Christians and Humanities Part 2 | Story

Even before we are old enough to read them, we as humans feel drawn to stories. We watch them, listen to them, learn to read them for ourselves, and eventually come to tell them as well. Our fascination with stories seems to be an essential aspect of our humanity, and many of the humanities disciplines—literature, composition, history, theatre, and others—center around stories as a result. As Christian humanities students, we believe our love for story is not a quirk of evolution but a gift from our Creator God. God, who describes Himself as an author (Hebrews 12:2), has allowed us as characters in His saga of redemption to share His ability to create and appreciate stories. Our capacity for story helps us to enter into the biblical story, to understand the stories of others, and to live our individual stories well.

 By studying story, we can better appreciate the grand metanarrative[1] of the universe—the Bible itself. Because the Bible is told as a story, understanding how narrative works helps us understand the biblical narrative as well. Within Scripture, we find all the elements of good literature—compelling characters, harrowing conflicts, rich settings, captivating language, and life-changing themes. Since Scripture shares many of the qualities of both the fictional stories of human imagination and the real ones of lived human experience, the ability to study literature can deepen Bible study as well, allowing us to follow storylines, trace motifs[2], grasp metaphorical language, and identify character motivation and development within biblical texts. We can maintain a sense of reverence for its unique status as God’s revealed Word while also growing in our appreciation for its literary qualities. More importantly, our knowledge of the Bible as God’s true and accurate account of reality gives us the ability to evaluate other stories holistically.

Operating from within a biblical framework, we can turn our attention to the human stories that surround us. Learning about other people through novels, plays, movies, biographies, and other media for storytelling expands our understanding of the human experience. Though all of us as human beings are made in the image of God and therefore share the same inherent worth and dignity, the human experience is unique to each of us. Our differences in age, culture, locations in time and space, physical qualities, family dynamics, and personal hardships make our individual life stories reflect the diversity of God’s creation.

Yet because of our limited perspectives, we do not always recognize or acknowledge the ways other people’s lives have been different from our own. Stories, however, help us move beyond our personal limitations, showing us other people’s worldviews and the experiences that have shaped them. Hearing those stories helps us to develop empathy[3] for people who are different from us—not just for the people we’re reading about, but the people we encounter every day. Learning through story leads us to loving in real life.

Though stories can be a valuable means of instruction, that is not their only purpose. They also serve to inspire us. When we read a story, we are seeing a vision of the human experience as it is and as it could be—for better or for worse. Some characters are noble, some wicked, and many somewhere in the middle of the two, trying to choose whether to align themselves with virtue or abandon it entirely. The choices characters make and the consequences stemming from those choices implicitly teach us as the audience how we ourselves should live. We can be principled like Jane Eyre, loyal like Samwise Gamgee, empathetic like Atticus Finch, or kind like Beth March. By their example of virtue, these characters and others make us want to model these qualities as well. Conversely, the selfish and destructive actions of villainous characters motivate us to examine our own likenesses to see whether we resemble them. Regardless of what kind of characters we are encountering, when we evaluate them with biblical discernment, we have an opportunity to learn from their experiences and choices. The more people we meet in books, the better we know what kind of characters we want to be.

Each of us has our own small story to live. When we seek out the stories of others, we more fully see the scope of the human experience, both its tragedies and delights. By living well in the midst of our individual narratives, we participate in God’s grand metanarrative for humanity, the truest and best story there is.

[1] In essence, a metanarrative provides an overarching framework for interpreting the limited narratives of everyday life.

[2] Repeated symbols or ideas within a text

[3] Empathy is the ability to understand the experiences of other people, take on their perspective, and see the world from their eyes.

Author Rachel Mayes Allen graduated from MBU in 2018 with a BS in English Education. She teaches 9th grade English through Wisconsin Virtual Academy. She is working on her MA in Composition through Liberty University and expects to graduate this summer.