By Charley Dilcher
Everyone loves a good story. Simply said, but listen again: everyone loves a good story. Amazingly enough, this is universally true! Movies make more than 10 billion dollars annually, novels are read over and over again, historians such as Homer, Gaius Acilius, and Josephus recounted ancient stories and have become common textbook material. But why? Why does a story, simple or sophisticated, draw a crowd and take the ear of any listener? What is it in a story that breathes life and exuberates feeling?
In a study from York University on the connection between the brain, social cognition, and storytelling, it was found that “in understanding fictional others (i.e. characters in a novel or a film), we employ the same or similar processes used to understand the mental states of real others.” It was also found that preschool-aged children demonstrated a relation between exposure to storybooks and their social development. How interesting is it we so easily put ourselves in another’s shoes. Our brain functions to process stories much more than it does other information because story affects the way we think as well as how we behave.
As old as humanity, oral tradition has passed down much wisdom. All over the world still today there are stories highlighting a whole ethnic group’s hopes and fears—solely on the basis of a story. Throughout the world story and saga are key elements to keeping tradition and faith alive.
As an abundance of stories surround us and the need for true relationship grows stronger, we must remember that we belong to God’s eternal story. In the Bible, from cover to cover, the story of redemption unfolds in the face of Jesus. He is the Word made flesh, embedded into our world as the express image of God. Jesus revealed to us the very character and image of the invisible God. Every person in Scripture repeatedly falls short of God’s glory. Yet when Jesus shows up on the scene, he brings full glory to God and makes known the way that God truly is.
God’s story is one of redemption. In need of new life, fallen humans are sought out by the Creator, which is the most glorious story of all. The God of the entire universe created all things and then us, so that we might know him and walk in his ways. God inhabits so many traits and characteristics that are loved in the most romantic and renown stories because he is the all-in-all. He is the King creating a powerful kingdom; he is the Bridegroom in search of the perfect bride; he is the great Friend who sticks closer than a brother. The Scriptures not only reveal a love story, but also a spiritual war. Not only that we are we fellow heirs with Christ, but also siblings, brought into the household of God! God’s story of redemption encompasses every aspect of life.
Stories populate the Gospels because Jesus often spoke in parables. We get to know Jesus the storyteller quite quickly in any of the four Gospels. He used parables to redirect people’s attention from their day-to-day mundaneness to see God’s invitation into something greater than themselves.
Jesus’ primary purpose was to reveal the Father. The people he lived among had grown void of understanding their God and so forgot their identity and purpose. Jesus’ stories illustrated that the Father is not distant, nor grudgingly compliant to show up—but rather incredibly interested and involved in the affairs of human life! Jesus revealed a God who is still writing and still speaking. He is incredibly involved and almost too close for comfort, even using our lives to share something of his character.
David, John the Baptist, and Jesus all realized God as the author of everything. David wrote, “Behold I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O God” (Psalm 40:7, 8a, New American Standard Bible).
God may still be writing stories through us. The books mentioned in Revelation 20:12 seem to imply writings of people’s works they have accomplished, lives they have lived. What if these books being opened are actual lives? Perhaps they are an account of our lives, even every word spoken (Matthew 12:36)? Not necessarily to detour or condemn us but rather to reveal the glory of God so clearly to show just how much we had been saved from. Perhaps that is why just seven verses later every tear is wiped away (Revelation 21:4) by God himself. Our desire is that everything in his book in Heaven would also be in ours here on earth.
In our lives stories play a crucial role. When personally explaining a story to a friend, the hearer is better able to enter into the same place without so many hindrances. The power of story is held within the personal transaction that makes the hearer better able to relate. “Wow . . . that happened to you?”
What has God done in your life? What is he doing now? You may be surprised to find a multitude of testimonies that you have accumulated in your life with God. The great thing is that God does the watering as we simply plant with our stories, no matter how simple or “not-as-powerful” they may be. In telling your own story, you don’t need to be the best with words. Just be willing to share. Never underestimate the power of testimony (Revelation 19:10).
Romans 10 shares that people need a witness to come to faith, and that “faith comes from hearing” (v. 17). We are all sent out in our setting each and every day. A few days ago I shared my story with a man at a locale café, explaining where my wife and I were at this point in life. My testimony to him that day was that we were waiting on God to speak to us and direct us to where we’re going and what our next steps should be. We had bought a one-way ticket and had spent about a month in his country before we received any clear direction. Although Greek Orthodox in background, this man had nearly given up on anything but a “higher power.” While we spoke, his ears were all ours because we shared personally where we were on that day. He did not bow right then and there and surrender his life to Jesus, but he truly began to understand that God is personal and had personally crafted him.
Story is powerful! I have seen random strangers cry because of the story exchanged and atheists become stunned because of simple, broken words that God wanted them to hear. Stories are truly a wonderful reality that the God of all comfort uses to comfort us and to freely give to others.
Charley Dilcher and his wife live and work in the context of the Middle East.