Our brains seem uniquely adapted to making sense of experience through stories. We constantly tell stories and listen to them in our daily lives in conversations, sermons, poems, songs, and even in jokes—little bitty stories.
A story may entertain or delight us. For example, Little David uses a slingshot to defeat the giant, Goliath, in1 Samuel 17. While entertaining us, the story serves a political purpose, introducing us to David, the future king of Israel.
A Bible story may provide an explanation for pain or joy, such as the experience of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2.
The Bible also contains many stories about individuals who face the difficulties of life, leaving home to travel long distances alone to meet uncertain futures. Some flee to escape the rage of a brother or the abuse of a mistress. Lovers abandon others. These people are obviously flawed, and we are meant to identify with them. How they handle the events of their lives and God’s role in supporting them are key lessons in the story.
Sometimes we are certain what we think about an event or a character, but then we are proved wrong. For Example, in the opening chapters of 1 Samuel, Eli the priest fails to recognize real piety in front of him, mistaking Hannah’s profound prayer for a drunken stupor. Soon after that encounter, a messenger from God informs this same priest that because he is too forgiving of his corrupt sons, they will be killed and a new priesthood established. By this point we have enough information about Eli to consider him in a strongly negative light. Yet in the midst of these problematic events, Eli continues to lovingly instruct his young protégé, the future prophet Samuel. He does so even after realizing that God has commanded Samuel to announce Eli’s tragic fate to him. Eli’s gentle response to the difficulties of his life forces us to reevaluate him, and we exchange contempt and scorn for pity and surprise. The process of adjustment keeps us involved.
And Bible stories describe encounters with God that are personal and private or very public. Such stories allow us to glimpse and be moved by God’s care for humanity. Then we can apply the principles of developing a relationship with God that moves us from a woulda-shoulda-coulda experience to being overcomers in the power of a loving God, brought into the family of God by Jesus, His son.
Stay tuned for more to this story.