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A Storytelling God

God loves stories. He hardwired us to respond to them at a spiritual level – from our gut. “Tell me a story,” children say to parents. I used to make up stories for my five kids when I would tuck them in at night. And they still remember the stories. Storytelling connects in the spirit lik…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

God loves stories. He hardwired us to respond to them at a spiritual level – from our gut. “Tell me a story,” children say to parents.

I used to make up stories for my five kids when I would tuck them in at night. And they still remember the stories.

Storytelling connects in the spirit like laughter or tears or smells. It connects viscerally so that the story stays lodged in our spirit and may even change us. God infuses stories with the kind of deep magic that Tolkien and Lewis understood.

God’s relationship to man is itself a story and is composed of billions of individual, interconnected stories. The first story began as all stories do with a character and a problem. The character was Adam and the problem was that, though he was made to connect with his Creator, he lost the connection.

And of course the problem posed a question, “How will he ever re-connect with his sons and daughters?”

The Bible tells a daisy chain of interwoven stories. Adam’s sons are made for connection; they are the new protagonists in the story. The antagonist is the same and the problem is the same – separation.

But the question is different and the outcome is different. So we read the story and we ask the question, “Will Caine and Able live disconnected lives too?” Will that disconnection harden into rebellion?

The chain of stories interlinks with a new character, Abraham, who like Adam, is told by God to leave his home, thus posing a new problem and question, “Will he find a home and will he connect?”

And his sons, like Adam’s sons, repeat the cycle of stories. Each of them shows up as a new character facing a problem and posing a question. Will Isaac, Jacob and Joseph find connection or will they repeat the pattern of rebellion?

Because we’re hard-wired by God to be moved by and respond to stories, we read about these characters’ problems and we ask the questions their problems pose and we wonder how the questions will be answered.

The Bible’s chronicles a long list of characters seeking and resisting connection with one another and their Creator continues to weave its stories down through the centuries. Three times we read about outcasts and murderers who become nation builders.

Moses kills and spends years in the desert.

David kills and spends years hunted by Saul.

Paul kills and spends years in Arabia.

And each time we ask, “Will they reconnect with themselves and with God?”

The stories are similar, the problem they confront is similar, and the question the problem poses is similar, but the outcome each time is in doubt, and so, the deep magic works.

Then in the New Testament, God himself shows up as a character. He shows up disguised as a man. He shows up as an answer to the question of man connecting to God.

Jesus surfaces (surprise!) as a storyteller. He shows up living a story, telling stories, and asking questions.

And his life poses the age-old question, “How will men and women respond to the possibility of connecting to their Creator?”

The meta-story, the story of the stories that God is telling through the Bible is this: “Will man connect with God? Or will man’s antagonist prevent it?”

And here’s where the magic of it all leads us – it’s not an abstraction; it’s your story and mine as well. Each of us gets to live our own story where we are the central character.

Are we telling a good one? Is our character spending his or her life sitting on couches? Does he or she take interesting risks? What problems does he or she confront?

When we understand God’s heart for story and grasp the idea that he made us as protagonists in our own story, we can begin to live a good story. We can embrace problems that pose questions that grab ahold of our imaginations.

Your story has a cast of dozens, each living their own story. What is the problem that each of them wrestles with? What is the question that the problem poses? Will you help them answer it?

How will the story you are telling intersect with theirs?

Those of us who care about you and are following your story can hardly wait to find out.

Comments (19)

  • Thank goodness God’s stories are better than the ones Bobby used to tell the kids! Remind us to share them with you!
    Good word!

  • So good!!!! Amen!!! Such power in stories! They are literally unforgettable, powerfully connect us to others, and I LOVE the ‘meta story part!’ Thanks for sharing!!!

  • Yes…so good. As I dream about this next season of my life, the big question is, “What do I want my story to tell?” It’s the same question I ask my clients.

    I want people to reach beyond the fairy tale of the American Dream chasing affluence and security for an epic story filled with beauty and redemption.

    What a world that would be, eh?

  • Seth this is very insightful and illustrative of the principle that each of us needs to be a good “steward of our story” remembering that as it says in scripture they “overcame by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.” Our stories are the canvas upon which God paints His originals. Blessings this day friend.

  • Sometimes I think he’s working with crayons with me. Or maybe it’s pencil so that he can erase the parts that didn’t blend so well with the overall picture.

  • Seth, I am often amazed at how God weaves our lives and stories together into one beautiful compilation. Well written, true. Well done.

  • Hey Paul – we’ve come a long way since Dr. McClatchy’s Modern Myth classes at Wheaton, but the stories are still the same….

  • Paul I have been thankful for our calls and recent connections and celebrate you and Seth connecting. Outside of my brother Mark he is my best friend.

  • Jesus was a consummate storyteller.

    History is God’s story: His Story.

    His son was following His Father as a storyteller.

    They both Know the power of story to reach the heart of man. And for both of them, the heart is all that matters in a man.

    Hard for us to fathom. We look at everything outside.

    They look at the heart. And reach it through story.

    Thank you for this post, Seth.

  • In my APU grad school class today, which is conducted online due to us being in Mozambique, Kenya, Thailand, Philippines,Brazil and India, we went over some lessons on transformational conversations/stories from Viv Grigg (author of “Companion to the poor,” “Cry of the Urban Poor”…).

    Here’s a small sampling that I thought was relevant to your post:
    “Stories are essential to transformative conversations because they have a way of carrying pervasive truths across time and culture, and into the depths of a persons heart, in a way that dogma and doctrine often cannot… especially in cultures built on Oral Tradition, as in many urban poor communities today.

    Obedient engagement is the beginning of theologizing. This begins with an entrance story, often of how one encounters a discontinuity in society, a poignant issue, a barrier of oppression, an injustice, a wounded community.The intersection of theological conversation & active engagement among the urban poor, is when urban poor gather with you to tell stories, relating Bible stories to stories from their own experience.”

    Thanks for your contribution to the story!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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