Since we were toddlers, people have told us stories. Almost every child knows the phrase, “Once Upon a Time…” Storytelling is in our nature. We love the adventures, the unexpected twists, a little bit of trouble, and especially the happily-ever-afters.
Just about anybody can appreciate either curling up with a good book or watching a movie. In fact, both industries are anchored in the age-old tradition of telling stories. Sure, there are poorly written stories and Hollywood has certainly endorsed a few hollow films here and there, but when you find a good one, you are drawn in. Why do stories captivate us? Stories bring the human race together. From them, we are able to recognize that, although we live in different parts of the world, experience different trials and different joys, have different ideals, we still share and understand the human condition together. We are always looking for new stories that capture our imaginations, teach and challenge us, or have some lesson to share. At the same time, we love to tell the same old stories again and again.
Hebrews 11 is all about telling the stories of people who had great faith. The book’s author wanted to tell stories for our benefit, so that we may see how faith moves mountains and to learn by the example of those who came before. Stories that demonstrate how God works through His people are intended to bolster our trust in Him. Hebrews calls us to understand that we are a part of these stories.
The author of Hebrews mentions many stories of old that demonstrate faith throughout Scripture. He speaks briefly of the stories of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses’ parents, Moses himself, and Rahab. In verse 32 the author states, “How much more do I need to say?” It’s as if he’s saying, “Don’t you get it, already? Do you see my point?”
“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours.” — Frederick Buechner
Through stories, we come to know God and how we ought to live more fully. Frederick Buechner’s book Telling Secrets speaks to the importance of stories on this idea. He states, “Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity… that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally.”
Our job is to determine what stories are worth listening to. There are many shallow stories that offer little value and less substance. The best stories are ones that can challenge our minds, work in our hearts, and shape our lives. The Christian community continues to tell great faith stories today. We speak of the lives of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom, Abolitionist William Wilberforce, and many others. We also tell the stories that they told; like Lewis’s famous Narnia series and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
These stories, both fiction and nonfiction, not only capture our imaginations, they capture our hearts because, in various ways, they speak truth to us. However, the problem is that the value of stories often fade over time as people lose confidence that what was claimed as true is actually true. We doubt. Perhaps in several hundred years, the stories we believe in now will be doubted as well, but we know them to be true now. What does that say about the likelihood of the ones that came before??
Clearly, Scripture shows us how important stories are for the human life. Buechner’s book Telling Secrets is all about sharing our own stories with others, so that we may heal from the past and go forth as better versions of ourselves. In remembering the life of his father he states that, “…because words are so much a part of what we keep the past alive by…by not speaking of what we remembered about him we soon simply stopped remembering at all, or at least I did.” One reason we tell stories again and again is simply so we can remember. Stories may as well lose their value if we forget them. This is why we read Scripture repeatedly, telling the Bible’s stories over and over again.
Discovering and engaging with stories are great moments in themselves, but we cannot leave it there. Hebrews 11:1 says that, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” We engage with them because we can be encouraged by their struggles and triumphs as we face our own. Hebrews shows us that we need to take faith into our stories, sharing stories of old to strengthen our faith. He says to go, hear stories, take those lessons with you, and then, we will see our own stories come to fruition. With this, the author of Hebrews tells us, we can go forward with assurance in the power of faith.
Two other authors contribute to the discussion of how the narrative of God’s redemption in Hebrews 11 impacts their lives in Missio of Story:
- On Wednesday, Lauren Harrington discusses the sometimes circuitous paths we take to follow God in “What More Can I Say?”
- On Friday, Will Thompson looks at suffering in the light of redemption in “Breaking The Hold Of Darkness”
Cara Brown has worked to develop training events for organizations in the not-for-profit world. She is a graduate of the 2015-2016 Capital Fellows Program.