What are stories? Why do we love them? How do our individual stories connect to God’s story? What is the role of fiction in the life of a culture? In the life of a believer? In season 3 episode 8 of the Eudo Podcast, Dr. Paul M. Gould explores these questions as we take some steps toward developing a theology of story.
The Connection between God, Story, and our Story: Five Observations
- Stories Uniquely Reveal
- Stories communicate in a way that nothing else can. They reveal the heart of another. They also reveal the heart of the storyteller. The Catholic theologian John Navone who states, “concreteness communicates in a way that abstractions cannot.”
- Humans are Narratival Animals
- Humans are storylisteners. And storytellers. And storymakers. So, we are narrative animals who live life as the main character within a story. We posit a comprehensive and intelligible universe full of permanent meaning. Stories are so central to human experience and existence that without them life becomes meaningless. Stories move us; they invite our participation and seek our allegiance; they bid for us to awake and enter in and to find our place in the drama.
- The Gospel is the Normative Story for Every Human Being
- Since we live according to a story, since we live on stories, the question is, is there a story that is alive and true? Is there a story that understands us? The answer is yes—the gospel story, as the true story of the world, is that story in which all humans ought to locate their lives to find meaning, purpose, and identity.
- The Gospel Story Reveals God to Man
- Quoting Navone, “The life story of Jesus Christ discloses that meaning to faith: it is the primordial sacrament of God’s gift of his love, experienced by the Christian as underlying and informing all human life-stories. The life story of the crucified and risen Jesus is recognized in Christian conversion as the icon and parable of God, the key to the Christian interpretation of every human story’s ultimate meaning and value.”
- Stories reveal Meaning
- Stories explore three related questions that help us understand our meaning, purpose, and identity. First, where do we come from? Second, where are we bound? And third, what must we do to get there? These are the questions of creation, destiny, and quest. This pattern of all great dramas or stories as creation, destiny and quest is the shape of every human life, modelled after the three-part shape of the divine drama of creation, quest, and destiny.
A Tentative Definition of Story: A story is a dramatic account that binds together ideas, events, images, and agents into an intelligible pattern.
Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Stories address a problem to be solved and the usually (but not always have three stages to them: an initial state of blissfulness (Eden, Paradise, Elysium, Home, etc.), a journey initiated by some problem or conflict, and then after a successful hero’s quest, a kind of homecoming or rebirth is resolution is achieved; all is well, all are known by their true name, etc.
The Connection between Fiction and Theology: Three observations
- The imaginative fiction of a culture reveals what is currently experienced as important to man.
- The imaginative fiction of a culture reveals the kind of world contemporaries would like to see.
- The theologian’s task is to correctly discern man’s quest for wholeness, meaning, and purpose through the creative arts, and show how these hopes and longings find fulfilment in the true story of the world.
As Navone summarizes, “Through an awareness and an understanding of contemporary culture’s myth, of its models of salvation, and by an understanding of the Church’s traditional teaching, the theologian will be able to address the world that lies outside the doors of the Church in a language that it will understand.”
We must pay attention to the stories that captivate others so that we can diagnose the hopes and dreams of those in culture, their feelings of angst and injustice, and their quest to understand the mystery of being so that we can help them see that the gospel story is the one story that truly understands them and is true and alive. So, we must be students of culture and students of theology and then make appropriate connections between the two.
- Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue
- John Navone, Seeking God in Story