As a fiction writer and avid reader, I spend much time immersed in the realm of story and have lately been mulling over the power of storytelling in the human experience and how it relates to God and the way He created us. As writers and readers alike know, stories work upon us in a unique fashion, engaging the heart and imagination. But to begin to understand the function stories have in life, we must look to Scripture and the role they occupy there. From this we see how we were formed to interact with story and derive meaning from it, meaning that helps us to understand truth.
In both Old and New Testaments, story occupies a significant role as a tool God uses to touch the souls of his people. We see this in 2 Samuel, when David orders the death of Uriah and takes Uriah’s wife as his own. In this case, God sends Nathan, his prophet, not to deliver an oracle, but to rebuke David through a story. The tale Nathan tells slips past David’s defenses and arouses his emotions at the injustice done. He burns with anger against the culprit, and when Nathan informs him that he is that man, the word pierces his heart and reveals the degree to which he has sinned.
Similarly, in Ezekiel, we find God pouring out his heart through stories told to his people, emotive and sometimes graphic tales. He narrates an allegory about an adulterous wife who murders her children as a reflection of Israel’s rejection of His covenant, and later, tells a story comparing Israel and Judah to two sisters engaged in prostitution, using these tales both to pronounce judgment and to reveal the full scope and impact of Israel’s idolatry. Through stories, God brought the reality of the situation home in an evocative way. Rather than only telling Israel and Judah they would face judgment for worshiping idols, God conveyed layers of meaning and emotion by telling these stories.
From Scripture, it’s clear that stories allow the conveyance of meaning in a significant way. It is much easier to impart meaning through story than through factual narrative. From a sociology textbook, you might learn the percentage of children who grow up in a single parent home, but a story has the power to show the impact of this fact…what it means. Mind and emotion work together to shape us, but while facts and reason may provide concrete truths (equally important), stories that evoke our emotions and engage our imaginations give deeper understanding, meaning, and significance to these truths.
Thus, Jesus taught in parables and allegory to convey the precepts and principles of the kingdom of heaven. It put the burden of seeking out the meaning on the hearers. They could not remain disengaged bystanders, but had to choose to seek out the treasure hidden in his tales. Time and again, he wrapped Truth in the context of story, sometimes in such a complex way that people could only comprehend if the Spirit gave them eyes to see and ears to hear. His listeners engaged in a different way than if he had taught and answered questions only in a factual manner and to this day, when we read the Word, our hearts engage with the stories contained.
What can we conclude from all this? That God tells stories because they accomplish a purpose. His stories (always distinct from the factual narrative elsewhere in the Bible) serve to engage people’s hearts, to force them to look beyond the surface and search for meaning and interpretation. They convey deeper emotion and layers of meaning. They strip away defenses to reveal truth.
And in this, we see the true power and significance of storytelling.
In coming weeks, I plan to explore different elements of story and our interaction with it–imagination, discernment in reading and writing, what makes story work, and similar topics. I hope you’ll chime in with your thoughts and opinions along the way, so we can all learn from each other.
Image Credit: Cesar Serna