Every grasping, hoarding, angry person is telling themselves a story. So is every generous, sacrificial, compassionate person – but they are different stories.
The middle school Spanish teacher is a storyteller. So is the foundry worker and the clerk at the gas station. The theologian is a storyteller, as is the banker, the automaker, and the spy. Even the middle school Spanish student is a storyteller.
The stories we tell frame our understanding of the world and explain our experiences. Much of our thinking is done in stories. History is an exercise in storytelling. So is philosophy. So is science.
This is not some abstract truth. It is a daily experience. If you find a ten-dollar bill lying in the driveway, your brain automatically generates a story, or more than one. The bill slipped out of your pocket when you got out of the car to get the mail. Alternately, it fell out of the mailman’s pocket when he got out of his jeep to bring a package to the door. The story you tell yourself helps you know what to do with the ten dollars.
Some people are bad storytellers. The stories they tell are disjointed, illogical, and incoherent. (And, usually, people whose stories are incoherent have lives that are also incoherent). Other people are great storytellers. Their stories are taut, consistent, and plausible. They are not, however, necessarily true.
People who are followers of Jesus think in stories just like everyone else. We need to be good storytellers with coherent stories. We also need to tell stories that are true.
Consider what this implies. If we are to follow St. Paul’s instruction to be renewed in our minds, then the stories we tell ourselves need to be brought into line with the story God is telling through creation and redemption. Our stories must fit his story.
The human story has been diverging from God’s story since Adam. Go to the academy, for example, and listen to the stories being told, like this one from an Ivy League professor of biological sciences. “Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear … There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.”
The philosopher Dallas Willard said of this professor’s conclusions: “Logically viewed, this statement is simply laughable.” And Willard is right. Evolutionary biology does not research issues such as the meaning of life or the human state following death, nor is it capable of doing so. The professor’s claims sound much more like the dénouement of a story than the deductions of a science.
The stories we tell ourselves influence how we live, how we relate, and how we feel. If, in the story I tell myself, life has no meaning, that will affect all kinds of things: what I do with my money, how I think about my spouse, how I feel when someone hurts me, and what I do when I cannot acquire desired things by socially acceptable means.
If, in the story I tell myself, there is not enough to go around, I will behave and feel in predictably self-centered ways. We have seen this play out in real time during the Covid-19 crisis. Some people have deprived others by buying more toilet paper, disinfectants, and foodstuffs than they need. Other people have bought more than they need in order to give such things away. Both are operating within a story.
In the beautiful and coherent story Jesus told, a loving God knows what his children need and has promised to take care of them, freeing them from worry and releasing them to be generous with others. It is a story we need to tell ourselves again and again. It is a story I believe to be true.
First published by Gatehouse Media.