By David Edgren
Truth, naked and cold, had been turned away from every door in the village. Her nakedness frightened the people. When Parable found her she was huddled in a corner, shivering and hungry. Taking pity on her, Parable gathered her up and took her home. There, she dressed Truth in story, warmed her and sent her out again. Clothed in story, Truth knocked again at the doors and was readily welcomed into the villagers' houses. They invited her to eat at their tables and warm herself by their fires.
-- Jewish Teaching Story
Adults engage with truth and belief in much the same way as children do, it just takes longer for the truth to have its way with us.
In a previous article entitled “Good Soil Storytelling” we explored the way that children engage with the Kingdom of God. Kids just get God. They take very little time to go from hearing the story to believing it to be true. We saw that those who believe most authentically make believe most authentically.
The scientific method has so overpowered our thought world that, even in the church, we have become convinced that empirical proof is required to prove truth. Can it be tested? Has it been tested? Can I redo the test and get the same results? Then it is true. This is the Scientific Method.
Stories of faith operate on a different level of thinking. And truth of a belief nature does not typically do well on the empirical tests of scientific thinking.
So, do stories still live in the hearts of people today? Or, is story-based-truth dead? Is there anywhere in our world where we can go to find myths to build our character — stories to shape our identity and our passion for living? Is there somewhere we can go today to hear stories of things beyond-belief and yet grasp them as believable? Does such a place exist in our modern world? Absolutely!
We do not scientifically believe that a boy bitten by a spider can then shoot webs out of his wrists and scale buildings with his bare hands. And yet, globally, we sit for 90 minutes, enthralled as Peter Parker dons his Spiderman suit and fights evil - and we leave thinking, "I too believe that great power must be accompanied by great responsibility."
Yes, humanity is still very involved with the myth-making of superheroes, god's and goddesses. For well-told stories, our modern-day world goes to the movies. If we compare or equate theatres with churches, scriptwriters with theologians and actors with pastors, we become very antagonistic and uncomfortable. And, we run the risk of missing what is really happening.
People are not going to the movies to find their gods. They are going to the movies to find themselves — their values, their identity and their purpose. They are looking for a good story to hang their life on. The church has, unfortunately, slowed in telling the story in all its compelling glory and fallen in the scientific method mind-trap.
We do not scientifically believe that a child was quietly sent here from a distant part of the universe, raised by human parents, that he walked among us as a man, looked like us, acted like us and yet when the moment of need arose he was revealed to be very unlike us as he emerged from a nearby telephone booth wearing his red cape and blue suit with the Letter S emblazoned on his chest.
Perhaps you were thinking of someone else. Someone who was sent from above as a baby, lived with unassuming human parents, grew up incognito in a nondescript village and revealed his true identity and purpose as an adult – miraculously healing people, saving people, raising the dead and ultimately emerging from death Himself. What would happen if this superhero - this Jesus of ours - was allowed the "suspension of disbelief" by the world today? What if His story was allowed into the hearts and minds of today's seekers of identity and purpose? What would today's myth-loving moviegoer do with Jesus if they really let Him in?
A few years ago, I took a youth group in Tasmania to see "The Passion of the Christ" on opening night. We were in the very first group to see the movie. Something amazing happened in the theatre that night.
Afterward, the theatre owner said to me, "In my 20 years of running this theatre, I've never seen anything like it. People just sat there." Through the entire scrolling of the credits we all just sat there. None of us left until the credits stopped and the lights came on. We all just sat there.
All except for one. A few minutes into the credits, a teenaged girl stumbled to the front, fell to her knees facing the screen, and wept. Another girl came and comforted her. Everyone else watched from their seats, staring into the screen or just closing their eyes in silence. No one wanted the lights to come on. No one wanted to go back to reality. No one wanted the suspension of disbelief to end. They wanted the story to be true.
As Christians we work so hard to get people to this point. We hope, pray and struggle to convince people, hoping they will realise their dire need for the story to be true.
Because, we know the Story is true.
And when a friend or family member reaches the point of desiring the story of Jesus – accepting that this story is true and is worth building their life upon – we have a wonderful opportunity.
We must tell them the Truth – in all its glory. And it is here that we blunder. Far too often, in our desire to tell them the truth of Jesus, we – as products of the scientific era – try to prove it to them. We pull out our charts, our historical data, our proof texts. And in so doing we suck the air out of the room and the door slams closed. Their suspension of disbelief — their openness — crashes back to reality. The good soil grows thorns and becomes rocky once again. Their search for values, identity and purpose is hijacked by a science lesson. They were looking for a hero. Not a proof text. They were seeking a Saviour. Not a formula. They were hoping for a new reality. Not a refresher course on this one.
Tell the Jesus Story in a way that gives the world what it needs. Give them a story to hang their faith on. “Jesus always used stories and illustrations like these when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables” (Matthew 13:34 NLT). Help people transition their suspension of disbelief into recognition of truth by sharing truth, not naked and cold but wrapped in story. Bring them to the reality of Jesus the way that the Master Storyteller would have – in a story.
Because you have listened to their story over the months or years before they came to this point of readiness, you also will be ready with a story. Knowing them, you will know which story will most resonate with their own. Perhaps it will be Peter’s story, Esther’s story, Thomas’ story, Ruth’s story, Paul’s story, Dorcas’ story, Joseph’s story, Hagar’s story, or even your own story. Each is a telling of an encounter between the God of Love and a person who realised their need of Him. And each leads into the story of Jesus and His amazing gift for each of us.
Providing facts without story leaves too much to chance. Be patient enough to tell a story – the right one – that brings truth to life. Be wise enough to save the story until the moment when it can be savoured. People don't need new facts, they need a new story. It’s easy to tell the truth. But to have the truth welcomed, embraced and embodied – that takes a story.