The Story of stories

Let me propose a possibility. What if God—who we know loves books—is now producing the greatest of all stories? And what if we are part of that Story, a Story we will all get to read once we reach eternity? Let me suggest, too, that our own part in the Story will be interpreted and expressed from God’s own point of view.

What is exciting about this prospect is that we have the first segment of this possible book in hand: the Bible. In the Bible—to make the point of how our own story may fit into the whole—we find people who never knew they would be known to subsequent generations as stars, villains, or something in between.

Noah, for instance, had no clue when he was a twenty-some year old that he would become one of the most famous people in history.

Rahab, when she was hosting the men of Jericho as a prostitute, could never know that she would become a noble figure in Israel, a woman devoted to God.

David, when he was watching over the sheep and composing poems about the stars he watched at night, never knew his poems would eventually be included in the book of Psalms. Or, that later when as King David—with the security of wealth and position—he would be exposed for having gone up on his highest-building-in-Jerusalem rooftop one night to sneak a peek into a nearby private courtyard to watch a naked woman bathe herself. He never guessed this would became a tragic chapter in the Story of stories—forever shocking and disappointing later readers.

There are different sorts of people in any story, what we call stock figures in novels. But, while novels create fictional figures with features we recognize in real life, the Story of stories has true stock figures. And the profiles they present to us in the Bible can still be found among our friends and neighbors. Each of us fits loosely—uniquely—within a category of characters, so that in the expanded Story of stories readers in a future day will be able to locate us within a recognizable profile. Let me suggest some possibilities.

There are the sympathetic figures. Ruth comes to mind. We all know and admire a Ruth, even today. She comes from another country, culture, and religion. She suffers from tragic circumstances. She is as poor as dirt, yet is still an attractive person and a hard worker. But most of all she has a depth of character that God touches, cultivates, and brings to a full bloom that is breathtaking to see. Call her a transformational character.

There are people like Eli: the religious moralist who is ready to challenge Hannah for being drunk—when she was actually praying—but who ignores the gross misconduct of his sons. Eli, it seems, is one of the more common figures in the Story: the religious imposter who doesn’t actually hear God’s voice, but who is in a very high position of religious authority. Jesus lumped this group together as the “scribes, Pharisees, and hypocrites” in his own day. They draw near God with their lips even if their hearts are utterly distant from him. They have the form of religion but no power: towering weeds dominating the actual wheat. Call Eli an antagonist.

Another version of religious characters was represented by Balaam. He was equivalent to the media stars of today who proclaim high values. He was treated as a spokesman for God by the world at large, and he even had the benefit of receiving God’s clear directions in certain respects. But the real measure of Balaam was his pragmatism: he earned money for performing religious duties. People had to pay him to perform. In his brief chapter he was able to reap a host of service fees—although never the big bonus he was being offered—and in the end he happily betrayed the people God loved. Call him an attractive betrayer, or a surprising villain. An unattractive villain was Judas Iscariot—while he lacked Balaam’s star power he loved money just as much.

Money is a major theme in the Story. The profile of the wealthy individualist is mainly a non-religious category—including people who don’t really believe that God exists. The term, God, is simply a token concept that attracts other power-brokers in search of networking opportunities. In our modern world we have the helpful profile of ancient Babylon to look to. That biblical chapter, along with emerging stories of greed found in today’s newspaper, will expose the emptiness of materialism for the rest of eternity. A love for wealth is good for a time but it always leads to social collapse. This theme is called a tragedy.

There is also the good Samaritan. He fails to fit any of the categories we expect good people to fill. He has the wrong background, limited resources, no prospect of gain, but he does exactly what we all hope for from others when we are desperate: he offers profound and inexplicable compassion. Call him a paradoxical hero.

Yet the greatest number of participants in the ultimate and final Story of stories will only be present as part of the faceless crowds milling around in the background. In the Bible we find them as members of two groups: some shouting “hosanna!”  Others calling out “crucify him!” We may not have major roles but our direction of travel will be unmistakable.

Finally, what if we have an angel meet us if and when we arrive in heaven? And we ask our kind guide, “Was Frost right? Is there an extension to the Bible Story that God has been writing until now, the ultimate Epic that includes my own story?”

What if the angel says, “Yes, of course! You had all kinds of cues in the Bible that you should expect that to be true!”

And then we ask, “May I look at the section that mentions me and my role?”

In some cases, perhaps, the angel may say: “Oh, you were so disinterested in God until now that he couldn’t say anything meaningful about you—so take a look at the “.” at the end of this sentence. That’s all the space you’ve been given. You really didn’t have much time for God’s kingdom before now, did you?”

Or, possibly, the angel may answer: “We’ve all been waiting for you! Your chapter is fascinating—even though you had absolutely no human prominence in your lifetime you were famous here in heaven for your selfless devotion to the small group of needy people God gave you to serve, and in such tough circumstances. You showed off your love for Christ in all you did. It was a delight to watch … may I have your autograph?!”

So while the Story of stories has, in some fashion, already been set out in God’s plans from eternity past, it is clear from the Bible narrative that God involves us in the process. So, given that remarkable reality, here’s my prayer:

May each of us have a wonderful chapter that has God’s faithful angels enthralled from first to last!

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5 Comments

  1. Becky

    Loved this, Ron! I wonder if any of us really understands who and what is eternally important. I think we usually get it wrong.

  2. Kathy

    I really liked this train of thought. It definitely has stayed with me and forced me to think of the bigger picture – rather than the some of the smaller stories around me.

  3. Lois

    Hmmm. My relationship with God cannot be an afterthought, but a moment by moment reality. I hate to think my story would be “.” only. Thanks, Ron, for giving us so much to think about.

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