The Universe is Made of Stories
The stories we tell reveal the life we long for and can point to the Lord who alone can satisfy us.
Pastors love a good story. We adorn our sermons with them, knowing that provided the story serves the message, it will be a thousand times more memorable. We tell one another stories of encouragements (and maybe discouragements, if we’re feeling brave) when we get together.
Above all, we long that people might come to know and love the old, old story of Christ crucified, risen and reigning.
But we might also sense a problem. Our story-saturated culture raises the pressure to compete, or else despair at what seems to be a losing battle against the distractions of secular storytellers.
On our better days we might remind ourselves that the gospel is powerful. But at other times perhaps we’re tempted to cast around for that killer story that will add some missing sense of power to our proclamation of Christ. And when it comes to children’s talks… is there really any hope? Can you compete with Disney, Pixar, and the MCU?!
But what if the stories which saturate our culture aren’t just distractions away from the story of Christ’s offer of himself? If we had language to point it out, what if they actually direct people towards him?
Telling our stories
There is an undeniable human impulse to use stories to explain the world, and understand ourselves. In fact, it’s more than an impulse; it’s a necessity. Without stories we can barely communicate.
Watch two people meeting for the first time. They quickly begin telling stories. One discovers that the other grew up near their grandparents’ house, and immediately their stories connect. Spot the same dynamic among a group of old friends catching up; stories are told and retold as reconnections are made.
Meanwhile, our lives are filled with people desperately attempting to figure out their place in the world. Although they might not put it like this, the question they’re often wrestling with is what part they play in the stories that form their experience of the world they live in.
All of which makes sense. When we tell stories—about the real world or imagined ones—we are not like architects creating something new. We are like archeologists, digging up meaning that God has already infused into his creation. We can only create using what’s already there.
So, it isn’t surprising that story-telling relies on a limited number of story shapes. Monsters are overcome by unlikely heroes. Downtrodden people rise from rags to untold riches. Epic quests and the return home fascinate us. Tragedies echo everyday heartaches and comedies lift the curtain on barely expressible hopes.
Why this repetition?
It’s there for the same reason as our need for stories to make sense of our world: the universe is built, not of atoms, but of stories.
Hearing his story
This is why Peter Dray and I have written Reality and Other Stories.
We may lose ourselves in stories, but as we do they open up possibilities, explore deep desires, and help us connect with one another and our own longings. The stories we enjoy follow repeating patterns because they reflect the contours of reality itself. God is the great Author who is writing his story, and invites each of us to find our place in it.
Which means that the tales we tell reveal the life we long for. In Reality and Other Stories we hope to show that these longings are no accident, and to look along them to Christ.
Although we habitually (and often disastrously) try to satisfy our yearnings in all the wrong places, stories still function in one most important way: though they may be faulty, they are like a compass, pointing us home to the Lord who can satisfy all the longings even the world’s best stories raise in us.
Someone once wrote that “stories are the language of the heart.” We are praying that this book might provide fresh language to share the story of Christ, and his invitation to find our place in it. As we take a look at seven basic plots, we reflect on the story of Jesus and how these tales we tell constantly point us to his story and the life we long for.
If we look in the right places and through the right lenses, it might be that our culture’s story-saturation is less a distraction and more an opportunity to point people to their Author, and see them find their place in the old, old story.
So, we pray that Christians will read it and see the goodness of Jesus anew, before giving it to friends to whom they would never normally give a Christian book. I did that, and my friend’s report was deeply encouraging: “I would never normally read a book about Christianity, but this is one that someone like me would enjoy.”
So please do read it, be encouraged by it yourselves, and pass it on. Lord willing, we will be developing some practical evangelistic resources to help us engage with story-lovers all around us. Please pray for us in that.
And in the meantime, we would love to hear how the Lord uses it for his glory.