Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Power of Story

Yesterday, we considered the power of words. Today, we are reminded of the potency of story.

Words Working Together

The Power of Story. Words add together to form sentences. Sentences join together into stanzas or paragraphs, then chapters of letters and books. And often, those sentences tell stories. The Bible teaches not just the power of words on their own but words working together to tell powerful stories.

For example, the book of Deuteronomy mainly consists of retelling the story of Israel up to the present day. Moses recounts, at great length, Israel’s origin, rescue from Egypt, adoption by the Lord, reception of the Law, and failures in the wilderness. There is a grand purpose to Moses’ storytelling. It helps the present generation to understand who they are, who God is, and what is before them. Israel is shaped by story.

Bible Stories

The vast bulk of the Bible is full of stories95 and is carried along by a grand story of redemption. It is a story that is both negative and positive. One summary of the story says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Eternal life and eternal death are bound up in believing or not believing in the story of Jesus.

The shorthand phrase for this story in the New Testament is “the gospel.” The gospel is news, good news, and it is powerful. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Rom 1:16). The gospel is good news that is powerful for those who believe it.96

Gossip Tells a Bad Story

The power of story, then, adds to our biblical understanding of the problem of sinful gossip. Gossip tells a bad story. Gossip is about something bad that has happened to someone or something bad that someone has done. Gossip is the spreading of bad news. And while there are times that this is necessary (especially leading up to the good news), bearing bad news can be antithetical to the gospel itself.

Telling bad stories can have a powerful effect, especially upon reputations. The serpent in the garden told the woman a bad story about God (Gen 3:1-6). He slandered God’s reputation, and the effect, when his bad story was believed, was devastating on all of human history. Every small moment of sinful gossip in daily life is an evil echo of what went wrong at the very beginning.97


[95] And even those genres which are not narrative history, such as law codes, psalms, proverbs, and prophetic oracles, are replete with storytelling features. We read even the New Testament epistles with a keen interest in the “backstory” of the occasions of their writing.

[96] For more on the power of the gospel story, considered broadly throughout the Bible’s grand storyline, see the very accessible works of D.A. Carson, especially The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2010).

[97] The power of story to shape our lives is the theme of Grapevine: The spirituality of gossip by Jerry A. Camery-Hoggatt (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2002). Camery-Hoggatt uses “gossip” to mean something like “small talk, both positive and negative.” While I would hesitate to use the English word “gossip” so positively without many qualifications, his main point is very strong. Our lives are made up of and shaped by stories, both small and great.

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