college travels

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Value of Stories

Some scholars work with the assumption that what counts in the narrative sections of the Bible are the propositions that are to be found there. They want to analyse and dissect a story so that it can be reduced to a series of theological statements. But if this were all that God intended us to do with the long sections of narrative in the Bible, then it is a wonder that he didn’t give us an encyclopaedia or Bible dictionary rather than a long and involved story of salvation.

Sociologists and psychologists will say that beyond supplying propositions, narratives have another important function. Not only do they convey information but they also confer and confirm identity. The stories that we listen to and the stories that we tell play an important part in making us who we are as a community. Furthermore it is in and through those stories that we, as individuals, learn to make sense of the world and of our experiences in it. There is something about a story, they suggest, that is internalised and becomes part of who we are and how we engage with the world outside us. There is something about a shared story that joins us and contributes to a sense of community.

Writers in this area suggest that stories help us to engage with others by offering us examples or ‘archetypes’ to follow. Everyone, they say, wants to live a significant life. They want to be mourned when they die and they want to be remembered for having achieved something. We will look to achieve in one of four areas or in a combination of two or more of: warrior, sovereign, seer and lover.

The narratives in the Bible help us to know how the people of God are to fight, to lead, to offer advice and to help others to appreciate all that God has made. These same narratives also warn us about what happens when these archetypes are expressed inappropriately and the sovereign becomes a tyrant or the seer a fool. They warn us how easily this change can occur and help us always to rely on God and on those he has set around us to keep us balanced and focused.

Samuel is an example of a seer. He is still learning and growing throughout his ministry, and there’s a lesson here for us. One of the things he learns is to see potential and what might be. So he trusts God and anoints a young David in preference to an older and more impressive Eliab or Abinadab. He also learns that his responsibility is to advise Israel and Saul and later David but that he is not responsible if that advice, well presented, is ignored. So he advised Israel against taking a king, but learnt to trust God and to stand by Saul when Israel persisted with their request. Samuel might have been disappointed with their decision, but he did not allow himself to turn that disappointment to bitterness. He served Saul speaking warmly and encouragingly over him at his anointing and continuing to advise him throughout his lifetime. In Samuel we see how to use the wisdom that God gives for the benefit of others and in service of his kingdom.

To be continued ...

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  • Fascinating stuff Andy!

    I'd be interested to hear more about the four story/hero archetypes - what do writers suggest are the distinguishing features of each?

    I'm keen to self-diagnose...:)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:51 pm  

  • Hi Nathan
    good to hear from you!
    There will be more on this area in later travels to come as we look at other significant figures from the OT who represent other archetypal characters.
    or e-mail at

    By Anonymous Andy, at 2:00 pm  

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