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God’s Story, and How We Fit

6

July 19, 2011 by Heather Harris

As you can tell, if you’ve been reading my last few blogs, I’ve recently been thinking and writing a lot about spiritual gifts and figuring out where I fit into God’s story.  As a Christian, I believe that understanding what God has gifted me with and what He wants me to do with those gifts is extremely important to living a life that points others to Christ.  I want to encourage my readers to do the same.  We can talk about Christ all we want, but actions ultimately speak louder than words.

The first step to figuring out where you fit into God’s story is understanding the plot line of The Bible.  That’s right, The Bible isn’t just a random collection of books that all somehow have to do with God, and there is more to reading The Bible than simply studying a few verses or books at a time.  It has an intense plot line, complete with beginning, conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion.  Without reading through the whole thing as a story, we miss its true essence and purpose.  We, as God’s people, are meant to read it, understand God’s agenda throughout history, and ultimately, discover where we, ourselves, individually fit into this story.

In order to do this, we must start back at the beginning of the story, back in Genesis 1-2—creation. God established Himself as the author of the Biblical story through the creation of the Universe in just six days, the pinnacle of God’s creation being humankind. God created humans to reign over and take care of the rest of His creation and also to reflect His own image as the main characters in His story. Creating them male and female, God intended for them to be a picture of Himself in relationship with one another. God first created Adam, man, but He knew that it was not good for him to be completely alone. This is why He then created Eve, woman, to give them a relationship through which they could reflect God’s own image. Humans were specifically created by God to reflect His own nature in that they were made to be personal, relational, and sinless. We were designed to reveal who God is through who we are and what we do in relationship with those around us. God’s plan was for His Glory and Perfections to be displayed through us. However, He also chose to give His characters the gift of free will, the ability to choose and make decisions about how they live their own lives. This ability to choose means that we are not just God’s mindless slaves who will follow Him blindly because we do not know any better, but rather we are God’s intelligent creation designed to do His will but not forced to do it.

This leads us to the conflict—mankind’s rebellion against God and His created order in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan, the frontrunner of all the fallen angels, in the form of a serpent. Satan came to Eve and deceived her into questioning God, while Adam stood silent beside her. His tactics were the same then as they are now, starting with planting a small lie, attacking God’s word and character, and then appealing to our own desires, causing us to disobey God and sin. Adam and Eve made the choice to reveal their own broken human nature, rather than God’s perfect nature, as they were designed to do originally. Because of this, sin entered the world, bringing with it brokenness in humankind’s relationship with God, others, the world, and themselves. This is the conflict of the entire Biblical story.

In reaction, God declared His consequent judgment on mankind and then began to formulate a plan for the resolution of the conflict. First, he declares judgment on the serpent for deceiving Eve, telling him he will crawl on his belly for the rest of his days and that there will be enmity between him and the woman. He then judges Eve, giving her pain in childbirth and a desire to take over Adam’s leadership in their marriage relationship. Thirdly, He curses the ground, making the work it takes to grow food much harder on Adam. However, even though He had to pronounce judgment on the two deviants, God also provided for them by not condemning them to immediate death and sacrificing an animal to make them proper clothing out of its skin. He also promised Adam and Eve there would be a “serpent crusher” who would come from their line, in Genesis 3:15. This was foreshadowing to the way God would one day solve the conflict that came about through Adam and Eve’s sin.

This brings us to the rising action or what happened between the conflict and the climax of the story. After the first sin, things only got worse, with Adam and Eve’s son Cain killing his brother Abel out of jealousy. Sin continued to ravage the human race until God finally had enough and destroyed all of mankind, except for Noah (who found favor with God because of his faith) and his family, through a worldwide flood. God never again destroyed everyone, but He did start over again with Abraham, making a covenant with him in Genesis 12 that would become the main focus of most of the Old Testament. In the Abrahamic Covenant, God promised Abraham he would have an heir, too many descendants to count, and a specific land in which his descendants would live. Although, Abraham created a false start by having a son named Ishmael through Hagar, his wife Sarah’s handmaiden (as was the custom at that time), God fulfilled all of His promises to Abraham in His own ways and at His own pace. First, He gave Abraham a son named Isaac, through his wife Sarah, when they were both very advanced in years. Then, Abraham’s descendants became the nation of Israel and became numerous when they were held captive in the land of Egypt. Lastly, God delivered the Israelites from the Egyptians through Moses and brought them back to the land of Canaan, which was theirs to inherit if they obeyed God’s commands about how to conquer and live in it. God’s purpose for the Israelites was for them to be His chosen people, and like Adam and Eve, they were meant to reflect God’s nature and glory to the other nations as a nation of priests.

Unfortunately, the Israelites did not obey and fell into idolatry over and over again because they did not want to be set apart from the other nations. In fact, most of the reason they had problems was because they kept trying to blend in, rather than fulfill the purpose with which God had commissioned them. Because of this, they fell into a seemingly endless cycle of judgment, going through rebellion because of disobedience, retribution through captivity as punishment, repentance as the Israelites realized they were wrong and cried out to God, restoration through a God-sent judge to deliver them, and then rest through God’s blessing because of their obedience. This cycle happened over and over again, each time the judges spiraling down in character, until Samson, who was a perfect picture of the corruption that had ravaged the nation of Israel. Judges 21:25 says, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” At this point, no one was calling on God and was simply coming up with his or her own solution instead of asking God what His would be. This came to a head when Israel asked for a king to rule over them so that they could be like all the other nations, rejecting God because he had given them a separate status.

God was, of course, not happy with this request, but he granted it to them anyway, giving them a king who, based on outward appearances, seemed more than worthy to be called their king. His name was Saul, and unfortunately, he was much more worried about what the people thought of him than what God wanted. Because of this he did not obey God’s commands, and he lost not only God’s favor, but also the throne. God then chose the next king based on the heart, rather than looks, and He decided on David, who was described as “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 16). Though David did sin several times, he always came back to God with repentance and loyalty, possessing the Holy Spirit and a passionate love for His creator. He was one of the few good kings in Israel and found such favor in God’s eyes that he also made a covenant with him. God promised David a great name, a land where God’s people would be secure, a temple built for God by one of his descendants, and a dynasty comprised of more kings to come. Again, God keeps His promises to David, making his son, Solomon, king after David’s death and having Solomon build a grand temple. The rest of His promises would be fulfilled later because they were delayed by the judgment that had to befall Israel due to Solomon’s disobedience in worshiping foreign gods.

First, Israel was split into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, Israel and Judah. Israel was taken captive by Assyria, and Judah was taken by Babylon. Thus, the Israelites were exiled from the land God had given them in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham. While in exile, God sent them many prophets telling them to repent and prophesying future events that would come about after the exile was over. However, everything that was prophesied did not come true in the exact way in which it had been foretold and it left the Israelites very disappointed.

This leads us to the New Testament, where the climax occurs. In the gospels we are told the story of Jesus Christ, who was God in the flesh, paradoxically fully God and fully human. He lived a perfect, sinless life, the only human to do so, and then gave His life on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. He took our place in God’s eyes, as all of God’s wrath that had built up over the years towards sin was poured out on Jesus as He hung there on the cross. Then three days later, Jesus came back to life, conquering sin and death. The promise of the “serpent crusher” God had made to Adam and Eve, way back in Genesis, was finally fulfilled. From this point on, there is only falling action as we await Jesus’ second coming and establishment of God’s Kingdom on Earth, which will be the conclusion of the story.

So, as Christians today, we are part of the falling action. Our part in the story is to be for God what the nation of Israel was meant to be: a body of believers whose purpose is to spread the knowledge of Christ and what He has done for us to a broken and sin-cursed world.  We do so through the unique gifts He has given to each and every person who has believed and confessed that Jesus Christ is his/her Lord and Savior, the only way to God.  We each have a specific, individual, and important part to play, but without reading The Bible and fully understanding the context in which we do so, we cannot completely fulfill our unique purposes.  This is why really studying The Bible instead of just reading it for its surface value is so important to our lives as Christians. By studying the Old Testament, we can see where the Israelites went wrong, and correct those same sinful and rebellious tendencies in our own lives.  By studying the New Testament, we can see how Jesus lived and reflect those same habits and actions. By reading daily, we refresh our minds and hearts by hearing God’s voice speak to us through His very Word.

I think Christians today sometimes get so caught up in the ways God can speak to us through the world that we forget to go back to His Word.  I am one of the most guilty of this, so please don’t take this as me talking down to anyone. In fact, this is aimed at me just as much or more than it is aimed toward anyone reading this.  If you feel lost as to what your place in God’s story is, then go back and study His book!  It’s definitely a good place to start, though it’s definitely not your only source.

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6 thoughts on “God’s Story, and How We Fit

  1. Okay. I am picking up some narrative theology, some relational theology, and maybe even a hint of open theology? I actually like all of those theologies.

    You are so right that we lose something when we neglect the context and the overarching story (narrative) of the Bible in favor of single verses, or even single authors. It is God’s story and we do have a place in it, but it is His story first and foremost.

    By the way who are your major theological influences?

  2. hrh413 says:

    Honestly, I don’t have specific people as theological influences. And I honestly wouldn’t say I have a very strong formal theological background. I just kind of pick up ideas here and there, weigh them against what The Bible says, asking God to show me truth, and go from there. But I was very influenced by my “Exploring the Bible” professor, Scott McKay, from Grace College and Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, IN, who introduced me to the idea of narrative theology.

    If you have suggestions of theological influences you think I’d be interested in, I’d love to hear them! I am never opposed to delving into new resources and ideas to glean new knowledge and understanding from!

    • The Story of God by Michael Lodahl is very good. I’ve only read the first version of it. A couple years ago he rewrote it and included some more material. Mike also wrote a good book on Islam & Christianity, Claiming Abraham: Reading the Bible and Qu’ran Side by Side.

      My friend Tom Oord has been developing a very good theology of love. Tom sees love as Jesus central focus. His The Nature of Love while Tom says it is for the academy I think it is very accessible for most people. Tom is an Open theist, it was through him that I was able to reconcile my scientific education and training with my new found faith through theistic evolution.

      I’ve been reading Peter Rollins of late. I am a late comer to it but am really enjoying How (Not) To Speak of God

  3. hrh413 says:

    Interesting. I’ll have to make a trip to the library and check some books out.

    Although I also believe that love is a very central focus of Jesus, it makes me uneasy that so many followers of this theology never talk about the dangers of sin. Yes, God loves us, and we are forgiven through Christ, BUT I feel like so many are beginning to believe that gives them license to sin as much as they want and not have to really deal with the consequences. That really bothers me. Jesus teaches of God’s love, but He also warns that sin should not be taken lightly.

    • I think you are right. This is especially true of those who misunderstand what love really is Biblically. Love is not an anything goes, feel good emotional thing. Tom spent 10-12 years studying the uses of the words translated love in the Bible. He says that the authors are not fully consistent in their use of love. But he did come across an underlying sense/definition: Love is to act intentionally in sympathetic response to God and others to promote overall well being. I think inherent in this definition is constraint from acting selfishly and hurting others(sin).

      Tom has a lot of his ideas in the archives on his blog http://www.thomasjayoord.com It is there where he tests and hones his ideas before they make it into his books.

      Sin is devastating, not just to the sinner but to those around him as well. I work in recovery and many addicts think that they are not hurting anyone but themselves. But they are really hurting all those who love them–kids, spouses, parents, friends. I think that all sin is kind of like that. But if we act in love as Jesus acted in love (the whole kenosis thing) then we don’t sin, at least not in the moment.

      • hrh413 says:

        That’s true. Real love is all about being selfless, especially the love Jesus showed and commanded us to show as well. It’s all about consciously choosing to put someone else first, and then acting on that choice. It bothers me that so many churches are preaching the warm, fuzzy, feel-good love that only lasts as long as the emotion, which isn’t long. Human emotions are fickle, and that’s not what love is about.

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