Divine Story

Zephram Foster
Monday, May 6th 2024
Gracefully drawn music notes on a painted green and orange background.
Mar/Apr 2024
I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller. —G. K. Chesterton

Stories Are Soul Food

Creativity flows from the fact that we are made in the image of God our Creator. To image him is to be creative, or as Tolkien coined, to subcreate. It is a great gift to us and others to be able to reorganize the ingredients God has given us into something new that is true, good, and beautiful.

There are a few fundamental forms by which we creatively pass along the human experience. We have the visual arts, by which we can transport others into our own palette, our own worlds, and show them things bigger than we can describe. We have music, which allows us to pour out longings and feelings in a way images or words alone cannot capture. And then we have story, which is not only its own art form but is found at the heart of every other.

Stories are the atoms by which the molecules of creative culture are constructed. Whether explicitly or implicitly, music, paintings, and poems all tell stories. The clearest expressions of story in our culture, however, come in forms such as the novel, the play, and the film. Film is possibly the most intricate example of storytelling available to us, combining the written word with theater, music, and the visual arts.

But music, which does not require images or even words to be meaningful, may be the best example to help us understand the nature of story. Think of your favorite song—whether a Beatles tune, a Beethoven symphony, or something from the soundtrack to Moana. Regardless of whether a certain piece has words, each one revolves around tension and release, harmony and dissonance. It evokes moods and shares meaning as it moves from a beginning to an end (whether the end resolves or remains unsettled). This meaningful movement is story, and it’s embedded in everything we humans create, however obvious or subtle.

Storytelling has not only been with us since the beginning, but it also communicates meaning to us in a way that bare fact cannot. This isn’t to say that in some sense story is pitted against fact; rather, story is fact fermented. In the words of N. D. Wilson, stories are soul food: They feed our spirit and nourish our hearts. So, whether we engage in storytelling through fiction or nonfiction, songwriting, painting, podcasting, or in any other form, we’re called to wield the image of God by faithfully reflecting his work of creative meaning-making for his glory and one another’s good.

Stories are effective because they teach us primarily by shaping our minds rather than simply filling them with information. They provide the matrix through which facts are interpreted. Objective truth and the story within which truth is found cannot be separated. After all, any fact, no matter how objective, is always interpreted. Even the facts unknown to us, the secret things that belong to God, are still given meaning by the One who purposed it all. Our minds can hold only what fits inside them, and the shape of our minds is determined by the stories we hear, by the sentiments we hold dear, and by the values guiding our desires. In the words of C. S. Lewis, “The head rules the belly through the chest. Lewis here isn’t pitting the head against the heart as two opposing sides within us. Rather, he’s distinguishing our thinking from our desires and feelings. Our sentiments—and therefore our reasoning and our choices—are shaped by the stories we know that convince us of the truth in a way they alone can. Feelings are not here pitted against reason; good judgment should still rule, but it can do so only through properly ordered desires. If we emphasize intellect at the expense of our will or feelings, then we get cold rationalism. Flip it around, and we have fuzzy sentimentalism. When each is strong and properly functioning within our minds or hearts, we have the rightly ordered means by which to interpret fact. In any case, story cannot be pitted against pure fact because story is fact ordered by God.

History as Story

History is a story written by the finger of God. —C. S. Lewis

The doctrine of providence tells us that God guides all things and that, in his grand story, he has chosen to write us as characters—real, true characters with moral integrity and responsible agency—into his grand opera. God acts in the world not only directly by miracle but also through secondary causes. He is weaving a magnificent tapestry of meaning in the heavens that will stand for all eternity so that all may look upon it and say that he is good and merciful. The story of redemption is the story that impresses upon us that the Creator is loving, gracious, kind, and powerful. This means that history—all of history—is a story that is meant to display the glory of God most fully, by which his goodness will be made most manifest. Even the darkness will somehow make the light seem all the brighter.

So, contrary to the popular quotation, history is not simply “one damned thing after another.” In fact, history, like all great stories, is filled to the brim with meaning if only we have eyes to see and ears to understand. How many tales of wartime heroism inspire us to righteous bravery as children? How often have stories from our parents given us a better understanding of where we come from? If I am a character in a bigger story, then the author has a reason for my entrance at this point. I have a role to play; I have a king to serve; I was put here for a reason. There are good works prepared ahead of time for me to do (Eph. 2:10); my life and actions are of eternal importance because they will belong forever to the permanent story of the history of the world.

God weaves story into the fabric of his providential guidance of history and its meaning, but he also uses story to communicate that meaning to us as his beloved creatures. God is the author of all things and the author of a special book. God packed his book to humanity full of stories, along with celebrations and explanations of those stories and applications of them to our individual and communal lives.

The True Myth

The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by “the veil of familiarity.” —C. S. Lewis

Myth is one of the most common forms that story has taken in the course of the world thus far, and it is central to Christianity. Much ink has been spilled on myth and its role in thinking theologically and typologically about the world. Lewis defined myth as, “at its best, a real though unfocused gleam of divine truth falling on human imagination.” Christ is the “myth become fact,” as Lewis went on to put it, the true myth to which nearly all world cultures refer, if only through shadows and echoes. Myth is in the marrow of the world, because God has imprinted creation with his eternal plan of redemption. A dying God come to earth to sacrifice or to conquer, a hero come to save, is a story repeated constantly in antiquity. The general outline of this story (and the longing for it to come true) seems baked into the cosmos—and why shouldn’t it be? Christ is indeed the “Lamb slain before the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13). God’s plan reaches back before time existed and permeates the whole of creation as its appointed end. This means, among many other things, that even stories not explicitly Christian implicitly endorse divine truth for those with ears to hear.

For example, a common question among young believers, secularists, and critics of Christianity is, “Why did God allow the fall?” Better yet, why did God proceed with creation in the first place, knowing what would come of it? Why not avoid such evil altogether? Let’s reframe such questions in light of Christianity as the true myth. Why did J. R. R. Tolkien write Melkor (his version of Satan) into the story of The Lord of the Rings, allowing him to sow discord into the original music of creation, which led to so much evil and suffering in the world of Middle-earth? Why not write a story in which Bilbo the hobbit sits around for hundreds of pages, smoking pipe-weed, and having yet another breakfast? The answer is glaringly obvious: it would be a terrible story. No characters would experience any growth through obstacles to overcome, there would be no displays of genuine courage or hard-won virtue, and there would be no ultimate victory. In fact, through the words of Middle-earth’s Creator God, Eru Iluvatar, Tolkien attempts to answer this very mystery of brokenness in the world:

“And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.”

It is in the redemption of a fallen, enemy race that God most clearly displays his mercy, grace, and love. It is in this story that God has written an ending more poignant and beautiful for all its conflict. When God again walks alongside us in the new creation, it will be a deeper and more intimate communion than we could have had otherwise, because we sinned and yet God became man. Because God became man, he redeemed all flesh and became the firstfruits of the resurrection. The story of Emmanuel redeeming our human race reaches to greater depths and heights than the story of the unfallen angels remaining in heavenly places. As Saint Athanasius marveled: because God has become man, man will become like God.

Tell Stories

Everything that has moved or shall move in heaven, and earth, and hell, has been, is, and shall be according to the counsel and foreknowledge of God, fulfilling a holy, just, wise and unalterable purpose. —C. H. Spurgeon

Our understanding of the significance of story affects how we value history, how we think about the tales we hear through Scripture, novel, film, and theater, and it will affect the stories we choose to tell ourselves and one another. In light of the fundamental importance of story for grasping God’s purposes in history and in redemption, I want to end by urging you to adopt a single vital practice: tell stories. Tell them to your children and grandchildren, but also to anyone who needs to hear the truth about God and the world in a way that cuts straight to the heart. Choose good stories, ones that speak to divine realities, and equip your hearers for hardships and challenges, ones that shape their affections and direct them toward worship of their king. Tell stories that turn their hearts toward righteousness.

Not every person needs to be a writer, an artist, or a musician by vocation. But every person should be a storyteller, every person should be an artist, and every person should be a musician singing in service of glorifying the Lamb who was slain. We should aim to reflect the true, the good, and the beautiful in all we do, understanding how vitally the stories we hear and tell shape our hearts. The Creator is speaking through his creation and speaking in time, and he’s doing it in a way that displays his character.

Stories comfort us, challenge us, and guide us. It is so good for the stories shaping us as Christians to be stories from Scripture, stories of God’s faithfulness and of faithful saints overcoming persecution, of praising the Giver even when he gives trials. And along with the stories directly from Scripture, all of us are shaped by other great stories that in their own ways reflect and magnify scriptural truths. In times of doubt, I have the apostle Peter and his denial of Christ, and I also have Trumpkin the doubting dwarf in The Chronicles of Narnia. Whenever I feel persecuted or attacked for righteousness’s sake, I have Saint Stephen the Martyr as well as Star Wars’ Jedi Master Ben Kenobi as examples. When I am called to bravery and courage and must fight back against evil for the sake of the good or to protect the innocent, I have King David and also King Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings to look to for hope and encouragement. These stories have shaped my affections more than any lecture or list of abstract facts ever could; they have penetrated to my very soul.

Stories aren’t just any soul food; they deliver truth intravenously. They are potent in shaping our sympathies from the inside out. Story is how we communicate as humans, and it embodies the legacies we receive and pass on. Since this is true, let’s aim to communicate the story of this world and our own clearly, beautifully, and bravely, for the glory of God. As Lewis writes,

In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use.


  • G. K. Chesterton, “The Ethics of Elfland,” Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane, 1908), ch. 4.

  • C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man: Or, Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools (New York: Macmillan, 1965), ch. 1.

  • C. S. Lewis, “Historicism,” in Christian Reflections, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 100–13.

  • C. S. Lewis, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982).

  • Miracles (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 176; “Myth Became Fact,” in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 66–67.

  • J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977).

  • C. H. Spurgeon, “A Feast for Faith,” September 16, 1866, Sermon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit.

  • Lewis, “Men without Chests,” The Abolition of Man, ch. 1.

Photo of Zephram Foster
Zephram Foster
Zephram Foster is a writer and musician from Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He works in higher education and in youth ministry at a Reformed Baptist Church, along with writing songs, blogs, and hosting a film podcast called Not Qualified. He has been published in Touchstone magazine, Front Porch Republic, and elsewhere. Visit
Monday, May 6th 2024

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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