I worked on a semester-long research project examining The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis earlier this year. The author’s use of story to communicate his beliefs emerged as a glaring focal point for me. To Lewis, certain truths are easier to grasp when they are conveyed in a narrative form. For example, Lewis’s belief about the role that God plays in pain, while remaining loving, might be understood when presented in theological categories. However, certain thoughts, such as how God allows the existence of free will and yet remains in sovereign control, appear oppositional when placed in distinct, categorical compartments. Some truths of the heart are difficult for the head to reconcile.
In C.S. Lewis’s mind, these types of truths can be unified, synthesized, and demonstrated by presenting them in a story. Maybe that’s why when the author’s name is mentioned, most people think of a storyteller who traveled to different planets in The Space Trilogy, sent children to have fantastic adventures in another world in The Chronicles of Narnia, or visited heaven in The Great Divorce, instead of a theologian and apologist.
Lewis knew that stories are an effective means of moving, persuading, and informing about the God he believed in. Even the author’s more theologically heavy works such as The Problem of Pain and Mere Christianity are written in a relaxed, conversational style that relies heavily on illustration. However, Lewis did not pioneer the method of conveying theological ideas through narrative. Credit for that approach needs to be given to the Author and Finisher of all great stories, and the God Who created the human heart in His own image (Genesis 1:26) as a heart that loves story. If we realize that God has chosen to communicate His character primarily through a story that He is telling, it can open our eyes to read what He says in a new and exciting way.
A casual observer flipping through the Bible would quickly pick up that the Author of this book was not merely interested in providing facts about Himself with a neat, textbook arrangement. The first thing that God tells us about Himself is that He is the Creator—by telling a Creation story. Along with this, the reader will quickly catch on to the fact that this God is powerful—He has to be if He is creating—and that He is loving. Countless truths emerge about the God of the Bible through the first story He tells, and yet there is no scientific introduction that tells us exactly what God is like in a systematic, Wikipedia package.
Most of us, however, are not coming to the Bible’s merely as casual observers but as people whose idea of the Bible has been slowly developing since we could first look at picture books and watch Bible cartoons. We eventually grew up and moved past a Jesus in an overly clean white robe and an Ark that was only about 20 feet long judging by the size of the zebra in our coloring book. Our understanding of the God that the Bible presents has expanded and matured to the point where we may forget that the Bible really is mostly a book of stories about what a Person is doing.
The God of the Bible has done something so much greater than giving us a textbook that tells us what He is. He has given us stories to observe how He acts. He does not just say He is faithful, but demonstrates what His covenant faithfulness looks like—not always giving the people He loves a soft bed to lie on no matter what, but keeping His promises to do all that is needed to keep them in a right relationship to them. God does not merely proclaim that He is powerful, but demonstrates His power in the lives of His people.
Sometimes, the obviousness of this eludes us, perhaps through familiarity. I sometimes read through Bible “stories” like they are an all-too familiar plot that I must wade through in order to successfully read through the Scriptures in a year. The way to navigate back to finding God in those stories is simply to remember that the entire book exist to reveal God.
We can open up the stories in the Bible with an anticipation that they will show us something about God without simply putting them through a theological filter by which we extract nuggets of doctrinal information and discard the rest. We get to know people’s character’s through observation of what they do, what they say, how they react to things, what they like and dislike. When we grasp that God has chosen to reveal Himself in stories, we can throw open our Bibles with joy and excitement. The God who delights to make Himself known is telling us about Himself and showing us who He is.
C.S. Lewis believed that truths of the heart are readily communicated through stories because stories speak to the heart. However, the idea of showing us the ways of God through narratives was not original to him. That honor belongs to the One who presents more than just fantasy and science fiction, but an accurate record of how He has loved people, showed mercy, exercised wrath, destroyed sin, and defeated death.