–by Todd Murden
I have a good friend that I met while working for a youth organization in Virginia. This friend of mine was a freshman in high school at the time. He was a quiet kid, a really small guy, ok, he was a runt. He didn’t really talk much to anyone else, and he definitely did not fit in with the cool kids. One day I sparked up a conversation with Justin [not his real name] and invited him to go to the football game that night. I picked him up and we drove 45 minutes to the away football game and I learned that this was the first football game that Justin had ever been to, and I learned a lot more than that because the kid just didn’t stop talking. He just kept going, once he knew that he had someone listening to him he didn’t shut up, it was like he had been saving up all of his words from the first 15 years of his life to say them on that car ride. Justin and I developed a good relationship and he eventually gave his life to Jesus Christ, but there is one thing that you may never know about Justin just by looking at him. Justin has never met his father. When Justin’s dad found out that he had got some girl pregnant, he left, skipped town, and never came back. Justin, his whole life, has lived with a lie in his heart: that he is not worth it. He once said, speaking of his dad, to me, “I only hope I can live a life good enough to prove him wrong…that I am worth it.”
You see, I could have just said, “It is wrong for fathers to abandon their children…” but that would not get the same point across. It is vitally important to show and not tell.
My English teaching in high school always said, “show, don’t tell.” This is the point of the Bible. It is not simply a statement of truths about the character and nature of God because God is not a giant brain ready to make a heaven full of brains, but it is an epic story that reveals a loving God, committed to his creation to see it through to His intended goal. People cannot be told they are sinners, they have to been shown. In the same way, people cannot simply be told that God loves them, they have to be shown, which is why Paul says to the churches in Galatia that “Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified” [emphasis added]. Now these people were not actually there to see Jesus crucified, but they were told the story, and that story engaged every part of who they were that they might see and believe (which is a whole-body experience) not simply with their eyes and minds, but with their hearts (Romans 10:10). This is how we know that God loves us: because we are told by John that, “God is love,” and, also, reminded, by John, that we are shown His love in “that he laid down his life for us.” Story is essential because it engages the whole person: mind, body, heart, and soul.
We, as people, need to know that we are a part of something larger than ourselves. The reason for this need is, simply, because we were made for something larger than ourselves. We were designed by God, to enjoy God, and to be a part of the spreading of His glory throughout all creation. By design, our lives are meant to have a weightiness, a splendor, an abundance, a strength, and a beauty that reflects the One whose image we bear. I think Ecclesiastes 3:11 helps us better understand our human condition: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” We are a part of this larger whole, a story with a “beginning” and “end,” and the cavernous hunger in our hearts cry out for eternity, life more than what we now know. This is probably why the movie and video game industries are so popular around the world. People are losing a sense of a larger story for their lives or meta-narrative, a context that gives them meaning. Video games and movies provide brief reprieves from historical loneliness and give a context, even if it is a vicarious pleasure mistaken for true fulfillment, to live in and thrive in. We need story. There is a great need to steal back the word “story” from the philosophers and thinkers of the Enlightenment. When people think of “story” they think of mythology or folk tales, something that is not actually true, something that we have finally out-grown. For thousands of years people have used stories to carry on culture and give purpose and meaning to life. Story does not equate with fiction, because some stories are true, the Bible. Truth is essential…we are made, we are loved, and we are called. In the book The Power of Words and the Wonder of God, Daniel Taylor writes:
“Do not organize your life around anything that values only one aspect of what you are. If it respects only the reason, it is inadequate. If it appeals only to the emotions, it will let you down. If it values only will power and discipline, it will crack and crumble. Instead, you and I need a story to live by that takes seriously every aspect of what we are as created beings.”
We need to know this Story through and through, so that we will know the Director and Main Character through and through, that we might enjoy Him, worship Him and serve Him, because that is true freedom and what we were made to do.
Todd Murden is a first year student at Trinity school for Ministry. Originally from Greensboro, NC he spent the last five years in Blacksburg, VA where he got his BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Virginia Tech. Following his graduation he stayed in the area and worked for an Anglican Mission church plant as an intern and youth director. Todd’s aspiration for life is to speak and live the mercy of God into the lives of those around him.
For further reading: If you are intrigued by the subject of the Bible as God’s narrative, you might enjoy A Passion for God’s Story by Philip Greenslade (Paternoster, 2002).