God and the Arts

Part 4: Storytelling

By Kevin Stone

All storytellers share some common traits. First, they are creative: whether we're talking about Ray Bradbury imagining a Martian landscape or Leo Tolstoy conceiving 500-plus characters for War and Peace, writers are inventive. To varying degrees, storytellers have artistic control over their work. Taking a blank sheet of paper (or computerized facsimile thereof) and filling it with one's own words is heady stuff—and a lot of fun. An author's command extends even beyond the grave in the form of copyright licenses; Thornton Wilder stipulated that nothing in Our Town ever be changed. Storytellers also take pride in their work, sometimes to the chagrin of other artists. Before a 2003 off-Broadway production of Rose's Dilemma, playwright Neil Simon sent a curt note to star Mary Tyler Moore: "Learn your lines or get out of my play." In other words, it's my story; don't mess with it.

All storytellers deal with themes and how best to present them. Hawthorne illustrates the internal and external consequences of sin in The Scarlet Letter. Dickens decries the folly of discontent and underscores the emptiness of "having it all" in Great Expectations. In Moby Dick, Melville has us chew on the big theme of man's struggle against death. Dr. Seuss tackles prejudice in "The Sneetches."

God as a Storyteller

Hans Christian Andersen, himself a prolific storyteller, offers up a bit of philosophy: "Every man's life is a fairy tale written by God's fingers." It's a stimulating quote, and the more I ponder it, the more I like it. If God is the Storyteller, then He is writing the Story of Life and we are the characters in that Story. Day to day we see His story unfold as He turns the pages. How many individual, unique characters has God "written" into this world? Now that's creativity.

God is the perfect Storyteller, who knows "the end from the beginning" (Isaiah 46:10). His "fiction" is so real, it's nonfiction. We're living it. God the Storyteller deals with the grandest themes of all: the glory of Himself and the salvation of the world. And, most amazing to all aspiring storytellers, God never needs a rewrite.

Unruly Characters

Having a divine Author doesn't mean that everyone in the Story has a clear awareness of the Storyteller. King Cyrus of Persia was named and chosen by God for a special work 200 years before he was born (Isaiah 45:1-7). But Cyrus's ignorance of God did not affect God's existence at all. Jane Austen existed, even though Elizabeth Bennet was oblivious to Miss Austen's reality.

Sometimes characters in the Story of Life attempt to marginalize or minimize the work of the Storyteller. People who say, "I don't need God," forget that God is the only Source of life and meaning. Refusing to admit one's dependence on God is silly, akin to Jim Hawkins saying, "I don't need Robert Louis Stevenson." Without Mr. Stevenson, there is no Jim Hawkins, no Admiral Benbow Inn, no Hispaniola, no Treasure Island, and no treasure.

Other characters, in a moment of doubt or despair, rashly say the Story is meaningless. Like Macbeth, they view their lives as "a tale told by an idiot . . . signifying nothing." Shakespeare, by the way, would disagree with Macbeth's assessment. But the playwright allows his famous character to speak it. At that point in the play, after countless murders and a wholesale pursuit of evil, there was nothing else the Scottish king could say. He had ruined his life, and it was indeed "full of sound and fury."

Some characters fret over the outcome of a Story that they feel has spun out of control. Cinderella was distraught the night her sisters left for the ball. What Cinderella didn't know was that her fairy godmother was on the way. When Joseph was in the pit in Canaan or in the prison in Egypt, he probably had a hard time imagining a good resolution to his Story. All the while, God was intending to take Joseph to the palace. God knows the plans He has for us (Jeremiah 29:11). Only the Author can see the whole book, from beginning to end, and that's one reason we should trust Him.

The Most Radical Plot

In the most wonderful plot twist in the history of plots, God the Storyteller did something radical—He wrote Himself in. "The Word became flesh" as Jesus, God incarnate, stepped into the setting He had made. Galatians 4:4 says He came at the exact best moment in the plot. So the Storyteller dwelt among us. We beheld His glory. And, of course, He told stories (Mark 4:34).

"We spend our years as a tale that is told" (Psalm 90:9, KJV). It's good to know that the characters, the plot, and the denouement are all in the capable hands of the Author of our souls.

Image Credit: liquidsunshine49; "Painted Books"; Creative Commons

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Published 6-28-2012