October 16, 2017

Does the Story Matter?

chevy.jpgThe other day, we were talking about Jesus’ command to “judge not,” and I said this in a post about how I have learned to think about judging others.

Connected to this is the humility that needs to accompany all claims of knowledge of other persons. Boy oh boy oh boy have I learned this at OBI. I may know the behavior, but I don’t know the story, or the journey. Every day I ask God to keep me humble in what I say about a student’s behavior, because I had a pretty normal childhood, and many of these kids haven’t had the first normal day yet. So when I “judge”- and I have to, as do we all here- I try to keep in mind that I see very very little of the big picture.

A commenter posted the following response.

QUOTE: “I may know the behavior, but I don’t know the story, or the journey.”

The story and the journey do not matter. Sin is sin. Saul had a story and journey behind his consulting the medium at Endor. Uzzah had a story and journey behind reaching out to hold up the ark. Ananias and Sapphira had a story and journey behind lying about the money they had given.

The scourge of our age is that no one takes responsibility for their sin. There’s always a story and always a reason and always some other thing that shifts the blame.

But when God says “don’t,” you don’t. End of story (and journey, too.) That’s our problem–we just can’t leave it at that. Relativism and the postmodern mindset has instilled in this generation the idea that motives count more than truth. That’s been wrong since The Garden and will continue to be wrong.

Now, if you noticed that I never said the actions in question weren’t wrong, you are a good and reasonable reader. If you noticed that I never suggested excusing anyone for things done wrong, you are also a good and calm person. I commend you.

It made me think about a story. It’s one of those stories that I think is very important in my life, because I have thought about it over and over, and it always means more each time. It’s a story about something I did wrong, and how my father handled it. It also seems to be a story about God, and it is my answer to the guy who says our stories and journeys don’t matter.

I was eighteen, and my pride and joy was a 1965 Chevrolet Biscayne. Navy Blue. It was really a sweet car, and I enjoyed driving it. It was also my dating car, and that was the start of this problem.

I had a date with a girl from work. We’d been out a few times, and on this date, we wound up on a dark country road, out in the corn fields. I’m not going to explain that. If I need to, you are too religious.

I decided I wanted to back my car into a smaller road just off of the road I was travelling. This small road was over a very, very large ditch. I backed in, but I misjudged the location of my car, and one of my back wheels went hanging over the ditch. My car was rear wheel drive, and I couldn’t move forward. Fortunately, the car didn’t fall into the ditch, though that was something of a miracle.

I did all I could to get the car to move forward. I raced and raced and raced the engine, but the wheel that was hanging free just spun and nothing happened. I ran the engine so fast and hard, that the heater core burned out, and the car filled with smoke.

I decided to get out of the car and try to push it forward. For some stupid reason, I didn’t get out on the passenger side. I thought the ditch was very shallow, and I got out on the driver’s side. I was wrong. The ditch was deep- almost over my head, and full of freezing water. I could easily have drowned, but instead, I was just felt really stupid.

I made it out of the ditch and tried to push the car forward, but nothing helped. I realized I had to get some help. There was a farmhouse across the road, so I got my date and began walking to the farmhouse, soaked in muddy water.

I don’t remember much about that conversation, but it’s safe to say this man wasn’t glad to see me, wasn’t overwhelmed with compassion, had seen several of my kind before, and thought my twenty bucks wasn’t enough for a tow. He had little to say, but he pulled us out with his tractor, and took my money.

I drove my date home, and then headed to the house. The car was a mess, and the burned out heater core was still smoking.

Now, I need to say that my dad got mad at me a lot, about all kinds of things. He gave me a very hard time about things I deserved and things that really didn’t matter. He was a very anxious, and often angry, person. He had bought the car I was driving, and we didn’t have much money, so I was supposed to care about the car. He maintained the car, changing the oil when I acted oblivious to how a car worked. He loved the car a lot more than I did. As I drove home, I assumed that either I was going to lose my car, or possibly be in more trouble than I had ever been before. I was afraid. Really afraid.

Added to my fear about my dad’s reaction to the damage to the car was my fear of what my dad would do when he realized what I was doing out in the middle of a corn field. He wasn’t dumb. I was really more frightened by having to tell dad that I was on a date out in a corn field than I was telling him about the damage to the car. The damage was stupid. The date in a corn field was wrong, and embarassing. Especially since I was a preacher, because preachers don’t do things like park in corn fields with their dates. They pray and read their Bibles.

I arrived home, and it was obvious from the look of the car, and the smoke coming from under the hood, that I had a mess on my hands. The mud told the story of where I had been. I was thinking of some kind of lie as fast as my mind would work.

I do not recall the conversation. I just recall that my dad didn’t react at all. He sensed something, and something in his own life, probably in his own past, came to mind, and he treated me with grace and kindness. He didn’t yell. I didn’t have to tell a tale, because it was obvious that he wasn’t going to ask about the details. He even put his arm around me and said everything would be ok. Maybe I was a lot more upset than I recall.

Now I know that heater cores are expensive, but dad never made me pay for it, or grounded me, or punished me in any way. I completely dodged the bullet. I was so grateful. I think I decided God was real.

At the time, I didn’t appreciate what was going on here. I didn’t appreciate that my dad’s story caused him to treat me with compassion. His own journey had included some similar mistakes, and on this occasion, he remembered something that birthed kindness towards his stupidly wrong son.

The commenter above is, of course, quite right that we live in an irresponsible time, a time with lots of excuses for behavior. We also live in a time when people use their life experiences to try and manipulate our emotions and reactions. I don’t want to be like that.

But our stories do matter. Our journeys do matter. God brought us though those journeys. He brought us on the paths we’ve travelled to give us our stories. Some of us have very painful, lonely stories that have caused us to want to find love from other people, and some of those relationships were stupid and wrong. Some of us don’t do what is right very often, because we’ve grown up around people who never taught us right and wrong. Some of us have cruel and mean aspects of our personalities, because of what we’ve experienced that make us suspicious and distrustful of others. Some of us have suffered, and we do things out of fear of hurting again. Some of our stories include terrible things that we can’t think about, and they affect us in ways we don’t understand at all.

Sometimes when I see someone doing something that is bad or wrong, I wonder what happened in their journey that made that bad thing seem good for a moment. What made the rage or the promiscuity seem right at the time? I know there is more to what has happened than just the “sin” that I can see.

Does God care about our stories? I think he does. I think he knows our stories a lot better than we do, and I can picture him reading our stories and being sad at some parts and angry at other parts. I don’t think he misses any of our sins, and I don’t thing he misses any of the reasons for why I do what I do. I believe the father of the prodigal knew what the boy was doing in that far country with all his money, and knew for years that his son was a selfish and impulsive child. Maybe the father knew why he was that way. Either way, he forgave and restored his son, and didn’t make any kind of a scene about the boy’s mistakes. He didn’t even give him a lecture about being responsible, or I told you so, or do you know how worried I’ve been? None of that.

I am sure that when the boy hugged his father, it was hard to realize that his dad knew all about him, but if he did realize that, wouldn’t it mean that his father loved him more than he ever thought was possible? Isn’t that why the Psalmist says “search me and know me?” Not just to know my sins, but all about me? Because we can trust God’s knowledge of our stories to be compassionate.

I know there are people who think God should be like a big computer, only noticing that we didn’t put in the right numbers, and caring about nothing else. My dad could have ignored his heart, and punished me for all that I did wrong. But he didn’t, and I’ll be it was because my dad was a forgiven person who knew about the kind of love God shows to sinners in Jesus. Mayby that’s why my dad cried every time he prayed at dinner.

There is so much wrong in my life, but all of it has a story. That may irritate some people or sound like an excuse, but it is true. I can’t understand a lot of my own story. Some of it makes me angry, and parts make me sad. I have to trust God to know all of it, and to one day put it all together in a resurrected life of perfect happiness. He can hold my story and my journey as a perfect thing in his fatherly hands, because he sees it all in his own purpose, and in the story of Jesus.

Finally, his story takes all of our stories, and puts them together into something wonderful.

Comments

  1. A beautiful explanation of why our stories do matter.

  2. Mike –

    Wonderful and uplifting!

    We forget too easily, I think, that God’s grace as shared in Scripture is first and formost a story. When we step back, view the magnificent drama that is God’s story of interaction with his creation, the light shines ever so much more brightly than an occasional microscopic examination. Many thousands of people around the world are coming to Christ through the story, the narrative of Christ – in oral fashion – they way it was for centuries.

    Keep up the thoughtful input – not just here, but especially into those young and eager minds.

    Zoomie

  3. The commenter you quoted would be much happier with Wahabi Islam than with Christ. No stories, no background, no distractions, just SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! and being Holy Holy Holy.

    As for your story of the bogdown in the cornfield, I’d just chalk it up to Stupid People Tricks — can’t you see that on a sitcom or America’s Dumbest Home Videos?

  4. I just hope Faye Carlson doesn’t read my blog 🙂

    (Not the real name….relax.)

  5. Ditto Cheryl and Zoomie

    As to “Commenter”: What of the story and journey of Noah, of Abraham, of the Hebrews, of Moses, of David, of Elijah, of Elisha, of David, of Jesus, of John the Baptizer, of John the Apostle, of John Mark, of Peter, of Luke, of Paul of…? Has it escaped the notice of “Commenter” that God’s commands are wrapped in stories and journeys? Are there any of God’s commands that are not illustrated in the Bible by someone’s story and journey?

    Nevertheless, contra Ken, it is still “just SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! and being Holy Holy Holy.” But not in spite of the story and journey, but because of the story and journey.

  6. It reminds me of something my priest says a lot: “No compromise of Truth, no lack of Love.”

  7. I think this illustration of grace is wonderful. On the note of grace, what about the grace for the commenter? What a poor person who has not experienced this grace for him(or her) self. Lets extend a little grace to them and say, sorry you are missing out on so much. Thanks for the willingness to put yourself out there. Hope you have found a better way of living because of it. Anyway, I think this story is great.

  8. Where was there a lack of grace toward the commenter?

  9. Terry Hull says:

    Michael…Thanks for a great story. Both funny and profound. Funny? I don’t suppose it felt very funny at the time. But looking back on it now, it sure has its funny parts. All of us have been where you were: some place we shouldn’t have been, and in our foolishness, everything we did only dug us in a little deeper. What is it about hearing such a story in someone else’s life that brings a smile and warms a heart? The fact that we react to your story in that way is solid proof that the story matters. It is sad that someone would think that the story doesn’t matter. If that were true, you could put the whole Bible on an index card — a few verses from Exodus 20 would be enough. If that were true, there would be no need for the incarnation, because there would be no value in having a High Priest who has been tempted in all the same ways we are tempted every day. Thanks, Michael, for sharing your story of a father’s grace.