The Story Behind Our Stories

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By Teresa Sayles, Children’s Curriculum Specialist

Woodland Hills Church

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with “story.” Whether it came in the form of books, movies, television, a play, or just a well-told story from a friend or family member, I’ve never been able to resist a good tale. My grandmother insists I was jabbering on with imaginary friends before I was out of diapers. I’m pretty sure I wore out several beloved childhood videotapes from frequent re-watching. Once I started learning to read, I could not be stopped. I loved books. They accompanied me outside, in the car, and even to the breakfast table. More than that, I’ve discovered my brain thinks in story. I’m wired to understand life and situations based on characters, relationships, and plotlines. Forget math, taxes, and health insurance – They make little sense in my mind. It all comes back to story, for me.

Which is why I’m so fascinated with the greatest story I know: God’s Story. Here, I find the ultimate tale of love, conflict, sacrifice, and redemption. Since the days when humans first walked the earth, storytelling has been a part of our culture. We tell stories of the past. We create stories for the future. But, as any English student can easily tell you, nearly all of these stories, no matter when or where they come from, follow the same basic format: Exposition, Conflict, Climax, and Resolution. At the story’s beginning or exposition, we learn about the characters and their world. Then, something goes wrong as the conflict arises. The characters struggle against this conflict until we come to the final pages or minutes of the tale where the action reaches its climax and the struggle is either won or lost. The story then wraps itself up, and we say goodbye to the characters and their world as the tale resolves itself, hopefully with the quintessential “happily ever after.”

This format is so connected to our understanding of story, we use it when summarizing a story: “There’s this kid named Luke Skywalker who lives with his aunt and uncle, but when they’re murdered, he is helped by an old warrior named Obi Wan Kenobi. As Obi Wan trains him to be a Jedi who can use the Force, Luke makes new friends and joins the rebellion against the evil empire that killed his relatives. In the end, Luke uses the Force to destroy the Empire’s newest weapon, the Death Star. As the movie end, Luke and his friends reunite to celebrate their victory and are rewarded for their efforts.” Those four points in the story give us the basis for what we need to describe it. They are its “bare bones.”

I don’t know if you realize this, but the story of the Bible – God’s Story – follows this same four-part format: (Exposition) God creates the world and the first humans. (Conflict) Adam and Eve mistrust God’s love and let sin in the world. God continues to be with his people as they struggle against the fallout of sin. (Climax) Jesus comes to heal, teach, and, ultimately, die on the cross to redeem humanity and restore our broken relationship with God. (Resolution) Christ will one day return to make all things new.

So here’s my theory: We tell stories in this format because God’s Story is written on our hearts, and it exemplifies this storyline. Think about it – Why else have humans across time and culture told stories that all follow the same basic format? Why would we all share this cultural trait if we didn’t somehow recognize at a deeper level that this storyline is what is most basic and true about our universe? How else could you explain our cross-cultural desire to see wrongs righted, for good to win, and for the hero to save the day? If you ask me, it all comes back to God’s story, which He’s written on all of our hearts. And through the stories His creative nature helps us to create through books and movies and theater, he’s trying to draw us back to the ultimate story – the metanarrative – of our reality. It’s a story that’s centered on Him and His love and in which we play a vital part.

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