I find deep meaning in all kinds of stories: Bible stories, science fiction such as Lewis’ Space Trilogy, fantasy such as Tolkien or and Harry Potter or Stephen Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, historical fiction such as Roots, history, science - almost any kind of story can convey meaning to me.
And not every story is told with words. I thoroughly enjoy music, every piece of which conveys a variation on the basic truths and constructs of chord and tonal structure. I particularly like jazz because of the creative variations with which jazz musicians tell those basic truths.
Nature tells us countless stories of beauty and order, if we pay attention. One of my favorite takes on the story nature tells is captured by these words from Wendell Berry. “When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
Stories convey to me what is most important in life. In that sense, they help me to inform my understanding of God - they help me define my God. That may sound like I think God is a human construction and that is, in part, true. But that is only part of the truth.
Every person alive worships, or more accurately, worth-ships some kind of god (or, if you don’t like that word, some kind of ultimate authority). Any given person’s god is whatever ultimately informs and shapes his/her life. Whatever people hold worthy of their attention, their loyalty, and their devotion, is their god. Whether or not these gods have a reality apart from us is, to a certain extent, irrelevant. The power these gods hold over us is very real and very potent.
For some people, materialism is their god. Such persons dedicate their lives to acquiring possessions that give their lives value and meaning and purpose. Most all of us dabble in this “faith” to some extent. Some people worth-ship other gods (Allah or the Judeo/Christian God, for example), sometimes with the specific intention of limiting the power of the materialistic god over them.
Other people worth-ship a nationalistic god. For such persons, their national identity (sometimes coupled with a particular ethnic identity) shapes and informs much of what they say and do. Some people worth-ship nature and will do whatever it takes to preserve and protect the natural world.
There are elements of all of these “faiths” in every person’s life, to a greater or lesser extent. And it is essential for us to define for ourselves what gods we are willing to serve. It is most helpful if we can define a god who encompasses all of what we find worthy. The best god, ultimately, is the god whom we find so worthy that we can follow that god’s ways without hesitation.
For me, that god is the traditional Christian God revealed most completely through Jesus. Have I put my own spin and my own interpretation on the definition of that particular god? Of course I have! Just like the jazz musician, I have my own personal take on the basic ideas and concepts of the faith I have chosen to follow. And my own personal take on the Christian God may be unlike that of any other person.
But just as jazz musicians can come together and make beautiful music together even though they each interpret the basic notes of a song differently, so all who hold to a particular faith can worth-ship their god together even though each one brings a unique perspective and understanding of their god and their faith to the table.
I am always looking for stories, of all the types listed previously, to help me in my continuing process of defining the god whom I find worthy to worth-ship. But even as I admit that I am in the process of “defining” that god, I would also suggest that this doesn’t mean I am making this god up out of thin air.
The best god is not only one whom we find so worthy that we can worth-ship that god without hesitation, but is also one who is not “chosen” by us but who “chooses” and “calls” us. That is, the god I ultimately want to worth-ship (consider worthy of my devotion, my time, my resources, my allegiance) is the one I find so compelling and so irresistible that I finally cannot choose but to follow this god’s way.
Again, for me, that god is the Christian God who is revealed most fully in Jesus. And the most telling revelation of that God, for me, is in the fifth chapter of Galatians. The best and most compelling fruits of the spirit of God, for me, are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, authenticity, gentleness, and integrity (my own translation/interpretation, of course!). It is these characteristics of the Christian faith that I find most worthy, and I base my whole interpretation of the Christian faith upon these basic values. It is, finally, these values and this faith tradition by which I seek to limit the authority of what I consider less worthy gods (materialism, hedonism, nationalism, etc.) over my life.