The thing about story telling is, stories must always be told in the past tense (well, unless you are writing sci-fi, but those aren’t the kind of narratives we are referencing here). And, when we tell those stories in the past tense, because we are removed from the experience itself, we are able to see the important threads and risky business that was occurring while the situation was taking place.
For example, I visited Colonial Williamsburg this summer. My favorite part of the historical site was standing in her chamber room, on the top floor, gazing out the window into the town. The tour guide filled us with stories of revolutionists, people threatening to storm the palace while the governor packed up his things and slipped out the back door, never to return again. As I’m hearing this story, it all sounds really patriotic and fantastic, and the tour guide does a really nice job of including just enough rising action to result in a satisfactory climax, but I’m sure at the moment in which the events were taking place, it really wasn’t that exciting of a situation to go through–I’m sure, in reality, the governor was frightened, he didn’t know if he would end up alive (in retrospect, since we are telling the story in the past tense, we know that he does), and these colonists, while we glamorize their actions, in reality, they were probably really similar to those extreme Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton supporters that we make fun of today.
The same is true of every story we tell about ourselves. If you are a regular follower of my blog, you will know that I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE hearing people’s love stories (it makes me feel better about my very non-existent own). We love it when we find a real-life Romeo & Juliet story, when two forbidden lovers end up together, or a good, old-fashioned Nicholas Sparks love story, where two people who come with baggage and a tragic backstory fall in the most intense love. These stories are so heart-warming to hear, but if we take ourselves back to the reality in which the events were actually taking place, I’m sure defying your parents and getting married young came with it’s sort of difficulties, and probably the reason the two Nicholas Sparks people ended up together is because they both are so broken. I meet people all the time and upon some reflection and calculations, I realize, “Oh so YOU were actually two timing your current husband”, “Oh, so YOU dated someone you worked with”, “Oh, so YOU married because there was a baby on the way” (don’t worry, I’m not judging–that was totally my parents). I mean, we all end up in the places that we are meant to be, and we all come with our own set of brokenness, but because we often tell these stories in the past tense, we often leave out the stress, the emotional break downs, the fear and sacrifice, the reality of what it actually was like whilst the events were taking place.
Something that has been really difficult for me as a logical person is the Old Testament. I’ve spent a good amount of time meditating, reflecting, learning how to live in the spirit of being a Christian, that I feel like I have somewhat mastered, but when it comes time to pulling out my Bible and reading Scripture (especially the Old Testament), I often run the other way and just pretend it doesn’t exist. I think many other hopeful believers experience this same cognitive dissonance. Like, I get that there is a Universal force, directing me down a certain path. I understand why we should be humble & kind, forgiving, and selfless, and that there are lessons to be learned from every experience I have. But, when I crack open the Old Testament, I question my faith, because everything just seems so unfathomable and illogical.
This fall, my Bible study is doing Angie Smith’s ‘Seamless’, and while I’ve read many of the stories over and over again, and heard them from a variety of perspectives, I’m now, again, being forced to sit down with the Bible, and read the Old Testament. Some of the stuff is still so unfathomable. Like, people really don’t live to be 120 years old like Moses, even in today’s day and age when our medical technology is so advanced. And, how could Sarah’s body possibly withstood childbirth at 90 years old? How did Jacob get beat up by God? Why were there slaves? How did these people travel so many miles with no cars? So, this time as I’m going through the Old Testament, I’m taking a new approach, and I’m trying to supplant myself in the reality of the stories that are being told.
The reality of the Bible is that, it is written by, and happened to, humans. People like you and me. People who are broken, whose nature is to be selfish, competitive, jealous. Take Jacob for example. He was most certainly not the most moral person. He slept with more than just his wife; he tricked his brother, Esau, into giving over his birthright, and then stole his identity to manipulate his father on his death bed. I mean, Noah gets drunk and takes his clothes off. These are real people, doing real things (not some magical, super hero, “I am the most angelic person ever” kind of life). The people who wrote the Bible are people who maybe have lapses in spelling, their sentence constructions mediocre (I’m always judging writing), their view of the world biased. Of course, as the story goes, God gave the words TO Moses to scribe, but those words still had to go through a human channel. As a writer myself, I definitely have encountered spiritual experiences, where I read back what I wrote, and have NO idea how I came up with those ideas–that those ideas had to have come from a Higher Power (take Happily Never After, for example. I take NO ownership of those words). But, because humans are built to be distant from God, while the stories themselves are certainly God’s words and instructions, perhaps the stories are also a little skewed by the reality that it was humans who actually put the words on paper.
So, going back to the ages of these people (which seems to be most hopeful believers’ argument against the Old Testament)…
I love Al Gore’s documentary, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, because it’s so not about global warming, and all about his political career. My favorite part? Al Gore stands on a cherry picker in front of a graph, displaying the drastic increase of carbon emissions over the last few years, all the while, telling us about his credentials, how he basically came up with all these ideas himself, blah blah blah. Now, it could certainly be true that global warming (now called ‘climate change’) is a real thing that is happening. It could also be true that there are more people populating the earth, so more witnesses to see and be victims of the really bad hurricanes and tornadoes, and that our instruments to measure these things have gotten more sophisticated (like, have you seen that copy machine in Mad Men? I can’t imagine other machines in the 60’s were really that efficient–how did we even send a man to the moon?…). So, the coast certainly could have experienced the same amount of weather tragedy 500 years ago, but since there was no one to witness it, there was no one to keep track of it. And, the atmosphere could certainly have risen in temperature 100 years ago, but we didn’t have as accurate thermometers, so no one would have known…
And, it could be true that Moses lived to be 120 years old, and that Sarah had a baby at 90. Or, it could be that the way people measured time all those years ago is different than the way we measure time now, so Moses actually only lived to be 89, and Sarah actually had her baby at 40 (plus, since that part of the world doesn’t have seasons like Colorado does, I’m not sure how you measure time at all), which is much more believable.
And hey, anything that gets you to believe works, right?…
(Feel free to prove me wrong in the comments section).