By Chuck Griffin
Psalm 78:1-4 O my people, listen to my instructions. Open your ears to what I am saying, for I will speak to you in a parable. I will teach you hidden lessons from our past— stories we have heard and known, stories our ancestors handed down to us. We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders.
Biblical truth often is communicated in less-than-obvious ways. This piece of Psalm 78 reminds us of the power of stories and our need to wrestle with what we hear in them.
The psalmist says, “I will speak to you in parable.” Christians tend to associate “parable” with the stories Jesus told to reveal an astonishing truth. In today’s psalm, the word has a slightly different meaning, in that the psalmist is referencing historical stories passed from one generation to the next.
The underlying principle is the same, however. We should take those stories, turning them round and round and upside down. We should peer inside of them as deeply as we can. We meditate on them, we chew on them. Our goal is to discover something deeper about God and what God wants for his creation.
I get the sense that average Americans struggle with defining “truth” today. We confuse the search for truth with the acquisition of undisputed facts. As hard as it is these days to come up with an undisputed fact, it is still a much greater challenge to seek truth.
Searching for meaning in the stories of the Israelites and in the stories of Jesus is, I believe, the best way to fathom God and his mysterious love for very sinful humanity.
I can tell you God is merciful, but you’ll remember this truth better if you dwell on the story of the fall in Genesis. Focus in particular on the pause God takes while doling out punishment to show pity for the shivering, terrified, naked humans.
I can tell you God loves you and longs for you to return to him, but you’re going to better grasp how deeply God loves you if you spend significant time meditating on the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Look at the story through the eyes of father, son and brother and consider what they feel and why.
I know, this involves us slowing down and truly absorbing a story, a skill we’re losing rapidly in our modern cultural rush. But if you want to deepen your ability to search for truth in Bible stories, I can recommend a couple of books to get you started.
Fairly Simple: Any of the “Parables from the Backside” books by J. Ellsworth Kalas. Dr. Kalas was one of my preaching professors, and he was the master of shifting to an unusual perspective within a familiar story so we can see truth in a new way.
A little more challenging: Henri J.M. Nouwen’s “Return of the Prodigal Son.” Nouwen offers his meditations on a Rembrandt painting depicting the moment the son returns home. This book is considered a modern Christian classic.
Whatever age you are, whatever education you may have, there’s more to be found in the Bible.
Lord, as we explore what you have revealed to us through stories in your holy word, may we find joy, excitement and a deeper sense of purpose. And give us the opportunity to pass on these truths to a new generation. Amen.
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