Long before I went to seminary, I knew this about the Bible: I love its stories.
A healthy percentage of the scriptures is made up of stories, narrative accounts of people and events. Not all, and we would lose so much if the entire book were narrative -- all of the deep, careful instruction of the epistles, the fervent prayers of the psalms, the passion of God's voice in the prophets. But without stories, we would lose so much too. Stories teach us truth like nothing else can.
Here's an example. Psalm 34:18 says "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." (NIV) Good reassurance. We actually need to know God is close to us all the time, but we especially need to be reminded of it when we are miserable and broken, because it can be fantastically hard to feel that God is close in those times. So the Bible makes a point of telling us he is close in the times when it's hardest to tell.
Is that good enough, though? The Bible says it, so we believe it?
Hah. No. Not if you are like me, anyway, and I'm willing to believe I'm not the only one. It's just not easy to take plain statements like this and press them fully into our lives, into every single place they need to go. Sometimes we think we believe something, but we really don't. Sometimes we only believe something is true in certain circumstances. Sometimes we have no idea what kind of damage is lurking around in our emotional depths, stuff we hide from ourselves because it hurts too much, and a plain statement of truth just can't touch it, because we don't let anything get close.
This is where stories come in.
Experience is the most powerful teacher; experience changes our lives like no amount of teaching, reading, or studying ever can.
When we don't have experience, we need examples. We need to see the experience of other people, to show us what's possible, what we haven't been able to imagine for ourselves yet.
This is what stories do, provide examples for us. They are full of the experiences of other people, and thus they resonate with truth. As Emily Dickinson says, tell all the truth but tell it slant. Not bent, not broken and untrue, but from a different angle, an angle that might slide under our rational shields and show us something new, something vital, something that gets down into the heart of us where change happens. Poetry does this, and stories do it too.
Do you agree? Click over to part 2 to see an example of this in action.