Becoming Part
of God’s Story

BY SHANE MORRIS, HOST OF UPSTREAM

Why do little kids love stories so much? Why do they want a story before bedtime? Why do they listen so intently and question you about every detail? Why is it that whenever you overhear two or three little children on the playground, they’re almost undoubtedly in character as warriors or princesses or police officers or cowboys or magical beings? Why do they naturally, with no help from adults, step into the roles of characters in their own spontaneous stories?

Well, it turns out that play and storytelling has a serious purpose and may even be essential for transforming the mind of an infant into the mind of adult. Tracy Gleason, professor of psychology at Wellesley College, summarizes the substantial research on the relationship between make-believe and “a child’s developing creativity, understanding of others and social competence with peers.”

“Imaginary play,” she wrote, “could encourage social development because children are simultaneously behaving as themselves and as someone else. This gives them a chance to explore the world from different perspectives, and is a feat that requires thinking about two ways of being at once, something that children may have difficulty doing in other circumstances.”

Imaginary play exercises one of the mental muscles that likely sets us apart from animals: so-called “theory of mind,” or our ability to project our self-awareness onto others and imagine what life must be like from their perspectives. The idea that others are not merely furniture in our sensory environment but have inner lives much like our own is a deceptively large cognitive leap. After all, we’ve never occupied anyone else’s mind and never will. We have only our own experiences to go off of.

Yet without making this leap, human beings could never have true relationships with one another. When children assume the role of a character from a movie or book or even a story they’ve invented, they are establishing the rudiments of culture and society and are even preparing their hearts to receive and obey the Golden Rule. Yet while stories are correlated with and probably essential for a child’s growth and education, children aren’t the only ones who love a good tale. Since the dawn of recorded history, adults have told stories about the origins, meaning, and ultimate destiny of the world. Most of all, they’ve told stories about their places in the world, and have what it means to be a hero rather than a villain. We think of the Enūma Eliš, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the exhaustive visual tales of Egyptian gods and their mischief, the Iliad and the Odyssey, Beowulf, and of course, the Bible.

For Christians, the fact that the Bible contains the true plot of human history is no impediment to it also being a marvelous story. In fact, the opposite is true. As C.S. Lewis put it, “The story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened.” If it’s true that stories are an essential part of how human beings learn, grow, and become virtuous, then it shouldn’t surprise us that when God set out to reveal Himself to fallen humans, He did so not with a bullet-point list of doctrinal propositions but with a story—one complete with danger, intrigue, murder, romance, long quests, courage, and self-sacrifice.

Stories belong at the heart of education, no matter how old we are, because they are how humans put flesh on the bones of fact. They are the medium and language of meaning— truth made incarnate. And if the goal of education is to form virtuous men and women, then the quality of the education we give our children depends largely on the types of stories we tell them.

UPSTREAM KEY STATS

In the last year, Shane delved into hard questions with wise teachers like:

  • J.P. Moreland
  • Andrew Peterson
  • T.M. Moore
  • Stephanie Gray Connors
  • Ken Boa
  • Michael Ward
  • Jennie McLaurin
  • Carl Trueman

LOOKING FORWARD

  • Shane is writing a book of reflections on his interviews entitled Further Upstream, with plans to launch another book in 2023 that outlines how we can train our minds to see God’s hand at work in the world.

“Shane Morris is just brilliant and well informed. He asks excellent questions and then lets his guests answer. When Shane offers an intro to his question, he has a good reason and he doesn’t talk longer than necessary. He ALWAYS has a respectful tone about positions he might not agree with. This podcast goes deep without becoming so scholarly that the average person cannot understand! I’ve upped my rating after listening more!!! Shane does his homework and asks intelligent questions. The guests are very good.”

- -Upstream Listener

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