Why Humans Tell Stories

Humanity has always had the need to tell stories. As far back as we find humans, we find storytellers. Greeks, Egyptians, Assyrians…all ancient cultures have stories we know about today. Both then and today, stories often are a means of placing our lives in a bigger story. All stories require us to use a crucial part of our humanity: our imagination.

Our imaginations are crucial because they are the means by which we place our lives into a bigger story. Imagination is our ability to take a step back from our daily lives and conceive of something bigger going on that sets humans apart from the rest of the created world. It’s our imaginations that bring a meaning, purpose, and direction to our lives. Why do we have this need to see the bigger picture? Why do we have this need to feel like our lives matter?

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

God has put eternity into our hearts. There is a desire within all of us to connect with something bigger than ourselves, some purpose, some meaning, some story. That is why humans have always been storytellers. Yet, there is always a little bit of folly as we try to understand that bigger story. Left to ourselves, we would never perceive the real story.

Even today, we place our lives in all different kinds of stories. We might see a love story as being the primary structure of our life. In America, we have the American Dream story that says if you work hard enough, you’ll be able to afford a good life for yourself. Some of us might also see our lives as a grand tragedy that is playing itself out everyday. Are all stories equal? Does it matter what story we place our lives in?

Paul, as he goes through the ancient city of Athens, sees numerous signs of eternity in the hearts of the Greek people. He sees statues made out to various deities. One in particular statue is made out to an unknown God. He has also read their poetry, hymns to Zeus, and Stoic philosophy. There, Paul gives this speech:

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,(Acts 17:22-27 ESV)

Paul calls the Athenians to place their lives in the true story. Our only access to that true story is found in God’s word to us. What story are we living out? It’s the question we need to constantly ask ourselves. When we place our lives in that story, all the other subplots of our life find their place, their meaning, and their limits.


About Ryan Wampler

Much of my thinking is trying to connect the dots between the Bible, the lens through which I see the world, and the way I actually live my life. I’m a Mizzou grad, and got a theological education at a post-grad school in St. Louis. My particular areas of interest are: reflecting on books and films and connecting theology and culture.
This entry was posted in Art and Culture, Engaging Worldviews, Gospel Lifestyle. Bookmark the permalink.

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