On Trusting the Storyteller

Trusting God
By Jerry Bridges
By G. K. Chesterton

Trusting God is not always easy. After more than twenty years of serving as the senior pastor for a church that was like family to me, God has started to write a new chapter. The last chapter did not end like I wanted it to.  It was my dream to continue my work as a “settled minister” (an 18C expression for ministers who stayed in the same church their entire lives) and die with my children and grandchildren around me “old and full of good years.” But God was (and is) writing the story differently.

I have often quoted the words of the English writer and poet G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936), first published in Orthodoxy in 1909: “I had always believed…that this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller” (Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p. 110). 

I have pondered the words of the English writer again and again in 2018. Chesterton’s aphorism teaches us that there is purpose in everything because there is a Person over all things. There is indeed mystery in this story—but it is a story that makes sense. Just because there are parts we do not understand, does not mean there is no purpose. We see this in the Job narrative. In fact, Job’s friends sit around and talk so much about the possible causes of Job’s suffering that we tire of listening to them. They just go round and round saying the same thing in different ways. What is interesting is that God rebukes them and he rebukes Job (who later says “I repent.”) Isn’t it telling that God never does give Job an explanation?  Only the Omniscient Narrator knows the purpose in the story—but there is still purpose.

Notice also that the story of your life (and mine) is part of a much bigger story that God is telling.  From Creation to New Creation and beyond, God is telling a story. And, our own stories are written within the larger narrative. The French literary term, Mise en abyme (Fr. “to place in the abyss”) refers to the practice of writing a story within a larger story. In painting it refers to the technique of framing a piece of art within a larger work of art.  The classic Biblical example of a story within a story is the Joseph narrative.  Yes, it is the story of how God sovereignly works through bad things for the good of Joseph (Genesis 41).  But it is framed within a larger story of God working through bad things in Joseph’s life for Joseph’s brothers and the entire nation of Israel.  The framing shows that our stories are connected to each other’s stories—as well as the grand narrative. And Israel’s story (and our story) is part of an even bigger story of God’s plan to bless all nations through the Christ!  Our own stories are stories within The Story being written by the Author of our faith.

Finally, G. K. Chesterton teaches us that God, not you, not me, is the Storyteller.  This brings us to the words of Jesus in the Lord’s prayer:  “Thy will be done.”  My dream was to be a “settled minister” in the church I loved for the rest of my life.  I wanted to remain in my position, preach and pray, give more time to missions and do some writing.  That was my will. But that was not God’s will.  Even if He used “means” that I did not understand, it was His will.  He is the Storyteller. Can we make editorial comments, or offer some plot suggestions? Yes.  I can even plead with God to put things in the story that I want.  That is called prayer.  But, I must let Him write the story.  And the good news is that He is a really GOOD Storyteller.  He is a brilliant Storyteller.   

And so what do we do with this.  We must move on to the “next chapter”  but it does not mean we completely forget the last chapter.  I was re-watching The Hobbit (extended version!) with my family on a warm evening in Austin, and someone said, “I don’t get that part of the story.”  My oldest son Fleet said something that made me stop and think about my own story.  He said, “Don’t forget that scene—but you won’t understand it until you watch/read Lord of the Rings.”  Sometimes the previous chapter doesn’t make sense until we get to the next chapter, or until later in the story, or until we come to the end of The Story. But it will make sense, because God is the Storyteller.

We love and miss the flock we served in NWI very much. When you think of us, pray for us. I will be writing regularly and sharing books and ideas that have changed my life. Here are a couple of my all-time favorites: a practical work on the sovereignty of God by Jerry Bridges (recently repackaged), and a classic work by G. K. Chesterton. More to come…

[1] Gilbert K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Company, 1909), 110.y)p