He started taking walks through the dense forest with his young son where the air was fresh, the skies were filled with billowing clouds, and both their imaginations were ignited. Walks in the woods with your son lends itself to making up stories. The father had moved his family to the English countryside and the Ashdown Forest. The boy would bring along his stuffed animals and the stories would begin.
One of the stuffed toys—a bear—would come to say “For I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and long words Bother me.” The son at first called him Edward the Bear. But after seeing a real bear in the London Zoo named Winnipeg he decided to name his bear “Winnie.”
You know the boy as Christopher Robin, the bear as Winnie the Pooh, Ashdown Forest as the 100 Acre Wood, and the father as the author AA Milne. These stories helped a tired and weary British society move past the horrors of World War I. And these stories have helped many parents bond with their children ever since. The bond created by reading stories that begin with characters that are merely stuffed toys but by the time parent and child are caught up in them they had become real: they talked, they had adventures, they taught lessons.
That’s what stories do. And that’s why we like stories. Just say “let me tell you a story” and bodies lean in, eyes look your way, and ears block out other noises. It’s happened to you, hasn’t it? When someone tells a story, the language processing parts of our brain are activated. But so are any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story. Taste. Sound. Motion. The storyteller is reliving the events. And research says so are the listeners.
We love stories. In fact, more than 80% of the world’s population are oral learners. Some have no choice. Some prefer it that way. Oral learners communicate through storytelling, drama, songs, poetry, parables, proverbs and other oral arts. Journalist Jeremy Hsu discovered that “Personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversations.” Not so sure the gossip part is good, but you get the point.
So if you love stories, that means you’re in the majority. The problem is an estimated 90% of the world’s Christian workers present the gospel—which we received in story form about the life of Christ—using literate communication styles. Think bullet points. Think lecture. Think … but not using the majority of your brain.
We need to tell stories. In the USA more than 50% of people over the age of 16 are functionally illiterate. 58% of the U.S. adult population never reads another book after high school. 42% of college graduates never read another book. 80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year. Each day, people in the US spend four hours watching TV, three hours listening to the radio, and 14 minutes reading magazines. And researchers believe that 70% or more of the people in North America prefer non-literate means of communication.
People prefer stories. Apparently, so does God. Not stories in the sense of a tale that is not true. But story in the sense that he used writers who shaped the past to teach something about the present situation they found themselves in.
For instance, we have the creation story. The account found in Genesis is not the only one. The Babylonians for example, who were around long before the Israelites, had a creation story called the Enuma Elish. Ancient people wrote to tell about how they understood their beginnings.
So did the Israelites. In their late period they wrote of the earliest beginnings to say something about their God and themselves. Genesis 1 tells us how God created the world. Their story was similar in some ways to the Babylonian story (and other cultures’ creation stories too). And their story was different in at least one very important way. And it’s the point of their story.
The Bible story starts with the earth “formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” There is darkness as creation opens.
Then God prepares three spaces:
- First there is light. And God separates the light from the darkness.
- Next there is a separation of water from water. There is an expanse of water above and one below which creates the sky.
- Finally, there is the separation of land from water under the sky. This separation creates the land and the sea.
Once these three spaces are prepared, God creates objects to inhabit them:
- He put lights in the sky, namely the sun and the moon.
- He put sea-creatures in the sea birds in the air.
- He put on the land “livestock, creatures that crawl, and the wildlife of the earth according to their kinds.”
God did all this by speaking. The writers want to tell how powerful their God is. They are writing to tell that it is their God—not one of the gods of the superpowers like Babylon and Egypt—who is the one responsible for what you see.
And it is this God who created humankind. The crowning point of his creation is “man,” or “humankind.” He created them male and female.
When we read stories we need to let the story tell us what it wants to tell us in its way and in its time. That’s the point of other origin stories like the Enuma Elish. The point is not that the Israelites borrowed that story and made it their own. The point is that ancient people had ways they thought about their beginnings, and so did God’s people. When we understand that, we can learn to ask the questions Genesis 1 was written to address rather than intruding with our own questions.
For example, Genesis 1 is not a science manual meant to explain scientifically our beginnings. The ancient people did not think in those terms. So when the writer says God created something and it was a “day,” he did not envision that modern people would think that “day” would have to be a 24-hour period or else the story was false. Hebrew language uses the word much like we do. You might say “I spent the day in downtown Houston” when in fact you spent some “time” there. But you didn’t spend a full 24-hours. The Hebrew word for “day” can mean a 24-hour period. But it can also mean a half day or even a period of time.
That’s not what the creation story cares about. It cares about setting this God, the God of Israel, as the One who created all that we see. And in that creation in chapter one he created humankind.
We turn the page and we find another story. Now we have the story of a particular man and woman. We know them as Adam and Eve. It is important to know that the Hebrew word “Adam” is the same word for “man” or “mankind.” Here’s how the story is told in a nutshell:
God has created this wonderful world for his humans to inhabit. A mist would come up from the ground to water the land. Then God took some of the dust of the ground and formed man out of it—Adam—and breathed life into him.
Then God planted a garden and put the man there. He planted trees for appearance and for food. Two of those trees were the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God told man that he could eat of any tree except from the tree of Knowledge of good and evil and gave him a warning: that on the day he ate of it he would die.
God had man name all the animals and as each one passed by there was not one found that was fit to be his companion. So God put the man into a deep sleep, took out a rib, and formed woman. (God does his best work when man is asleep.)
The chapter ends with this line: “Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.”
The next chapter opens with this line: “Now the serpent was the most cunning/crafty of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made.” “Naked” and “crafty” come from the same root word in the Hebrew language. Hang onto that for a moment.
You know how this story goes. The serpent comes in and asks Eve, “Did God really say you couldn’t eat of any of the trees in the garden?” The woman said, “We can eat of any tree except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If we eat it or touch it we will die.”
The serpent countered with, “You won’t die. God knows when you eat of it you will be like him. You’ll know good and evil.” So she ate some, shared it with her husband, and their eyes were opened. And they knew they were naked. (There’s that word again.)
 The Science of Storytelling: What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brains at https://blog.bufferapp.com/science-of-storytelling-why-telling-a-story-is-the-most-powerful-way-to-activate-our-brains
 Ibid., The Science of Storytelling
 From Saturate Resources, Story of God Training