I Wish I Could Get In That Picture (Sept-Dec 2003)

By Matt Dabbs

By Rubel Shelly

We have one of those big table books in our living room. It is a collection of Norman Rockwell’s work—ranging from his famous “Four Freedoms” series to the poignant “Saying Grace” to his comical “Triple Self-Portrait.” Most of the full-color reproductions originally were covers for The Saturday Evening Post.

You know how children like books, right? So our four-year-old granddaughter, Shelly, wanted to see this one that was lying out on the table. Never reluctant to oblige her, my wife began turning the big, easy-to-tear pages for her. And we watched her reactions.

The first one to really catch her eye was the one titled “At the Doctor’s Office.” A little boy in his blue jeans and undershirt is standing in a chair, drawers dropped to half-moon position, and the physician is preparing a syringe. The red-haired little boy is about to get a shot. He appears to be taking it bravely. But Shelly lingered over it. Then the page was turned. Two pages later, Shelly asked, “Can we go back to the picture of that little boy?” We did. And she stared again. More page-turnings. And still more requests to go back. It happened the fourth time.

Myra and I are smiling at each other. And I’m beginning to wonder if our daughter and son-in-law have started rearing a child to have prurient curiosity! Not to worry. We soon found out what was happening. At the fourth visit back to the page in question, Shelly patted both her hands on the picture and kept her eyes fixed on its details. “I wish I could get in that picture,” she said. “I wonder what’s going to happen next.”

If you have ever wondered why Jesus told so many simple stories during his valuable time on Planet Earth, does a little girl’s experience help you grasp it? He was painting mental images of lost coins and children being found, birds and wildflowers in their natural state, or fields taking identical seed in very different ways in order to lure his hearers into the picture. Is it hard to supply the punch-line at the end of each? Or to visualize your own presence in the scene?

Buy John Eldridge’s recent book Waking the Dead just for the sake of Chapter Two. It explains at a popular level how stories allow us to see with the eyes of our hearts. He points to the first film in The Matrix trilogy to illustrate his point with contemporary stories. Neo is given the option of taking a red pill or a blue one, to have his eyes opened to reality or to continue living in a fantasy world. He likens The Matrix parable to the biblical truth that Christians live in a world of adventure and struggle and trial where it is critical to have our eyes open to ultimate reality.

Therefore we do not lose heart and give up.

Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

Eldridge’s thesis is that practically every great story weaves together these three truths: things are not what they seem, a life-and-death struggle between good and evil is taking place, and every one of us has a choice to make. And all those great stories of myth are built on the one great story of human history that is unfolded in Scripture.

That’s why some of the best preachers across history have imitated Jesus in using stories that carry The Story. That’s why contemporary technology with video engages the hearts of some we would otherwise miss in this very visual age. (I built a semester course in philosophy around The Matrix immediately after it was available on DVD.) And it is why this issue of New Wineskins is eager to point to some of the resources and means for engaging our Postmodern generation—the most story-oriented generation since the first Christian century—with the gospel through stories. They are conduits by which critical truths are communicated.

From the first century to the twenty-first century, stories have been a God-ordained medium for communicating truth. We would have been wiser to see the whole of Scripture as narrative carrying a single story of divine love, intervention, and redemptive work than as a law book. We would have grasped the gospel more naturally and communicated it more effectively.

More and more, I am reading and writing and telling The Jesus Story without syllogisms. Without argument. Without nuanced theology. Without mental gymnastics. It is dawning on me that a clear, compelling account of the heart, life, and words of Jesus creates a singular passion. People ache to get into the picture with him.

categoria commentoNo Comments dataNovember 25th, 2013
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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1581 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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