Should some stories not be told? Are there stories in the Bible that shouldn’t be talked about or shared? And if there are, where do you draw that line? Who decides which stories are “good” stories and which ones aren’t?
What makes a story inappropriate? That’s a difficult question because we all have different sensitivities and preferences. I do agree that there is a level of age-appropriateness that people need to use in telling stories. As much as possible, we need to protect what innocence children have left, though not at the expense of their development as adults.
That means Watchmen is probably not a good choice for your kid to watch. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about.
But what about grownups? What about older teenagers? Actually what about younger teenagers and tweens? Why do stories that are potentially “offensive” bother us?
Today’s verses are Luke 15:11-13.
To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.”
I’m going to stop there because most everyone knows this story. Even secular scholars consider it one of the greatest short stories of all time. If you haven’t read it, you can find it in Luke 15.
Put yourself in the place of the men (and women) who were listening to Jesus tell this story. The younger son demanding his money, disrespecting his father, dishonoring his family, squandering his wealth. Not a good situation. What do you think they expected to happen with Little Brother came home?
Knowing the culture of the time, I’m sure everyone expected the father would cast him out. After all, that’s what most people would do, especially with someone who’s betrayed you. But if you know the story of the Prodigal Son, that’s not what happens. The father, who is a picture of God by the way, welcomes the Son home and throws a party for him.
Definitely not what anyone expected.
In the last few months, God and I have been having some pretty serious conversations about storytelling and what it is and why it exists. To me, telling a story is an opportunity to share God’s love with people who need to hear about it–or who need to be reminded about it. But to get to that point, sometimes the stories you tell can’t be nice.
That’s the trick about story. Story is conflict. Without conflict, there is no story. Our fallen natures demand trouble in a story, otherwise we’re not interested.
Jesus could have told a story about a young man who stayed at home and never questioned his father and never strayed. The son would grow up, inherit his father’s lands, and live happily ever after.
Try pitching that elevator speech to a publisher and see how rapidly your conversation will switch to the weather.
The son has to make a huge, grave error. He has to do something stupid, though at the time he doesn’t think it’s stupid. He steps out on his own, fights the constraints of his overprotective father, and strikes out to find adventure. He goes where he wants. He does what he wants. And it doesn’t matter that everything he chooses to do goes against everything his father taught him.
Think about this story Jesus is telling. This son just basically flipped his father off. So if Jesus is telling a story about a young man who disrespects his father, does that mean Jesus believes that’s how all people should treat their parents?
Of course not.
The difference comes later, when the son realizes that he has to face the consequences for his actions, when he wraps his dumb head around the fact that his father’s rules were there for his protection. But you can’t tell a story in summary. Summaries don’t allow you to experience a story for yourself, and that’s where the power of story comes into play. You live the story along with the characters, and you learn the same lessons they learn.
The young man makes a horrible choice and learns a valuable lesson about accountability, only to learn an even more amazing lesson about grace from a father who loves him unconditionally. Jesus didn’t approve of children disrespecting their parents or of people twisting off and squandering their resources. But the character in his story needed to experience those things before he could learn what he needed to learn.
So am I saying we should all rush out and watch the worst rated movie in the theatres? No. But I am saying not to judge a story because it’s real. When you hear or read a story that goes against what you believe, don’t instantly shut it out. Don’t turn away from it. Wait for the rest of the story.
Can you imagine what our faith would be like if the writers of the Gospel stopped paying attention when the Prodigal Son first twisted off? They would have missed the point entirely.
Don’t be surprised when you hear a story you don’t agree with. We live in a world we shouldn’t agree with, but ignoring that fact, turning away from it, shutting it out completely doesn’t do you any good and it won’t allow God’s love to shine through you either.