As the church, we ought to so immerse ourselves into God’s saving story in Acts 1-4 that we know “how to live authentically in ways that carry the great story forward.
The tradition folklore of the Asian country where I live is full of crazy, fantastic stories about gods and spirits and wars that somehow resulted in the thousands of islands that make up this nation. If you ask people if these stories are historical realities—did they really happen?–they will answer clearly, “Of course not, they are legends.” But if you ask them if the stories are true, they will answer, “Yes, of course,” and then explain clearly the deep foundational truths that are contained in the stories. They are “untrue” stories that are chock full of truth that have been passed down generation after generation.
I once told a group of students that “God teaches people using ‘untrue’ stories,” and then paused, taking the opportunity to watch their faces. “Are you saying the Bible isn’t true?” a student finally asked. “Not at all,” I replied, “I believe the Bible to be both true and trustworthy, but we can also see clearly that Jesus taught deep and difficult truths by telling parables, stories that have no historical basis. They aren’t true in the way that most people use that word today.”
I am convinced that the opening chapter of Genesis comes to the people of God in this pattern because they wanted their children to interpret the world God created through the three words of separation, filling, and blessing.
Daniels, Exile, Kindle Locations 398-399
I love it when Scripture comes alive and the truth behind the words is seen in a new and deeply meaningful way, far more meaningful than simply the face-value of words on paper. My faith has been strengthened and deepened in recent years through a desire to find the truth of Scripture through the story being told. I really appreciate how Daniels points out the metanarrative of separation, filling, and blessing that is found below the surface of the creation story in Genesis 1. The more I read Scripture, understand its context, and begin to better understand how ancient writers wrote and the tools they used to convey meaning, the more the Bible comes alive and the story of God, the story of Israel, the story of Christ, the story of the church, and our story that we are living out in the here and now take on new significance and weight.
In cross-cultural ministry I am working with a young man who is trying to build relationships with non-Christian-background people. Early on I told him to start by telling the Old Testament story of creation, but don’t go immediately to sin. “Spend a little time in the goodness of creation,” I told him. Having grown up in a typical evangelical church where “sharing the gospel” meant “talking about Jesus,” he wasn’t too sure why we would waste time in Genesis. After meeting with one particular man with whom he had been sharing regularly, this young man came and shared with me how excited that man has been to read the first two chapters of Genesis. I wanted Jonah to begin in Genesis 1 to give him an opportunity to talk about a personal, creative, loving God that created this world for a good purpose and plan. What I hadn’t thought about it explicitly, before reading these chapters from Exile, was that this young friend of mine was also introducing a new story to his friend—new foundational understandings of God and our existence in this world. And this happens whether or not we view Genesis as literal, historical reality. It’s full of truth, regardless.
I can only answer the question “What am I to do?” if I can answer the prior question “Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?”
Of which story am I a part? Daniels explains briefly some of the stories prevalent in the West—success, nation, humanist, to name three. Part of the transformative power of exile is that it forces us to re-center our story. When the path to easy success is littered with obstacles, then what? When nation is finally seen to not be the mirror image of the Kingdom that we wanted it to be, where do we turn?
As the church, we ought to so immerse ourselves into God’s saving story in Acts 1-4 that we know “how to live authentically in ways that carry the great story forward.” What story am I telling with my life? What story is our church telling through it interactions with each other and the world? Where is balance between “becoming all things” (1 Cor 9:19-23) and remaining distinctively different?
For further reflection, please see:
Daniels, T. Scott (2017-02-26). Embracing Exile: Living Faithfully as God’s Unique People in the World (Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition).
This article was originally presented in a class and was responded to by other students. I have reproduced a few of those responses below:
Response from R: ” I am nervous that although we can articulate who we are suppose to be in the world, we really have a hard time living into it. I believe we struggle with this because we miss empire. We miss the power. And the truth is we cannot chase after God and empire too.”
My response to R: You nailed the crux of our human weakness on the head. We know intellectually what we should be doing; it’s fairly easy to put it into words and not all that hard to explain. But actually doing it? That’s the hard part. Being part of the empire is rather easy…but easy makes lazy. Life in the kingdom brings with it power and authority…but Jesus, himself, told us to go lower and empty ourselves. Life in the kingdom comes with safety and security…but life in the kingdom is reflected in the question Susan posed to Mr Beaver–
Is Aslan quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”