Last Sunday we began our series in the story of Joseph. Its a very long story by biblical standards, some 14 chapters from Genesis 37 to 50. And being a long story, it carries a lot of explanatory power about life and relationship, endurance and hope and reconciliation. Do you like long stories? My wife Susan tells me she doesn’t exactly like starting a story because everything is unfamiliar. But once begun, if its a particularly good story, she doesn’t want it to end. What she really likes is living in the middle, and the bigger the story the longer the middle. The story of Joseph has a long middle.
The Bible is a story of stories. Perhaps this is the basic power of the Bible, its real gift to us. While we expect to hear commandments, and maybe a little poetry and wisdom, what we are actually given in Scripture is an endlessly fascinating storied world, a world where connections can be made, a world of meaning.
In his 1999 Massey lectures, The Triumph of Narrative, Robert Fulford talks about how we humans need stories in order to live. Story is the way we see the world, make connections, understand meaning. A woman turns a corner one day, says Fulford, and meets a man she has never met before. They fall in love, get married, and in two years they have children. In twenty more years those children are adults walking around on the earth, adults that would not have existed if that seemingly chance encounter had not occurred. And so we tell stories, Fulford says. We look for patterns, plots and meanings; we want to understand what it is we are part of.
Now, aside from the fact that a few of you of are wondering where that corner is, Fulford’s point should not be missed: life requires a narrative of explanation. When there is a large piece of our life that doesn’t make sense, or just sticks out like an awkward appendage, we are restless until we understand how it fits into the whole. And that is because each of us believes, in our deepest sense of things, that we are part of a story and that this story is going somewhere. To say such a thing is actually to take a position of faith about the world: “I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller” [GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy].
I used to try to slip in a really pointless story for my daughters at supper. “Guess what happened to me today”, I would say. I would proceed to wander all over the place, stopping at red lights, parking my car, walking, opening doors, but never getting anywhere. Then they would say “Dad! What’s the point! Your story has to have a point! Why did you bother telling us that?!”
I have said it a lot, especially in conversation: I may not know the meaning of everything in my life, but I do know that everything in my life has meaning. It is this confidence in meaning, this belief that what we are part of is not random circumstance but guided by the hand of God, that gives me hope. As you read the Joseph story for yourself, look for this sense of meaning, this thread of hopefulness. Pay attention to the idea that this story has a point.
J.M. Barrie’s classic story Peter Pan carries one poignant moment worth repeating. At one point Peter describes himself as a lost boy, one of the company of lost boys who don’t know their parents and who refuse to grow up. He describes himself as someone who doesn’t know any stories. In a conversation with Wendy, he admits this: “You see I don’t know any stories. None of the lost boys know any stories.” Wendy responds: “How perfectly awful!”
If you don’t know any stories with meaning, stories that carry truth about the world and the way it works, about God and his plans, then you are living without a sense of who you are, where you are, and what all of the moments in your life could possibly mean. Instead of meanings, you are left with mere happenings, and thats not a story.
Do you know any good stories? Are you part of one? Join us in our contemplations on the story of Joseph.