MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Tuesday, September 29th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Andrée Seu Peterson now on the importance of telling good stories.
ANDREE SEU PETERSON, COMMENTATOR: Old farmer Brown in the back pew has drifted off to sleep as soundly as Eutychus at Troas, when suddenly comes the first whiff from the pulpit that a story is coming. The farmer is roused awake.
To say that people like stories is like saying Jacques Cousteau liked water. There is something profound afoot.
The rookie writer soon learns that story snags the reader like a Venus Trap flower snags flies. The politician knows he must be one part policy expert and one part Garrison Keillor. He never talks health care or global warming; he describes the mother of four in Warren, Michigan, whose husband was laid off and has to eat scrapple to afford her insurance premiums; and little Keya in Bangladesh whose hut floods periodically so that she can’t walk to school some days.
Everyone you know is a storyteller and no slouch to Stephen King or Virginia Wolfe in his own right. If someone were to sit you down and have you tell the story of your marriage, the incidents you would selectively present would be your story. It will be different from your spouse’s. It would have an intro, conflict moment, rising action, climax, and denouement. Someday God will tell you how he saw the story, at that appointment when every careless word we uttered in this life will be replayed (Matthew 12:36).
The Bible is not a systematic textbook but a string of stories. Story has an advantage over other forms of teaching in that it forces you to do some work—to keep turning the elements over in your mind till you arrive at a meaning.
As a child I was told that Jesus used stories to teach because that’s all that was available in primitive times. You can look at it that way, or you can instead say that God knew what he was doing when he chose to have Jesus born in an age when people told stories, because stories are more accurate somehow than abstractions.
There is nothing more tragic than to walk around all your life in the wrong story. C.S. Lewis writes: “I can imagine no man who will look with more terror on the End than a conscientious revolutionary who has, in a sense sincerely, been justifying cruelties and injustices inflicted upon millions of his contemporaries by the benefits which he hopes to confer in future generations: generations who, as one terrible moment now reveals to him, were never going to exist….The future Utopia had never been anything but a fantasy.”
I am told that the goal of good Christian counseling is to help the counselee to fit his story into the Bible’s story. I personally find it helpful to pray the Lord’s Prayer each morning to daily realign my purposes for getting out of bed with God’s own purposes for the day in the story he is writing—which had gotten out of focus over the previous few hours.
I’m Andrée Seu Peterson.