<The following is the introduction to a book I am writing titled “Theo-Storying: Reflections on God, Narrative, and Culture.” Still working on it. Hope to finish it in early 2013.>
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
This is how the Bible starts. The term “in the beginning” (b’ereshith) has a subtle mystery associated with it. The beginning of what? Here are a few possibilities.
- The Beginning of God. This may appeal to a pantheistic understanding of God, but appears to be Biblically unsound. God and the world did not create themselves out of nothing.
- The Beginning of the Heavens and Earth. This holds more promise, especially if you assume that Genesis 1:1 is describing creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) as opposed to giving structure to a formless dark universe. Still, one might question this due to its inherent redundancy. “In the beginning of the heavens and the earth, God created the heavens and the earth.”
- The Beginning of Space-Time. In this era of Modern Physics, the interaction between space and time provides fuel for another viewpoint. God exists, and creates space-time. At one end of space-time is “THE BEGINNING.” The other end of space time is “ETERNITY.” Before (if that is a correct term) the beginning there was God and whatever was with God, but space-time, the universe we call our home, did not exist. In the fullness of time, space-time will end and we will have eternity, with whatever characteristics it will have.
- The Beginning of the Story. Before Genesis 1:1, the story, or grand narrative, that is related in the Bible, has not started. The story starts with the creation of earth, with the associated heavens, and ends with the new heavens and earth, and eternity. Eternity, then, would not be the cessation of time, but the end of the Great Story.
I am not sure we always have to choose one interpretation. I certainly believe looking at the Bible as a story holds merit. A story is
“an account of characters and events in a plot moving over time and space through conflict toward resolution.” <<<Gabriel Fackre, The Christian Story, rev. ed. Grad Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984), 5>>>
The Bible obviously has characters and events, which takes place over time and space. It moves through conflict to resolution. To me, the bigger question is whether there is a plot. A plot to me suggests a couple of things. First, it suggests intentionality. A recording of stuff happening does not make a plot. A plot, for fiction, involves crafting of events in a coherent fashion so that the early events link, and mean something, within the timeline of the story. In non-fiction, history, events are chosen and displayed in (again) a coherent fashion to give the events meaning within a timeline.
Because the Bible has God, working within history, as the main character, the protagonist, the story of the Bible has aspects of both fiction and non-fiction. The story of the Bible is non-fiction in that it claims, on the whole, to describe what happened, is happening, and will happen. The story of the Bible is like fiction because God is more than a character in the Bible, but the author of history. Thus, the story is more than simply the collecting of events, but the crafting/creating of events for the plot.
The dual qualities of fiction and non-fiction are difficult for some. Some focus on the human character of the story where God becomes more of a character and less of an author. On the other hand, some focus on God as sovereign author to the extent that people become nothing more than characters in a play— props–, plot devices. It seems to me that the Bible works in “creative tension” between God as author and God as character.
Second, a plot suggests connectedness. On first reading, the Bible does not appear to be connected. It was written by different people over a long period of time utilizing different genres, in different languages, and set in different cultures. Does the Bible have a sustained plot with intentionality giving meaning to events, and connectedness giving causation of events?
I believe the Bible does describe a sustained and connected story/plot. The plot elements seem clear enough. The most basic flow of a story involves;
-Building of conflict
-Working out the resolution
-Return to (New) Normalcy
The Bible as a story can be seen as
Harmony between God, Man, and Creation
Restoration of Harmony
The basic flow of the plot can be argued about to some extent depending on the perspective of the reader. Even the antagonist can be argued about. Many point to Satan as the antagonist. However, most of the Bible seems to focus on us as humans as our own worst enemy. Satan provides little more than guiding element in the chaos of rebellion.
However, the resolution event is more clear. It is the death and resurrection of Jesus. This event provides the clarity to the thread of God’s work in history. The divinity and humanity that is described as existing in Jesus brings the threads together. God is both author and main character of the story. Yet it is our story as well. We are characters in the story. We are also partly antagonist and protagonist. The divine and human are inseparably intertwined.
This book is a look at stories, not a look, primarily, at the Bible. But I believe it helps to start from the grand story and then work to the little stories within the grand story… including our stories.
As an added note, I use the term “narrative” at times, and “story” at others. I will use the definition that a narrative as “the presence of a story and a storyteller.” <<<Robert Scholes and Robert Kellogg, The Nature of Narrative (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), 4.>>> One could argue the necessity of an audience. However, a narrative may still exist without an audience. Perhaps it is best to say that an effective narrative or an effective story has an audience.