Transforming story

“Your word (scripture) is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Ps 119:105)

Some preachers talk of scripture as a way to successful living. This use of scripture is fundamentally flawed because the definition of “successful living” is relative to the individual. An individual may think of “successful living” as having a nice house and a nice car. Is the purpose of scripture then to enable that individual to fulfill his desire for a nice house and a nice car? Does scripture then become an instrument that serves human desire? It may be true that following the principles of scriptures (industriousness, gentleness, etc.) makes us more likely to get the comforts we want in life. However, using scriptures as principles for the success we envision puts human beings above the God behind scriptures.

One purpose of scripture is to tell stories of God's interaction with his creation. We know others, their values and vision, through their stories. In the same way, we know God's values and vision through his actions in creation.

Another purpose of scripture to know ourselves as humans- our identity and purpose, our story. In other words, the bible narratives puts human beings in their proper place and move them in the direction God wants them to go. Humans sometimes cling to a certain identity and choose their own purpose. However, God determines human identity and human purpose. This was one purpose of the creation narrative, to establish human identity as crown of God's creation and his purpose of shaping creation with God.

Scripture contains stories of God, humans, and the relationship between God and humans. It is not primarily a book of propositions. God’s omnipotence is proclaimed in scripture, but his omnipotence is powerfully shown in his ability to fulfill his promises despite all opposition against him. God overcame the power and pride of Egypt to deliver on his promise to bring Israel out of Egypt.

In scripture, we gain knowledge of God and ourselves. The knowledge of God and ourselves is not gained so that we can know how to make our world work for us, but so that we may become rightly related to God. As we become rightly related to God, we become rightly related to others and to our world. We gain the success God envisions for us. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps 1:8)

The Christian story

What is faith? Faith is sometimes thought of as believing in certain propositions. However, I believe that faith is living in the context of a story. For the Christian, this story consists of four parts, with subplots along the way. The four parts are creation, fall, redemption, consummation. All men are created by God in his image. Then because of his rebellion, mankind was cast out of the presence of God and the image is marred. Then God, through Jesus provided redemption through his blood. He paid the penalty for human rebellion against God and also sent his Spirit to renew the image of God in man. Redemption marches on through history and then this redemption will culminate in the return of Christ and the complete renewal of creation.

What does it mean to live the Christian story? It means that we live in the reality of that story. Think about what it would be like to live in the reality that all human beings are glorious because they are made in the image of God. Think about what it would be like to live in the reality that you are as broken and sinful as that man who may have hurt you. Think about what it would be like to live in the reality that we are dependent on God, not only for what we need to live, but ultimately for the restoration of our souls and the souls of others. Think about what it would be like to live in hope that one day God will wipe away the tears that accumulate from living in the midst of suffering. To be a Christian is to share this story, not just to agree to certain propositions.

Christianity is a story that can be rejected. Some may reject the idea that there is a personal God behind creation whom we are accountable to, therefore we can live however we want. Some may choose to put their trust in their own wisdom to "improve" human beings and make society better. Christianity is also a counter story that rejects other stories. The Christian story rejects popular stories. For example, it rejects the story that says "I am here to enrich myself as much as possible and my salvation is becoming as powerful as I can be". It also rejects the story that says "I am in complete control of my life and I have everything I need in myself.

The movie series "Shrek" is a presentation of counter stories. The standard fairy tale of prince charming saving the princess and the princess lives happily ever after is turned on its head. Prince charming, along with the fairy godmother, becomes an evil man who has ulterior motives. The true savior of the princess is an Ogre who is shunned by society. The princess is a strong woman who is able to fight for herself and leads the other princesses into battle against evil prince charming.

The Christian story and other stories

Early Christians had a penchant for taking the stories of their pagan neighbors and transforming it into a Christ-centered story. An example is Christmas, where the celebration of the Sun-God becomes the celebration of the birth of the savior. Is this practice good or not? My feeling is that, if we really believe in Jesus' claim that he is the one who gives life to the fullest, then we should be able to see him in the stories that other people hold. For example, we can tell the woman who truly believes that she can find "salvation" by finding her prince charming that her wholeness ultimately comes through Christ. It is true that other human beings can make our lives seem complete, but in reality, other human beings can't give us the full life our spirits need. Others disappoint our expectations, they go against our plans, etc. However, we must remember also that in making Christ the fulfillment of our hopes, we must remember that faith is allowing Christ and his Spirit to transform our hopes. Christ already questioned human hope by saying that the one who is to be the ruler must be the servant of all. So much for wanting to sit around being served by others. Therefore, it seems that faith is not simply placing our hopes in Christ's hands but also letting him transform those hopes as we walk with him. The woman looking for a mate must trust that Christ would give her more satisfaction than sex and companionship can bring. Christ came to give us life to the fullest, not the life we set our sights on.

The earlier paragraph talks about a private story. What about a public story? Can it be transformed? Diwali is a Hindu festival celebrating the victory of a certain king over a demonic usurper. This story has some variations. Some Indian Christians have qualms about retaining this story, understandably because of its pagan moorings, but some want to redeem this story for Christ by holding a "Christian Diwali". My feeling is that this popular story, whether it is mythical or it has some historical reality, can be used to testify that Christ is the real king who vanquishes darkness, keeping in mind that Christ is not the same as Rama or Krishna. The celebration of Lord Rama or Lord Krishna as the dispeller of darkness can become the story of the Christ who vanquishes darkness, keeping in mind that Christ is the only son of God. The gospel is that God fulfills the hopes of humanity through Jesus the Messiah, and other "fulfillments" are just shadows of what Christ provides for humanity.

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