Why are stories important?
If you type this question into your internet search-bar, you will get over 200,000,000 answers.
Many will highlight the undeniable, deeply-rooted position of storytelling in cultures across the world – indeed, it is one of those things all humans have in common. Other results will focus on the importance of stories as a learning tool for young children; a way of teaching them right from wrong, the traditions of their culture, and when your mother says “don’t go into the dark, scary forest alone,” you really should listen to her!
Stories are a universally-accepted way of communicating ideas, emotions, and experiences. In their more complex form, this is through metaphor and symbolism; more simply, stories can be literally a series of events. They are a way of building community through common experience and inspiring others, with recollections of great deeds. The different modes of telling stories can then be translated into numerous different situations by all kinds of people from any background.
As Christians, we have the greatest wealth of storytelling tradition: the Bible. In essence, it is a giant storybook of truths; full of testimony and parables to guide and encourage us in our journey with Jesus. We can see from the gospels those who have gone before us, suffered similar trials to us, and how God has led them through it. Ours is a faith rooted in an oral tradition of storytelling, spreading experiences of God’s love. During His time on earth, Jesus encouraged those to whom He ministered to testify what had happened to them by the grace of God.
Jesus told people this because He understood the power of stories. Testimony bears witness to God’s glory and provokes a reaction in the heart of the attentive listener. No matter the weight and power of a story or testimony, its significance is lost without good listeners to hear it. The response of a story’s recipient carries as much importance as the original, core meaning of the narrative. Jesus did not tell parables as entertaining little fictions, but as metaphorical tales on which He asked His listeners to act – because this is the power of storytelling; the means to change people’s hearts.
Storytelling is more than what tales we tell with our words, but also the ones we write with our actions. It is a common metaphor that the Christian life should paint a picture of God’s love – as someone who has spent many years studying paintings, I can tell you that each and every one has a story behind it, even if it isn’t at first apparent to you. With many narrative paintings, however, an overall feeling of the meaning can often be gleaned, and the heart of the significance of the story told, by closer inspection of the details. It is the same with testimony; it is not hard to see when something good is at work through testimony, the cause is then found through closer inspection and understanding.
Stories are more than words on a page or memorised lines, they are experiences – either literally or couched in metaphor. That is why they are important. We are telling stories through our very lives: stories of struggle and trials but also of love and compassion – the story of the living God is written through the lives of His children.