Ideas / Reading / Theology / Thinking / March 23, 2012

Read Yourself into the Story

A story reads best when we can read ourselves into it. We might find a particular character delightfully or despicably relatable. Maybe it’s a relationship we long for or a mystery to unravel. We find ourselves imagining how to interact with this character and resolve that situation. We think of characters as friends and enemies, maybe even family. No matter what, though, when we are drawn into a story we know it has power.  

So why is it we read the Bible backwards?

Christians believe the Bible has power from the get-go. We believe it is God’s story. It is wholly true and wholly good. But does the fact that the Bible is God’s story mean there’s no room for me in there as I read?

Quite the opposite. If God didn’t want us to be in the story, he wouldn’t have written it as a story. Stories are pathways to truth that is inaccessible through any other medium, and we must walk the pathways, not simply observe them, if we are to knowthe truth. To walk the pathways is to be in the story.

It’s as if we have forgotten that the characters in the Bible are humans. And so are we. We become parsing, nitpicking, lesson scrounging cyborgs when we read the Bible. We read every other story as story – relatable, emotional, and rational all wrapped into one. We treat the bible, though, as if those relatable and emotional aspects are absent or off limits.

What we need when we read the bible is whole heap of imagination to go with our commentaries and lexicons.

What are we missing of Godby reading the bible without imagination? Wouldn’t we understand him better if felt what Joseph felt while abandoned in an Egyptian prison for a crime he didn’t commit? Wouldn’t the reality of “the Lord was with Joseph” be more meaningful if we wrestled through the bitterness or loneliness or desperation or depression that he might have suffered?

What would happen to our self-righteousness if we put ourselves in Peter’s shoes that night at the high priest’s house and looked around to see angry faces and the bloodlust in the eyes of the leaders? If we read it like any other story we would be torn between fear and uprightness. We would know the right answers to those questions, but we would know just why they were so hard to give. We might have denied Jesus too.

The bible needs imagination to truly live. God didn’t create us as unimaginative and then give us a story to confuse us. He gave us imagination and gave us a story.  He gave us a spirit to breathe life into our minds so that the right stories would live in us and us in them. We can’t read the stories of the bible like anything other than what they are: stories.


Mar 25, 2012

I would love to hear more of your thoughts on how women can do this – with just so many difficult stories about how women are treated… I have tried for years with this and it is a struggle for me. Maybe I am alone in this, but I have a hard time believing that.

    Mar 26, 2012

    That’s a rough and really good question. I think the thing to note is that reading one’s self into the story isn’t for hero or happy reasons. The characters are sadly human, and so they bring alot of crap and pain with them. We need to feel the pain and see the ugly to really get the amazing work of God and why it matters so much. The bible is t really a book of heroes. It’s a book of broken folks with only one hero.

    The other thing I’d say is that reading yourself into the story can open parts of the story to the imagination. Imagine the strength and faith it took for Moses’ mother to put him in a basket in a river to save his life. Imagine Lydia’s elation at hearing the gospel from Paul and then taking a leadership role in hosting the Philippian church in a culture that wasn’t keen in women doing such things. There are parts of the bible story that can open up with imagination, and they’re not all bad, although many are.

    Mar 27, 2012

    I think you miss what Mindy was saying. It didn’t sound like she was baulking at a lack of heroin stories. She mentioned how women are treated in the Bible. When we think about how women were subjugated and treated as property it would be very difficult for a woman to do as you suggest in your blog.

    Mar 31, 2012

    I read Jonah’s comment about heroin stories and wondered why someone would complain about the lack of them in the Bible. Then I re-read it. Then I realized he meant heroine stories, not heroin stories.

Mar 26, 2012

Thanks for the post. No one comes home and when asked, “How was your day?” begins with “Point 1 was…”. We all need to be reminded that the Bible characters were real people like us not superheroes. All of our studying abilities are only productive if they help us tell the story better.

Mar 26, 2012

Wonderful reminder about reading the Bible with imagination, and about the power of story. Thanks so much for this!

Mar 26, 2012

Wonderful reminder about reading the Bible with imagination, and about the power of story. Thanks so much for this!

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