Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables, and He would not speak anything to them without a parable, so that what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled:
I will open My mouth in parables; I will declare things kept secret from the foundation of the world.
One day more than 70 years ago, two literary giants in England stood talking about language, stories, and religion. In the middle of the conversation, the taller gentleman blurted to his slightly balding companion, “ Here’s my point: Just as a word is an invention about an object or an idea, so a story can be an invention about Truth.”
“I’ve loved stories since I was a boy,” the other man admitted. “Especially stories about heroism and sacrifice, death and resurrection. …But, when it comes to Christianity . . . well, that’s another matter. I simply don’t understand how the life and death of Someone Else (whoever he was) 2000 years ago can help me here and now.”
The first man earnestly replied, “ But don’t you see, Jack? The Christian story is the greatest story of them all. Because it’s the real story. The historical event that fulfills the tales and shows us what they mean.”
About a week later, Jack—also known as C. S. Lewis, the author of the classic books Mere Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia (among many other works)—announced his conversion to Christianity to a friend. Lewis attributed much of his decision to his conversation with J. R. R. Tolkien.[i] Of course, Tolkien is the author of one of the greatest books of the twentieth century, The Lord of the Rings, which has been transformed into a magnificent movie trilogy by director Peter Jackson. Although Tolkien, a Roman Catholic, didn’t always see eye to eye with Lewis, who was more inclined toward Protestantism, they both understood the truth of the ultimate story.
Storytelling and Mythmaking
As Tolkien and Lewis said so long ago, stories matter deeply. They connect us to our personal history and to the history of all time and culture. Human beings are meaning seekers and meaning makers. We strive to connect ourselves to our experiences and the experiences of others. We are addicted to those “aha!” moments in our lives when we see meaning, purpose, and significance.
Stories help us do this. They bring us laughter, tears, and joy. They stimulate our minds and stir our imaginations. Stories help us escape our daily lives to visit different times, places, and people. They can arouse our compassion and empathy, spur us toward truth and love, or sometimes even incite us toward hatred or violence.
Different kinds of stories satisfy different needs. For example, a comedy evokes a different response from us than a tragedy. A hard news story on the front page affects us differently than a human interest story in the magazine section, or a celebrity profile next to the movie and television listings. While different kinds of stories satisfy different needs, many stories share common themes, settings, character types, situations, and other recurrent archetypal patterns.
Many stories focus on one individual; often a heroic figure who overcomes many trials and tribulations to defeat evil or attain a valuable goal. We identify with such heroes because we recognize that we are each on our own journey or quest. How a hero’s journey informs and illuminates our own journey is significant. We look for answers in stories.
Every story has a worldview: a way of viewing reality, truth, the universe, the human condition, and the supernatural world. Looking carefully at a story, we can examine the motifs, meanings, values, and principles it suggests. By examining a story’s worldview, we identify the cultural ideals the story presents and the emotion it evokes. We also determine the moral, philosophical, social, psychological, spiritual, and aesthetic messages the story conveys.