Have you ever pictured God the Father as a storyteller? Of course, we know that Jesus liked stories. The gospels are packed with parables. But God? Hmmm.
Think about God’s Book. Sixty six books really. Primarily story, right? God chose to weave the threads of individual lives over and under the warp threads of events long past. Hundreds of stories creating a tapestry, a larger picture. Different voices, different cultures, different genres, a library written over a two-thousand year period by scores of authors from three continents telling one story. Through the epic saga of rebellion and redemption on this planet we see God—powerful and passionate, wise and wonderful, tenderhearted and tenaciously faithful.
Jesus himself became the supreme story in the Book—God in human flesh living among us. A story revealing the depths of God’s love for this world. It is a bit harder to discern that love in the Old Testament. Some of the most revolting tales ever told are found there—a number of them retold in my novels. Balaam’s Curse is the first book in a series detailing the battle against evil fought by ordinary people in the fantastically extraordinary era of Joshua. Gruesome and gory episodes lurk there among miraculous wonders. It is a pattern repeated over and over in the Bible: as Good begins to triumph, Terror rises in a new guise—when depravity all but prevails, God’s power is most gloriously displayed.
Why did God want us to have these tales of terror? To keep us from shrinking into our personal comfort zones. When our hearts cry out for justice, for judgment, we come close to his infinitely more caring and compassionate heart. We don’t understand why God doesn’t stop the pain and suffering NOW. “How long . . .” has been the cry of humanity for the thousands of years spanned by the Bible. Watch for those words, grieve with them, do what you can to relieve suffering here and now, but let God be God. He clearly asserts that there will be a Day of Judgment.
Interestingly, it will involve books. The Old Testament prophet Daniel describes the scene like this:
“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames . . . A stream of fire issued and came out from before him . . . and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.”1
God evidently has a library and it plays a part in the final judgment. Here is the scene again written by John in the book of Revelation.
“I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books.” 2
So what are these books? Many of us have grown up believing that they were ledgers. But why would God possibly need a balance sheet of good versus evil deeds on each person? Doesn’t the Old Testament teach that he remembers the sins of the repentant no more? Doesn’t the New Testament teach that we are saved by grace because we believe the ultimate story, the story of Jesus?
So . . . Isn’t it more likely that the collection of books that God pulls out on Judgment Day are in fact storybooks? Like the Bible characters of antiquity, each of us is living out a unique story, one small part in the greater drama of God’s story. Human stories are filled with trouble, pain, tears, sorrow. (It is conflict or challenge, after all, that makes a story a story, and conflict is usually painful) Did you know that God not only notices our stories, but that he saves them in his personal library.
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”3
Our suffering is and always will be part of God’s story. The Judgment Day will allow the universe to read the tale of each life ever lived and judge for themselves. We will see how each person responded to the pain of sin—his/her own and those of others against him/her. And those who choose to join with the Life of God, living love to heal the planet, are recorded in the narrative called the Book of Life. They will live forever with their God. The other stories grieve the heart of the One they reject. He made them for so much more than selfish grappling for personal pleasure and power apart from the Life-giver. He wanted to heal them, but they chose their own desperate “survival skills,” inflicting greater suffering and despair in the world.
In the end, God promises to wipe all tears from our eyes. But no one can ever expunge the “tear-jerking” episodes that fill God’s library of books. When the Great Cosmic War ends and the Universe is at peace, when humanity is at one with God at last, it won’t be a ledger that will keep future generations from ever returning to sin and suffering. It will be that library of stories.4
1 Daniel 7:9, 10 (ESV)
2 Revelation 20:12 (NLT)
3 Psalm 56:8 (NLT)
4 This idea of the judgment books possibly being stories rather than ledgers of good vs. bad deeds burst into my thinking with fiery beauty in the following interview with Nathan Brown (see the response to the next to last question): http://spectrummagazine.org/article/2015/04/23/nathan-brown-confronting-atheism