Retelling the Bible as a story of grace

Sep 25, 2014 by

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At Central Christian High School, the Mennonite high school I attended, all sophomores are tasked with telling the Bible story from memory. (And from what I hear from my young cousins, they still do it to this day.) I remember this as being one of the more exciting and nerve-wracking days in high school. Everyone anxiously going over their notes in the hallway as they awaited their turn. But more compelling than the anxiety was how we were all able to find coherence in this sometimes disparate story. It was so affecting to take all of these Bible stories that we had always known and string them together into a full narrative. It gave us such insight into who God is and what is important to God.

Then for my narrative theology senior seminar course at Goshen (Ind.) College, I again retold the Bible Story as a narrative:

It has been the experience of my life that God is full of grace. Grace can take the form of patience, forgiveness, guiding, comfort, love and so many others. When I read the Biblical narrative, I read story after story about God’s graciousness. This is the theme that I have traced in my retelling of that narrative here.

In the beginning, our Great Creator created the universe. Perhaps it was created with a big bang and then slow movement. Perhaps it was created in a single week. That is not the point, however. The point is that the great creator created. Everything created was so divinely intricate and perfect that we will never be able to comprehend the magnitude of our creation. The Great Creator also created a balance so sacred that to defy it is sin. All things were created in grace.

Adam and Eve disobeyed God and God showed them grace. They left Eden, but God gave them what they needed to survive. Later, Cain disobeyed God and killed his brother Abel; but God showed him grace and he left his family. People continued to populate the earth and they continued to disobey God. We are told that God became frustrated and decided to destroy humanity. But, through grace, God found one godly and obedient family to save: the family of Noah. God told Noah to build an ark for God intended to flood the earth and start again with a, hopefully, more obedient people. When the flood was over, God sent a dove with an olive branch to show Noah that the land was returning and a God also sent a rainbow as a sign of God’s promise that never again would humanity be destroyed. These have become some of our most sacred symbols.

The people repopulated the earth and, unfortunately, continued to disobey God. But God showed them grace by calling to Abraham and giving him a new covenant. God promised Abraham a son by Sarah whose children would number the stars and become a great nation; but Sarah did not trust God and Abraham had Ishmael by Sarah’s servant Hagar. But God was trustworthy and gave Abraham a son through Sarah: Isaac. Sarah exiled Hagar and Ishmael but God showed them grace and gave Ishmael a great nation of his own.

Isaac’s children did become a great nation: the nation of Israel. After some time, there was a famine in the land and God showed them Grace and they found food in Egypt. But, while they flourished in Egypt for a time, the nation of Israel became enslaved. But God showed them grace by coming to Moses in the wilderness and giving him a mission: a plan to save Israel. Moses did as he was told and God freed God’s people through trial and tribulation. But when they reached the desert, the people began to doubt. Moses went up a mountain to converse with God and to bring the people a decree of God’s laws. But while Moses was gone, the people lost faith and began to worship an idol. Moses was angry at this, but God showed them grace and gave them a new covenant. God gave them manna from heaven and pheasants so they would not starve. God was faithful. For 40 years the Israelites wandered through the desert, searching for the promised land. Moses led them for a time, and when he died his son, Joshua, led God’s people. God was faithful and brought them to the promised land.

While in the promised land, the tribes of Israel were faithful — most of the time. When they were unfaithful, God did not condemn them or disown them or curse them. When they were unfaithful, God sent them a judge to lead them back on the right path. When they were unfaithful, God showed them grace. But, the people were not content with this system and wanted something more stable: they wanted a king. God told them through a prophet that they did not want a king. They disagreed, so God gave them a king, Saul. But Saul began to disobey God and so the prophet Samuel anointed David. God promised David that he would bear the Messiah. After David came his son Solomon and after Solomon came his son Rehoboam. But then the people began to doubt in their king and, predictably, God had been right and the kingdom split in two.

The Israelites lived through times of great faithfulness and times of great disobedience. God sent many prophets to try and keep God’s people on the right path, but they would not follow. After a time, the Assyrian Empire took the promised land from the Israelites and they were forced to live in exile. But this, as God’s grace may have intended, was not a time of trial only — this was a time of great renewal, as well. The Israelites looked to the mistakes of their past and the hope of their future and established Judaism. The Jews lived faithfully and continued to struggle with disobedience, but had formed a strong and unbreakable community bond.

Out of this community came Jesus, son of Mary. The Jews had become too focused on doctrine and laws that God needed to gracefully remind them of what was important. Jesus came to help guide people toward that end. He was given a believer’s baptism by his cousin, John the Baptist, at the start of his ministry. He then went on to gather 12 disciples to follow him and teach with him. He taught using stories, because he understood the way people come to understand things. He told his followers stories of seeds planted among weeds, shepherds who do not neglect even one lamb, workers in the field receiving the same wages and prodigal sons. In the life and teachings of Jesus we are taught the importance of showing grace in all things. He forgave sins and healed the sick. He comforted the widow and cared for the fatherless. But he lived his life counter to the powers and principalities and because of that, suffered a death on the cross. But God was gracious and gave us hope in Jesus’ resurrection.

While the Biblical narrative is one that has shaped much of my life, it isn’t something that I think of as a coherent whole often. I struggled to come up with a clear theme, but when I did, it all seemed to flow so naturally. Once I chose grace as my theme, it became the obvious theme. Grace is the theme of my life, the theme of my understanding of God; it only makes sense that it also be the theme of my Biblical narrative.

Brooke Natalie Blough lives in Philadelphia, Pa., and works at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a member of West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship and writes at Now Faith, where this blog first appeared.

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