Christian theology, while it’s often thought of as an argument over who’s right and who is wrong, can actually be understood as the stories we use to explain the reality of God, the reality of human existence and how to live in right relationship with God, neighbor and self. Using the bible and varying doses of church tradition and reality, we’ve written thousands of different stories, each purporting to be THE Christian story. Except the idea that any of us has found THE Christian story is preposterous.
Jesus said there was one narrow path to him and we’d know we’d found it by its fruit. And I can say with confidence that not a damn one of the stories Christians have told produced fruit worthy of my God. None of them is good enough. Some are clearly better than others, but all of them are wrong.
At best, the different theologies are like placeholders, explaining the best we’ve been able to figure out thus far. At worst, they are ideological prisons keeping people enslaved to a story utterly inferior to the real one. But none of the stories deserve our allegiance. Only Christ does.
In Islam, Christians are called “People of the Book”. Jews also call themselves “People of the Book”. I think we need to become “People of the Story”. I think that we need to be using the tools we have – the bible, our own experiences and the reality all around us – to tell each other and the world better stories than they’ve ever heard before about God. I think we should be trying to outdo each other coming up with bigger and better stories about the God revealed in Christianity.
And not silly, trite stories about how to be rich and safe. Real stories. Stories with peril and adventure and romance. Stories with interesting, flawed characters and a hero more amazing than you ever imagined. Stories that explain why God and the world and you and me are better than we ever dared to dream. Real stories that explain the real world.
We need to tell stories like Jesus told, not try to keep dressing up stories which basically amount to “here’s why I’m a winner and you’re a loser”. Jesus told stories so astoundingly good that most of his followers just can’t believe them. It ought to be impossible for Christians to tell stories about a God who would leave great masses of his sheep to their sad fate, or worse yet, turn a flamethrower on them or send them to his evil lackey for a prize. How can that story be true when Jesus told a story about a shepherd who wouldn’t leave even one sheep behind? Say what you will, but Jesus told a better story than the one we’ve been telling.
While we Christians are busy arguing over who has the right, if not the best story, the parts of the world that have heard all our stories are turning away. Because they’ve decided that the stories we tell aren’t good enough. They’d rather find a different path to walk than believe that God and the world he created are as awful as our stories make them out to be. We need to tell better stories. Or perhaps we just need to go back to the stories Jesus told us and make sure our stories are at least as good as those.
So, how do we know if the story we’ve been told is true? Or at least pointing you in the right direction? Follow the fruits of the Holy Spirit. If you find yourself hoping the story is true. If the idea that maybe the story might be true is a little exciting, that’s joy piping up. If the story sets you at ease, makes you think things might work out after all, that’s peace. If it’s God’s story you’ll see how lovable you and other people are, and it will cause you want to be kind and gentle with them. And despite our desperation and impatience, God’s story is so good that, if we fully understood it, we’d just be happy to be a part of it.
Honestly, I don’t know a story quite that good yet. I suspect that’s because the story is still unfolding. We haven’t gotten to the end yet. But I do know that in the story God tells, the end is really, really good. Better than we could ever imagine.