Should Christians still tell stories if the greatest story has already been told?

It’s Good Friday.

Last night, I asked my children the question that I used to ask about the name: Why is it called good Friday when it commemorates the day that Jesus died? Especially when Christians believe Jesus is God’s son, the second person of the Trinity. What’s good about anyone dying, especially someone like Jesus?

The answer, I eventually learned (and have shared with my children), is in the gospel, the good news.

The life and death of Jesus has been billed as the greatest story ever told. That can only be true when it’s meaning is understood, and the greater context and weight of that story is considered. The biblical claim goes far beyond a historical or popular understanding of Christ’s life. He was not just a historical figure, a superb teacher who was martyred for teaching people to love their neighbor. The four Gospel accounts present him as the eternal Son of the Father, equal in divinity, active in creation, and yet humble enough to take on a human existence.

As God and man, he is uniquely equipped to handle our primary problem. If Jesus were merely a man, his life and death might hold motivational or inspirational benefits, but as a holy God and a sinless man, his death is the only thing that could have earned salvation for a wicked world and a population of people harboring sinful hearts.

What story could be greater than the God stepping into history to enact true salvation for the earth, the story of human hearts being made new and the re-creation of the world to return to God’s original purposes?

Why continue to spin stories after that one is heard?

Other than the obvious human reasons that we experience life as a sequence of stories, and that telling our own tales helps us to process what we experience, here are a few reasons I think are specifically pertinent to Christians:

  • It’s an expression of the Imago Dei.
  • For some of us, it’s our best vehicle to reflect the light and hope we’ve received.
  • Because we’re still in the midst of God’s story.

First, Scripture makes it clear that we are created in God’s image, the Imago Dei. It’s less clear exactly what that means. But at the very least, I think we can deduce one of the most significant aspects of that gift from the context of the story in Genesis where we receive that blessing.

God is a creator, not of necessity, but seemingly as an expression of his great love. In creating us, in creating the universe, he gives not only a command, but he also gives a purpose. As the pinnacle of his creation, the only creatures who receive his image, he invites humanity to join in the creative act: to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, to rule over the other creatures as subjects under his authority, and finally to work in the garden and care for it. To my mind, the history of human ingenuity and creativity suggests that we can’t help ourselves. Whether it’s a new tool to help us with our work, an object of beauty to delight our senses, or a new story to entertain or educate, we must create.

As a Christian creator who has experienced some of God’s refreshing renewal of my imagination (though certainly not as much as one would hope) my identity leads me towards a certain type of creating.

That type of creating is reflective—not in the sense of looking inward to find some truth or to propagate my ego in the world, but reflective in the same way as a mirror. The deeper I reach into the mysteries of faith and the beauty of my Savior, the more my creative energies tend toward finding expressions of my understanding of that greatest story ever told.

There can never be any effort of mine that would express or enlighten it better than God’s own word, but I believe each imperfect reflection made in an attempt to glorify the creator will lead to more of his light spreading into the darkness of the world. My weak expression, but a dim reflection of what I’ve received, may hopefully, in its faint light, help other eyes adjust to the full glory of the truth of the gospel.

As all Christians are commissioned to share God’s love and make disciples, all are gifted in different ways for the common work. And I know I’m not alone in feeling God’s call to tell stories that point back to him in a culture drowning in entertainment but thirsty for truth and hope.

My third reason may explain further why I believe we need to new stories instead of standing solely on the old. Having already pointed out that we can’t stop ourselves from creating new things and new expressions, I think it’s also important to note that we are still in the dénouement of the greatest story ever told.

We have, in a sense, been allowed to take a peek at the last page, perhaps the final chapter, through the promises of the prophets and the Revelation of John. The global and cosmic drama there may offer a hope to anchor our souls, but as feeble humans, prone to elevate the faithful heroes in Scripture above our own abilities in faith, we often struggle to see how we might live out our lives faithfully amidst the evil times remaining before the end. If we bother imagining ourselves living through intense persecution, too many of us “hope” we can remain true.

Stories drawn from our own times and experiences with God and his Word, and with the pains of life in a fallen world, can serve as great encouragement to continue running the race. Stories from Christian authors, even fictional stories, serve as testimonies of faith and hope to accompany and assist those from life. They crystallize some of the lessons of faith in ways that more complex true stories might not struggle to do.

By tapping into the imagination first, they may also help to bypass much of the skepticism that might make us say, “that may be true for them, but I’m not like that”. Fiction allows us to imagine ourselves more easily in extreme situations and ponder how we might respond in faith without the feelings of personal fear and danger that often cloud our thinking.

For some, the fictional setting offers fresh insight even into aspects of Scripture, as so many Christian works of fiction have provided. Just look at the impact of fictional books by authors like John Bunyan, George MacDonald, CS Lewis, and others as evidence.

Allowing our imaginations to pursue such a course is a form of worship with a decently long tradition. Whether fictional or historical, those testimonies of faith can lead to worship and praise of God and his truth.

The biggest caveat to these arguments would be the exercising of discernment as we create or consume those stories, which is its own broad topic, and applies almost equally to any other story, including properly handling Scripture.

This good Friday, may you celebrate the greatest story ever told with your whole self, including your imagination. Let that celebration lead into worship and praise of our Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ. And I encourage you to enjoy and tell stories that reflect more of his light into the world.

Happy Easter. He is Risen!