Sunday, June 10, 2007

Telling the Story of Jesus

In a online discussion of teaching the Bible to children, someone remarked that they did not use the word "story" when reading the Bible, because that might imply the Bible wasn't true. Instead they called it the Biblical "account," as if the Bible were a check register of transactions.

I do think it is more than a semantical distinction and more serious an error than arbitrarily limiting the definition of "story." The Bible is a true story. To sideline the truth is a grave error, but it is an equally grave error to sideline the story. God could have simply written us out a catechism, but He didn't. He wrote us a story. He lived out a story.

A story is not just a listing of events; a story is events with meaning. Story allows us to experience an idea with our whole selves, heart and mind and even body. Story allows us to participate in what has happened and to understand it. Human beings need stories like they need food; they need to hear stories, they need to see their own lives as a story.

In A Bridge to Terebithia, some sporadically-churched children take a friend to Easter services. The friend remarks on the beauty of the Resurrection story, and the other children are perplexed. Beautiful? What does the Bible have to do with beauty? "It's strange," the friend says, "You have to believe it and you don't like it, and I don't have to believe it and I think it's beautiful."

"But you have to believe the Bible," another little girl says, "Otherwise God will send you to hell."

This, of course, goes beyond even the truth issue. One believes, not because it is true, but because some Fascist dictator in the sky will send you off to jail if you don't toe the party line.

Still, I think that is a very natural impression children receive from a teaching of the Bible that emphasizes facts and transaction at the expense of stories. You have to believe this list of things because you're supposed to, and that's that. I would think my children closer to genuine faith if they saw the beauty of the story but could not quite be sure it was true.

Real stories, true stories, beautiful stories~this is how the gospel comes to us. Once the King of all the Universe came to live among the rebels; once the Prince slew the dragon to win his bride. One day it really happened.

We believe because it is true, and we understand and take part and experience the truth through stories, because we are humans with hearts and heads and bodies and God has made us this way. That is how I hope and pray we can teach the Bible to our children.

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