Narrative drives our culture no matter where we come from. Stories shape how we view the world. Who is the good guy, bad guy, how we resolve conflict, etc. This trip to the US, we realized how we view stories as Americans as we travel and tell and listen to stories to family, friends and churches.
If you begin a story with a girl was sick, our finances ran dry, we were up against it, or George Washington’s troops were tired, sick and on their last leg, how would people expect the story to go? We are drawn in emotionally, but in the back of our mind we expect something to happen in the end. We are taught that a good story must have a conflict and a resolution. An audience holds on and waits for the end as they struggle through the difficult and heart wrenching points of a story.
We have a great story demonstrating the spiritual oppression in the slum communities of Bangkok. We began telling this story to one pastor. He was curious to know more about the spiritual battle happening in Thailand. We told this story to answer his question. We went into the detail of one of the children struggling with attacks from the spirits in her house. When the girl read her Bible, the spirit attacked her with sickness, dizziness and confusion. Every time she came home from a church meeting, she was upset by the spirit. The solution from her Buddhist mother who believed the girl was upsetting the spirit was to prevent her from participating in the Christian activities any longer. The children’s leader pressed the mom saying, Jesus has the power to overcome this spirit and bring freedom into your home. The leader went on to explain that we don’t have to appease these spirits any longer. The precious girl’s mother declined the offer not willing to risk the turmoil with the spirits living in her house and community.
We rarely tell this story as people receive it poorly. In this incident, we saw his heart sink when the story ended in the reality it held rather than in the victory we hoped for and Americans expect. We know God wins in the end, but we have little patience to wait through the slow moments when God is working. We want to illustrate the spiritual reality we live in, but we know people want stories that end well. After realizing this point, we now tell the story of Ole and ridding her house in the slum of a spirit.
As Americans, we enter a story with a bias. We expect to have a happy ending or for good to triumph evil. We hold onto ancient dualistic ideals of good v. evil with good overcoming evil.
What are your favorite Bible stories? Many of you will say, David and Goliath, the little guy crushing the giant heathen. Maybe others will point to Moses bringing God’s people out of wicked Egypt, Noah, a righteous guy surviving the great flood, Gideon, shy and scared with his little band of men routing the Midianites. Most of our favorite stories encapsulate our view of God conquering evil. Think about your favorite movies. Most of our favorite movies follow a similar formula which brings the hero to a good ending. Our stories tend to end happily ever after. This is changing in the past decade, but the exception to the rule rarely sells well at the box office. The critically acclaimed movie Up in the Air leaves you wishing for a happy ending even if it feels more realistic. We don’t’ listen to a story for realism. We don’t go to the movies to be reminded of the life we live. We want to rally around good, victory, triumph, and the underdog. This is not the case in every culture. Some movies will have a different ending to be shown in other countries.
In these cases, we hold on to these stories for the appropriate times. We hope for God to bring victory at some point, but we know that the world we live in doesn’t always turn up roses.