How are we telling God’s story? So often my first instinct is to make the message palatable, connecting it to the needs of the person in front of me. Do you need a better life purpose? God has the answer. What about a way to deal with evil? That, too, God handily addresses. Just believe God is with you in suffering and move on. Maybe what I share is not a full-fledged health and wealth gospel, but I do really want people to like God’s message. As if my re-creating the story will help God. You know, God, your story is a bit bloody, challenging, and unbelievable at parts, so let me help.
I definitely don’t want to go to the opposite extreme and share only the hell fire and damnation stories. But I have been moving too far away from the real story. In the book, Telling God’s Story, John W. Wright explores how two larger narratives in our lives (personal salvation and national election) have eclipsed those that are in the Bible. American Christians have often focused on how my/our lives are going to be okay – how I am saved and how I am part of God’s specially chosen people. Once we see ourselves as owners of that final, happy ending of eternal salvation, we can continue in our lives without much discomfort – even through struggle. A diagnosis of cancer is a test to my own faith, a flood shows how the community coming together and affirms that we are God’s special people.
As I thought about this more deeply, I started to see how this understanding of God’s story is quite shallow compared to what God shows us through his interaction with people throughout history. In the American version, the story becomes a trite comedy merging together the narratives of the secular and sacred to such a degree that it can be difficult to tell the two apart. Is there really any difference? The focus – as in the literary definition of comedy – is on everything turning out for us in the end. Being comfortable. Resting in salvation. Is this the narrative we find in the Bible? Isn’t it rather a tragedy – something that wakes us out of complacency – in which we are never the heros.
Like pilgrimages, the biblical narrative is unsettling. We want to travel toward a nicely tied up story that will change our lives with minimal effort. Yet, if we really dig into this story, we find something else. Pilgrimages work when they shake up our lives, when the liminal moments cause us to question the story we are moving towards and our place in it. Perhaps these times make us confront our failings head on, turn from past ways, to be honest and move into a new story. That should be the Bible – God’s word reading us instead of the other way around. If we are honest, we see that life is a series of tragedies, a realization that all we do will fail. The Gospel isn’t about a happily ever after, but a working out of God’s Word today. In the midst of our groanings are the birth pains of the redemption God is working out. It is humbling to not be in control of the story, but there is One who is. The more we know of that One, the more we will allow Him to be the hero of our story, no matter how painful that is.
What story are you following?