“Live into this”: How biblical stories function

Spiritual theologian Eugene Peterson:

One of the characteristic marks of the biblical storytellers is a certain reticence. There is an austere, spare quality to their stories. They don’t tell us too much. They leave a lot of blanks in the narration, an implicit invitation to enter the story ourselves, just as we are, and discover for ourselves how we fit into it. “The Scripture stories do not, like Homer’s, court our favor, they do not flatter us that they may please us and enchant us – they seek to subject us, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels” [Erich Auerbach, Mimesis].

* * *

One of many welcome consequences in learning to “read” our lives in the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Hannah and Samuel, Ruth and David, Isaiah and Esther, Mary and Martha, Peter and Paul is a sense of affirmation and freedom: we don’t have to fit into prefabricated moral or mental or religious boxes before we are admitted into the company of God; we are taken seriously just as we are and given a place in his story, for it is, after all, his story; none of us is the leading character in the story of our life.

Spiritual theology, using Scripture as text, does not present us with a moral code and tell us “Live up to this”; nor does it set out a system of doctrine and say, “Think like this and you will live well.” The biblical way is to tell a story and in the telling invite: “Live into this – this is what it looks like to be human in this God-made and God-ruled world; this is what is involved in becoming and maturing as a human being.” We do violence to the biblical revelation when we “use” it for what we can get out of it or what we think will provide color and spice to our otherwise bland lives. That always results in a kind of “decorator spirituality” – God as enhancement. Christians are not interested in that; we are after something far bigger. When we submit our lives to what we read in Scripture, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but our stories in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.

Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (pp. 43-44)


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