The Bible is an awesome adventure, introducing precious eternal teachings within specific historical contexts. Through its pages readers find universal principles dramatically revealed in extraordinary human persons. God's eternal principles always matter, and so do specific timely moments of Divine action within people's lives.
Probably 75% of the Bible is narrative. Jesus taught using dozens of stories, and those splendid stories are also part of the Gospel Story of his life, ministry, death, resurrection, additional teaching, and ascension. In fact, the Bible includes scores of multi-storied stories —layered and internally supported like multi-storied buildings. For example, there is the story in Luke 24 in which (1) two disciples telling the "stranger" Jesus about recent events, when (2) Jesus interprets those events in terms of the Old Testament stories, and when the two disciples figure out what happened, they run back to Jerusalem to (3) tell their story of how they walked and talked with the resurrected Jesus and what he said, all part of the (4) resurrection narrative, in the (5) Gospel According to Luke, part of the (6) Greatest Story ever told, integral to the Lord's own (7) sovereign unfolding of history, "His-Story." That would be a seven-story story!
Well-told stories are much more powerful than we usually recognize — especially the hundreds of great Biblical stories. Because they are set within time and space, the great Biblical stories incarnate eternal truth for time and space. This is why we never tire of hearing these special stories well told, or of seeing them dramatically well produced, as in the "A.D. The Bible Continues" epic series.
The Apostles' Creed reads like a story, too, and billions of people are uplifted frequently by reciting it and affirming its story of God's amazing grace.
Hundreds of Biblical stories are exemplars, powerful narratives that (a) help us reflect more clearly on our own experiences and decisions, and (b) transform our consciousness, conduct, and character. The people in these stories may exemplify good or bad decisions, but all of the Bible stories can help us to approach our lives and situations afresh. As such, Biblical exemplars are powerful tools of the important higher order thinking skills (H.O.T.S.) we described recently.
Comprehension of written material is wonderful. As a late reader, beginning at age eleven, I remember well the great joy of first comprehending what I read.
Nevertheless, reading is so much more than comprehension. Biblical exemplars are much more than stories that we remember and retell often. The very development within a text, for example, one of the 7 WordWonders, can move us personally as we go beyond reading comprehension to engage the text for all it is worth.
While teaching Biblical principles for life is of top importance, so is the teaching of Biblical stories. Generally when people are teaching Biblical stories they look for a core principle to teach, too. This is good. However, too often the presumption is that there is only one core principle when there may be several core principles that are incorporated into the one story.
One of the main strengths of Biblical stories is their integration of diverse Godly values into one narrative. Since our lives are all quite complicated, that integration of Godly values into the fabric of one story may provide far more redemptive help that a single principle isolated as "the moral of the story."
Instead, Biblical stories uniquely integrate and balance diverse Godly values. For example, too often the timely Godly value of compassion is the only lesson taught from the "Parable of the Good Samaritan." Nevertheless, compassion could well be powerless without also the (a) personal attentiveness, (b) skills for effective action, and (c) physical and financial resources to meet the need — which are also powerfully demonstrated in Jesus' wonderful Parable of the Good Samaritan.
The intact exemplar provides a full-blooded and dynamic story-standard that our best distilled principles alone can never match. In this case Jesus did not teach "compassion"—but rather the whole character of the storied Good Samaritan: skilled, prepared, attentive, compassionate, and more. We are not getting the whole storied-message unless people are signing up for Red Cross First Responder courses along with committing to greater compassion, more attentiveness, and planned preparedness.
In another Biblical example, the recorded story of "Daniel and the Lions' Den" in Daniel chapter 6 cannot be about just one principle to imitate—such as just (a) Daniel's faithfulness, or (b) Daniel's public expression of faith, or (c) Daniel's courage in the face of great risk, or (d) having faith in the Lord and his protections of his faithful ones, or (e) trusting God's mastery over lions' behavior, or (f) knowing the Lord's vital and powerful presence in a distant and pagan land. Only the whole, dynamic, un-dissected story-standard has the full integrity and redemptive influence in our behavior. Studying and engaging Daniel chapter 6 in the full development of the story is far more significant than looking for one simple principle to take with us and try to "apply" in our lives today.
The storied power of "Daniel and the Lions' Den" became especially evident to me some years ago when I was seeking to restore a very fruitful, Bible-based, social justice program against overwhelming odds against it. The funding Board of 12 articulate, assertive men had already unanimously decided to cancel the program. In a small, secret prayer meeting just before I was to face the Board a few days after their decision was made, one dear friend, Charles, kept repeating in his prayers the analogy he saw with Daniel's situation. He affirmed before the Lord my Daniel-like courage and faithfulness in the face of risks even to my life. Charles affirmed that our program was honoring to the Lord and helping many people. He then repeatedly asked God to shut all the Board members' mouths, as he had shut the lions' mouths! A few minutes later he said the same thing again. And again and again. I felt quite uncomfortable with the analogy, but I was truly grateful for Charles' passion. My prayers were more restrained than his. Perhaps I did not have as much faith as Charles. Perhaps he understood the power of Scripture stories better than I did. Nevertheless, I affirmed all the help that the Lord would choose to give.
An hour later I was ushered into the Board meeting and took my seat. Total silence. None of these 12 articulate, assertive men could utter anything. In my spirit I was totally overwhelmed with joy at God's answer to prayer—including Charles' audacious prayer!
After nearly a minute of amazing silence, the chairman struggled to ask me to say something about the program that they had already cancelled. The Lord gave me total calmness and clarity to make a simple, Biblical case for the program, in just 15-20 minutes. I concluded with, "This is God's program. We dare not cancel it, but rather look for ways to expand it." The results were stunning! Within 10 minutes every Board member expressed enthusiastic support for the program they had unanimously cancelled days before. Thank God! His divine miracles still happen.
The full-blooded story-standard of Daniel's encounter with the hungry lions had given me the timely multi-faceted light, wisdom, faith and courage I needed. Charles was right, and he was full of indescribable joy when I told him how his prayers had been answered so literally!
Biblical stories are part and parcel of the Scriptures—for good reason. They are not mere condescensions to primitive minds or subtle puzzles for experts to unravel to discover the hidden core principles. They are especially precious in their own right as the Lord's grace-filled story-standards.
Yes, let us look for and follow the Biblical principles that we need. At the same time let us especially relish, reread, review, retell and relive those Biblical exemplars that continue to reflect the Lord's awesome, redeeming light today.