Thursday, August 11, 2016

Thoughtful About . . . Our Stories

As a writer, I know all about picking the interesting times to write about--we leave out the boring stuff, right? Or the unimportant stuff. We certainly don't spend pages describing something that will never come up again.

It's something I've noticed in biblical narratives as well. When the ancient writers are telling us a story--like in Esther or Daniel--they don't tell us all. They tell us the parts that are relevant to the particular idea they're trying to get across, or to the particular events they'll really be expounding on. I noticed this quite a lot back in the day when I was writing Jewel of Persia. It was the first I'd really noticed the huge gap of years between when Xerxes had the queen removed from the throne and when he started looking for a new queen. This wasn't a next-day or next-year thing. It was literal ages later.

We've been reading Daniel in our Bible study the last month or two, and the same thing is apparent there. Nebuchadnezzar reigned 43 years. We know it was near the beginning of his reign when Daniel and compatriots were brought to Babylon. And we see his story all the way to the end of his reign. But it's easy to read it as if it all happened within the course of a couple years.

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a statue.
Nebuchadnezzar built a statue--surely they were linked, right? The nerve!

Nebuchadnezzar admits to the greatness of God.
Nebuchadnezzar thinks only of his own greatness--what a short memory he has!

I said several times in our study at church, and keep thinking now . . . it's not that his memory is short. It's that our narrative is truncated. And then I ask--how would our life stories sound if we only hit the major ups and downs?

What if our story were written, and included, say, the first time we admitted that God was up in Heaven watching us . . . and then skipped to the first time we questioned Him? What would our story sound like if the next tale written were of our conversion . . . then it was directly followed by that time someone died suddenly, and we railed at God?

To a reader, it would look like our memory was short. Like we forgot how great God is. To a reader, we might seem to go from praising God for taking us out of Egypt to crying out against Him in the wilderness in a couple seconds. A reader might not understand that our children are dying of thirst, so of course we cry out. Right? A reader might not understand that it's been a decade since that high point, and the world has been pressing in, and it seems like God has forgotten us . . . so we question whether He's what we first thought.

In this world of commentaries and footnotes in our Bibles, it's sometimes easy to take the quick, simply explanation--and in the case of Nebuchadnezzar, most all the notes I read on him were pretty harsh, dude. But I think the man deserves a lot of credit. His chapters in the book of Daniel are the only chapters written by a so-called pagan. Ever wonder why? I think it's because of the ending of his story.

Yeah, he had his ups and downs with God. He didn't quite believe fully at first--it didn't square with everything he'd been taught since he was a kid, you know? In his world, admitting to the power of one god didn't negate the others. He had to go on a journey to understanding the true nature of the one who is God over all. It involved some fits and starts. Some battles with pride. Some days where he forgot what Israel's Lord was all about.

But it ended with him declaring our God supreme. It ended with a declaration of faith. Think of that--a Babylonian king, declaring his faith in the God of Israel. That is why his story is worth writing about--and why Daniel took such care to show us the rocky road that led him there.

Our own roads not be rocky to the same degree. But they all have their peaks and valleys. And if those were all anyone knew of us . . . what would  our footnotes say?


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