The Christian Story
We need not fear Story. In fact, orthodox Christians are the only ones who can truly reclaim Story for the service of Truth. We do not offer just one more story, but rather the true Story. Our story is grounded in reality.
Reason and Imagination are not separate, but are two sides of the same coin – two aspects of being made in the image of the Creator God. In Holy Scripture, we see no such false division between Reason and Imagination.
Consider Genesis: we can make propositional statements about the truths expressed in Genesis, but the way in which God chose to reveal these truths is in narrative. Out of nothing, God created everything that is, and He gives us a story about it: then, and then, and next, and then. Genesis is the truth behind every “once upon a time,” the reason that we thrill to a story. We make, we create, because of who God is. God Himself is the ultimate Maker, the ultimate creative artist, whose creative stamp is impressed on us.
The inspired Word of God is in large part a narrative, the story of salvation history. Entire books of the Bible are written in poetry. Our Lord told the truth about the Kingdom of Heaven in parables. The Bible is full of references to music, and calls for us to rejoice with songs and music. Scripture is filled with beautiful imagery: consider the description of the New Jerusalem, in Revelation, or the gentle imagery of Jesus as the Shepherd. Scripture contains many truths presented in the form of metaphors: God’s Word is “a lamp to our feet.”
And, pre-eminently, the Word became flesh came and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. We who follow Christ do not just know about him (with our Reason), though our Reason tells us many true things about him, such as the fact of his Resurrection, and the nature of his claim to be our only Lord and Savior. We also know him, directly and experientially. Such an experience cannot be fully conveyed through words, but only experienced, but the faculty of Imagination helps in the process. Imagination opens the doors of our hearts, so that the Spirit may more fully enter in.
The beauty of the true Christian story is that it works at every point on the scale – as you would expect from a story that corresponds with Truth.
The Christian story accounts for creation, for why there is something rather than nothing.
The Christian story accounts for the existence and nature of human beings, of rationality, of thought and language, logic and art.
The Christian story also accounts for who I am, in my day to day life as a teacher, writer, friend, woman. I am the protagonist in my own story, not a passive reader of it, but at the same time, I can rest in the assurance that I am not the one who ultimately determines how things will turn out. When I falter in any of these roles, I can recall that I have an absolutely secure part in the great Story, that I am a daughter of God the Father, an adopted sister of God the Son, and a temple of God the Holy Spirit. My own life is a story, but it is not just any story; it is part of the one Story.
I have confidence that my story will turn out well at the very end – I know the ending – but what is more important is that I have confidence that my story will make sense. That it has meaning. That even the dark chapters in my story that I would really rather not have lived through, the difficult chapters that perhaps lie ahead, the uncertainty of the future’s blank page, are all, ultimately, elements that God will use (and indeed has already used, and is using) to shape my life for good.
In this uncertain world, in this post-modern, shakily relativist world, what we need most is not a blind assurance of a happy ending. Rather, we need the confidence that the stories of our lives have meaning that is grounded in something solid, something outside ourselves. Imagination, and Story, can help us to share that confidence – our hope – with those who need it and cannot imagine having it.
We need not fear Story as a metaphor for the Christian life; we need not back off from affirming that we are all part of a grand narrative. We all have our individual stories; what makes all the difference is seeing the way in which these stories are drawn into, and oriented toward truth by, the Word who is the foundation for all story and all truth.