There are fictitious stories and non-fictitious stories. French philosopher, Paul Ricoeur, said that we tell stories because human lives need and merit to be told. Writing stories is one of the noblest employments of the mind and soul. Most good stories aim at knowledge and wisdom. This aim is most evident in life stories: biographies. For many professing Christians, most of the value of Bible stories lies in what they tell them about themselves, not what they tell them about God. Story, writes Leslie Leyland Fields, is all the rage. Everyone pants to tell their personal narrative or to give the Bible a simpler and more relevant plot. Maybe it isn’t such a good idea.” (The Gospel Is More Than a Story: Rethinking Narrative and Testimony). (See The Gospel is more and less than a story).
I’m reminded of Reconstructionist-Reform Judaism (most Jews fall in this category), which sees the Bible as man-made stories that bind the Jewish community together. Actually, it’s much more than about community. In a sense, the Bible is often less than about community; it’s about self.
“You yourself, and I myself, says Martyn Lloyd Jones, are our greatest enemies. The curse of life is that we are all self-centred. We live for self instead of for God, and thus we are selfish, we are jealous, and we are envious. As Paul puts it, we are ‘hateful, and hating one another’ (Titus 3:3). Why? Because we are out for ourselves. Instead of living to God, in worship of Him and to His glory, we have all made ourselves [into] gods.” That’s, at bottom, the meaning of “total depravity”: we have made ourselves gods rather than God’s. (See “Kinda Christianity”: The Bible as stories about ourselves; our gods).
Here is the French Jesuit, Jean-Pierre Causssade, famous among Roman Catholic contemplatives for his handbook “Abandonment to divine providence,” Here is an excerpt from Caussade for whom the Gospel is merely “a tiny stream” in comparison to the river that God is dying to pour into you.
“The Holy Spirit continues to carry on the work of our Saviour. While helping the Church to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, He writes His own Gospel in the hearts of the just. All their actions, every moment of their lives, are the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. The souls of the saints are the paper, the sufferings and actions the ink. The Holy Spirit with the pen of His power writes a living Gospel, but a Gospel that cannot be read until it has left the press of this life, and has been published on the day of eternity….Teach me, divine Spirit, to read in this book of life. I desire to become Your disciple and, like a little child, to believe what I cannot understand, and cannot see. Sufficient for me that it is my Master who speaks. He says that! He pronounces this! He arranges the letters in such a fashion! He makes Himself heard in such a manner! That is enough. I decide that all is exactly as He says. I do not see the reason, but He is the infallible truth, therefore all that He says, all that He does is true. He groups His letters to form a word, and different letters again to form another word. There may be three only, or six; then no more are necessary, and fewer would destroy the sense. He who reads the thoughts of men is the only one who can bring these letters together, and write the words. All has meaning, all has perfect sense. This line ends here because He makes it do so. Not a comma is missing, and there is no unnecessary full-stop. At present I believe, but in the glory to come when so many mysteries will be revealed, I shall see plainly what now I so little understand. Then what appears to me at present so intricate, so perplexing, so foolish, so inconsistent, so imaginary, will all be entrancing and will delight me eternally by the beauty, order, knowledge, wisdom, and the incomprehensible wonders it will all display.” (Mystical YOUnion: Do you want God to write a Gospel about you or are you aching to write it yourself?).
Something is amiss in this mystical effusion, namely, the belief that besides the “Gospel” proper, which for Caussade means the scriptures, there is another Gospel, a Gospel for you and for me. It seems quite possible that God takes copious notes on each individual’s story, but should we call that individual story another Gospel, even if we mean it metaphorically? The word of God in the scriptures “is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16). The focus of Christians should not be on the memorable, momentous “Gospel” God is writing about their lives, but on the historic remarkable life of Jesus Christ.
Owing to the fact that Caussade is both a Roman Catholic and a contemplative, and a Jesuit, it comes as no no surprise he writes in such an imaginative way; the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola’s “Exercises” (in imagination) are famous among Roman Catholics. Caussade’s drift seems to be that unless the Gospel story is faithful to “my story,” it has little significance. Martin Luther would execrate such chutzpa. Many modern Lutherans would do likewise. There are other Lutherans, however, who would love Caussade’s idea of one person, one Gospel – a typical postmodern pursuit. For example, Walter Brueggemann does not consider theology and Bible interpretation a matter of certainty but of fidelity; fidelity to 1. the “divine office of creative imagination” (Ignatius Loyola?) and 2. to the “other.”
For Brueggemann any interaction between 1. certitude, which he considers limited because it is restricted to a single meaning (univocity) and 2. fidelity, should be discarded. We should rather, as Jacques Derrida says, remain open to “an unlimited number of contexts over an indefinite period of time,” and thus to unrestricted interaction between suffering persons desiring to tell their personal stories. The biblical story for the imaginative is about always departing never arriving, unless it arrives at the front door of my singular story. (The postmodern pursuit: Always departing, never arriving). There are many Lutherans, thankfully, who have not taken this postmodern turn.
Compared to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our “Gospel” is much ado about nothing. If you don’t agree stop singing those silly songs, “It’s not about me Lord, it’s all about you-hoo-hoo-hoo.” Who again?