The best stories, the stories that we read and enjoy and learn the most from, are those stories give truth feet and legs and hands. The greatest stories are true stories, not true in the sense of non-fiction as opposed to fiction, but true in the sense of having the inner consistency of reality – they tell us about truth and about true things in a story format.
“What is truth?” Pilate asked a good question, and he didn’t give an answer. I want to focus on that question in our ongoing series on how stories nourish our souls. Is truth merely true statements – God is love, vegetables are good for you, get a good night’s sleep – or is it more than just propositional statements, more than just the letters or Paul?
N.D. Wilson said it well here,
Bible-believing Christians frequently have a deep mistrust of fiction. In particular, they have a deep mistrust of, ahem, magic. This is impossible for me to understand, partly because I was weaned on C. S. Lewis and Tolkien, but more profoundly because I was marinated in Scripture at a very young age (by my parents). And Scripture is full of . . . stories. More than that, Scripture is full of the miraculous and the amazing. “Throw water on the altar,” Elijah says. “Fire will still fall from Heaven.” A famous shepherd boy takes down an infamous six-fingered giant. Don’t let the long-haired man near a jawbone. Collect the animals and build a boat. Whatever you do, don’t listen to that serpent…
Christians believe that this world is so much more than a mechanical soulless machine. And yet, we tend to tell our children stories that (we hope) will only speak to their intellects. We want to give them a list of facts to tick off, like we’re trying to communicate a party platform to new recruits, like they’re nothing but brains ready for programming. We feed their souls sawdust and are surprised when they drift away to other cooks (with different tales about reality).
Kids (and adults) don’t just need the truth in their heads — they need it in their bones. They need to know what courage looks like and tastes like and smells like before they ever have to show it themselves. They need to do justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly — heroes and villains can show them why. They need to loathe the darkness and love the Light.
We need stories to feed our souls. We want our children to learn truth, God’s truth, but their minds and ours are hardwired for stories that communicate truth. Nathan didn’t cite the Ten Commandments to David, he told David a story. It was a “true” story, even though it was a parable, a myth. And David got the truth. It resonated with his soul. It was reality. It communicated realism, real life and real truth. Stories embody truth.
What flows into you from the myth is not truth but reality (truth is always about something, but reality is that about which truth is), and, therefore, every myth becomes father of innumerable truths on the abstract level… The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. (C. S. Lewis, Myth Became Fact)