace has been written and is being written in the story of your life (this too is the already, not yet). If you look within your family, neighborhood, or congregation, you will see other important characters in God's story.
But as there is a protagonist in every story (a Divine protagonist in the case of this unique Divine story), so there is an evil antagonist. The antagonist is the Evil One, Satan who would attempt to cause you to exist outside His Story, and tempt you to create or write your own. He is not in any way equal with God Almighty as some ancient Greek teachers might imply. Rather, Satan the Evil One is a created, but fallen angel and servant of God. In God's divine wisdom, he uses the Devil or Satan to fulfill his divine decree, although this is a great mystery (see Job 1-2).
The Evil One's story is the kind of story when your mom asked you: "Are you telling me a story?" This question asked my "Mom" implies a lie, a kind of story that is made-up, not true, and unreal, yet might be believable. The story the Evil One would have us believe started in the Garden of Eden: â€œHas God truly said?â€ (Gen. 3). Satan, the Accuser wants creatures of the living God and Creator to â€œbelieve at lieâ€. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 1:
ESV Romans 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
The Evil One, Satan is a deceiver, a liar, and he tells a story to creatures that is not Godâ€™s truth. He says for instance that â€œall roads of faith lead to Godâ€, while Jesus says he alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through him. Satan tells the story that each of us are to seek our own good in this world, knowing that one day we will die, and so while we are here we need to â€œeat, drink, and be merryâ€, while Christâ€™s story of truth tells us all that we were created for Godâ€™s glory, and in seeking the glory of our Creator, we find meaning, hope, and one day resurrection in Jesus Christ.
So there are two opposing stories ultimately, and we need to be reminded of Christâ€™s words in John 8:44 when speaking with the Jewish Pharisees and Teachers of the Law who had forgotten their story of redemption from Egypt, and were not believing Messiah and His Kingdom that was present with him (cf. Matthew 12:23-32):
ESV John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
The power of the True Story is revealed whenever we have conjured up an â€œalternate realityâ€ or false story of how we got here, who we are, and where we are ultimately headed that doesnâ€™t really satisfy our souls and make sense, then we are given ears to hear the True Story, eyes to see the Kingdom has arrived in Jesus, and we are able to begin the slow transformation of taking all of the conflicting â€œalternate realitiesâ€ and false stories or myths we have been taught and bring them under the Lordship of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
Remember the Story!
Every covenant community of God's people in congregation is a chapter being written in God's Divine Story, living in His Story as the plot progresses toward His divine ending (As in Greek history, we do not believe in cyclical history (histories), but we believe in linear history, that is a history with a beginning at creation and an end-consummation in the renewal of the all creation). As people of the covenant community, we must never forget this great story that has been written, and is being written in our own family and congregation. But we all must remember the story. That is, the story that God reveals is capable of being forgotten and even lost by each family.
The Israelites were also part of this story and they were to tell this story to each generation of sons and daughters in the covenant community. In fact, before Moses died and the people entered into the Promised Land given to them graciously by God, Moses reminded the elders and fathers of Israel in this way (Deuteronomy 6:1-8; 20-25- Read slowly and carefully):
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
20 "When your son asks you in time to come, 'What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?' 21 then you shall say to your son, 'We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. 23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. 24 And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. 25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.'
In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses constantly reminded the people of God to remember the words he had spoken to them for these words would be their life, literally their "life-story" and hope of the future (Deut. 4; 27-29; cf. Deut. 30:1-6).
In John 8:31-59, Jesus is there to offer the promised redemption to the Jews who would believe (John 3:16-18; 8:30-31), but the covenant community has grown apathetic to Godâ€™s promises and are relying merely on physical and human descent from Abraham ("Abraham is our Father"- John 8:33, 39). Forgetting that many within Abrahamâ€™s own household did not believe, and so being a â€œson of Abrahamâ€ did not guarantee oneâ€™s place in Godâ€™s Kingdom (cf. Matthew 3:7-12).
The Hymnbook of Israel and God's Story
In the Psalms, the "hymnbook of Israel", we get a glimpse of how this story was to be passed on from one generation to the next. Notice particularly how important this story of slavery in Egypt was necessary for each generation to understand God's redemption in the past, the redemption to come fully in the future, and how the people were to possess in their storied-imaginations an understanding of God's faithfulness always! Read from Psalm 78 this important story (but there are many more examples). Notice how the people "forget" the story:
Psalm 78:1-11, 40-43, 51-58: Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! 2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, 3 things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. 5 He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, 6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, 7 so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; 8 and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God. 9 The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle. 10 They did not keep God's covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. 11 They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.
Notice first the importance of a re-telling of God's story to every generation. The purpose of which is: "that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments." (verses 6-7).
Yet notice the sad reality spoken of in verse 11, although the people of God in the Old Covenant were to preserve the story of God's redemption in Egypt, "they forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them [in the Exodus from Egypt]. But the tragedy does not end there- - the rebelled, tested, and provoked God as well!
40 How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert! 41 They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel. 42 They did not remember his power or the day when he redeemed them from the foe, 43 when he performed his signs in Egypt and his marvels in the fields of Zoan.
The Great Redemption-Story continues in Psalm 78:
51 He struck down every firstborn in Egypt, the firstfruits of their strength in the tents of Ham. 52 Then he led out his people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. 53 He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid, but the sea overwhelmed their enemies. 54 And he brought them to his holy land, to the mountain which his right hand had won. 55 He drove out nations before them; he apportioned them for a possession and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents. 56 Yet they tested and rebelled against the Most High God and did not keep his testimonies, 57 but turned away and acted treacherously like their fathers; they twisted like a deceitful bow. 58 For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealousy with their idols.
The sad reality is that the Jews who possessed and were called to preserve this story (Romans 9:1-6), had forgotten their story! Jesus is speaking with those in John 8 who have forgotten the important covenantal story they were to pass on to each generation: that they were in bondage and slavery in Egypt and that God redeemed them!
[The Jews] answered [Jesus], "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free'?"
The Teachers of Israel had forgotten the great Exodus story that defined their very existence as the people of God. In fact, the Exodus redemption story was to be passed on to each generation, declaring how God has worked to save and redeem them as his beloved people. Yet when Jesus the Messiah came to reveal the Kingdom of God to Israel first, they had forgotten this important story and were not interested because of the story of their own making (that was in conflict with the True Story Jesus wanted to reveal to them!). They had re-written themselves into a story of their own making, writing themselves out of the Biblical story that God had revealed to them in time and space. How can we also as the people of God today avoid the same thing occurring in our own families, and how do we avoid forgetting the story of our redemption in Jesus? Has God provided any guidance or help in this?
To Be Continued...