I teach fourth to sixth graders in Sunday school. Most of them come from Christian homes. They go to Awana; they can recite the books of the Bible and lots of verses (although they are a bit fuzzy on where those verses are found). When I taught about Saul chasing David, one of my boys had watched the video and told the whole story for me. But I’m not at all sure they could tell me who came first: Abraham, Moses or David. Did those guys live before or after Jesus? When were Isaiah and Jeremiah around? Daniel kind of floats through the history of their minds in a perpetual lion’s den. And Esther falls somewhere between Aurora and Princess Jasmine.
I’m an author. I know something about story. Classic story structure has a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning of a story introduces us to the main character and the story problem. People are NOT the main characters in this story. In fact, we are the problem! Genesis 1 introduces us to the Main Character—God. And by Genesis 3 we know what the story problem is: God created us for relationship with him, but we have rebelled and broken that relationship. Genesis 3:15 even lays out what the Jesus Storybook Bible calls “God’s Great Rescue Plan”: the Seed of the woman (Jesus) “will crush [the serpent’s] head and [the serpent] will strike his heal.”
The Middle of a classic story develops the conflict as the Main Character goes about solving the story problem. Every chapter from Genesis 4 on shows God doing something to bring his people back into a relationship with him. He sends a flood and starts over with Noah, but the sin problem is too deep. He calls Abram’s family out of the pagan city of Ur. He promises Abram a son and descendents that are as many as the stars in the heavens and the sand of the seashore. He builds a nation through the twelve sons of Jacob. He gives the Law on Mount Sinai. He establishes a royal line through David, etc, etc. And it’s all preparing the way for God himself to enter history.
Our Main Character has obstacles to overcome. Of course, our rebellion is the biggest obstacle in this story, but there are others. Abram, who has been promised many descendents, is childless. God’s people are enslaved in a foreign land. The Law sets the standard, but it doesn’t give us the power to obey.
There is plenty of foreshadowing in this story. All the Old Testament sacrifices show us the importance of blood, of a Substitute. Prophecies point to the One who is coming. The Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem are places where the God of Heaven meets his people and fellowships with them, but they are only shadows of what is to come.
The Climax of the story is when the Main Character reaches the darkest moment, when it looks like all is lost; there is no way this problem can be resolved. In this case, the Owner of the vineyard whose servants, the prophets, have been killed by the rebellious tenants, sends his own Son. But the rebels kill even him. “He came to his own, but his own received him not.” (John 1:11) Jesus was crucified. For three dark days it seems that the Serpent Satan has won.
But no, Jesus rises from the dead. Death has no hold on the Immortal. In fact, his very death, which appeared to be defeat, is the very thing that solves the story problem and makes it possible for God’s people to be restored to relationship with him.
Although modern readers like a story to end quickly after the climax, this one doesn’t. Two thousand years have passed since God’s victory over the serpent, but the Author and Finisher of our faith is still tying up loose ends, making sure that people of every nation and language have a chance to respond to the message and be restored to relationship with their Creator.
Of course, the Bible is more than narrative. (Christianity Today just had a great article on this topic.) There is poetry that pours out the emotions of those who long for God in a fallen world. Letters explain the significance of the Story and give instructions on how to live since we have been restored to fellowship.
The book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ tell us how this Story will end—when the King of Kings returns on a white horse and brings a new heaven and a new earth, restored to what God intended in Genesis 1. Is that an exciting story or what? We are part of it—you, me and the children I teach in Sunday school. I’m looking forward to their getting as excited about this story as I am.