“When God writes history, he writes a novel.”
I had no idea what my Old Testament professor meant when he first said this. It seemed bordering on the heretical to think of God as a fiction writer, especially while we were studying the Bible.
But he was provoking us to recognize how Scripture is different from all other forms of writing. Novelists have complete control over their subject matter. In good fiction writing, all the details, characters, and events are woven together to construct a coherent and satisfying story. Events early on foreshadow what is to come. The reader is able to know the central characters well and see the significance of their choices.
Good history writing, however, is never so tidy. Biographers always lack important details about their subjects and are left to speculate about motives. Historians try to marshal arguments for how some events led to others, but there are always loose ends, awkward details, that refuse to fit in a neat package.
And that’s how the Bible feels when we first read it. We find all sorts of strange and confusing historical details, and it’s hard to see how they all fit together. It feels messy.
But unlike every other historian, the Author of Scripture is also the Author of history; he has absolute control over the story he’s writing. Like a novelist, he is able to make the events fit together in a completely coherent fashion. He foreshadows with types and symbols of what is to come. Every plotline and every character move towards one, climactic event, and every conflict is ultimately resolved.
Which means that though the Bible is completely true in all that it says, we should read it with the same tools we use to read good fiction, expecting to find in it the unity and progression and beauty that we find in every well-told story. Because when God writes history, he writes a novel.
This Sunday we begin a series meant to help us see the beautiful storyline that runs throughout all of Scripture. It’s a story about God and how he is redeeming all things, and my hope is that we get caught up in it--that as are able to see this story, to delight in it, and, above all, to be changed as we come to understand more deeply how we ourselves are part of this story of redemption.