The Appeal of Stories

“Humankind is addicted to stories.  No matter our mood, in reverie or expectation, panic or peace, we can be found stringing together incidents, and unfolding episodes.  We turn our pain into narrative so we can bear it; we turn our ecstasy into narrative so we can prolong it.  We tell our stories to live.”—John Shea, Stories of God

One of the most universal human impulses can be summed up in four words:  “Tell me a story.”  From early childhood to old age, we look for stories in our lives, and we find that the cycle of life itself has a classic narrative structure with a beginning, middle, and end.  Our everyday lives have a narrative quality and consist of the presence of the standard narrative categories of setting, character, and plot.

As you think about the stories you love and the stories that linger in your memory, what do they have in common? What makes them compelling?   Stories appeal to us for many different reasons, but the best stories tell us about the world, about people, and about ourselves. This is as true of the stories of the Bible as it is of the writings of Charles Dickens in the 19th century or J. K. Rowling today.  The stories of the Bible tell us most importantly about God and how people relate to him.

Stylistically, the Bible’s stories are told quite differently from those in modern novels and short fiction.  In the Bible, the writing style is spare and unembellished.  Only a few details are provided, and much information needs to be inferred.  The art of biblical storytelling is not unlike that of the Impressionistic painters.  Biblical storytellers give you a handful of details (comparable to the dots of Impressionistic painters), and you must assemble them into a whole picture in your mind’s eye.  In the world of the Bible, every detail that is given about setting, character, and plot conveys a wealth of meaning.  It is a truism that the storytellers of the Bible tell us what happened but give us a minimum of commentary to explain what happened.