We tell ourselves stories all the time. Not verbally, necessarily; they can be the thoughts we think to ourselves—the narrative in which we view reality. The stories that we tell ourselves shape our understanding of the past, the way we live life today, and the person we will become in the future.
So where do we get our stories? Who do we listen to? What do we read? What do we set before our eyes? The ones we spend the most time with will inevitably have the most impact on the stories we tell ourselves and how we view our life as a narrative. I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately. It seems every book I pick up or podcast I turn on has this theme underlying it. What stories do we choose to listen to? The stories we tell ourselves will vary quite a bit depending on the input we select. And this variance can impact how we view our world, how live out our lives, how we see others, and ultimately, how we conceive of God.
You can see the impact of stories we tell ourselves within the pages of the Bible itself. As but one example, let’s look at the stories found in the Old Testament that attempt to explain the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian empire. The writer of 2 Kings argues that the fall of the kingdom of Judah was ultimately the consequence of the Israelites turning away from God and worshiping idols, especially during the time of King Manasseh (2Ki 21). The writer of 2 Kings then portrays King Josiah in heroic terms as someone fighting to undo the errors of his grandfather Manasseh, attempting to turn the nation back to God by destroying the temples, the idols, the high places, and even the priests and prophets that were leading the people astray (2Ki 23).
Heroic though Josiah’s efforts were, within 25 years of his death Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. Though the prophet Jeremiah supported Josiah’s reform movement (2Chr 35:25; Jer 11:21; 36:2), we find a far different story in the book of Jeremiah to explain the fall of Jerusalem. The story is told by some Jews who fled to Egypt with a kidnapped Jeremiah. They rebelliously tell Jeremiah that when they worshiped the Queen of Heaven (one of the various idols they worshiped), they “had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine” (Jer 44:17b-18, NIV). So where the writer of 2 Kings blamed the fall of Jerusalem on the people’s continuous worship of various idols and practice of things forbidden by God (cf. Jer 44:2-6), the Jews in Egypt instead blamed Josiah’s and Jeremiah’s reform for the destruction, since Josiah put an end to the worship of idols and Jeremiah continued to preach this policy through the destruction of the kingdom.
Just as the Jews interpreted a historical event (the fall of Jerusalem) within one of two narratives (either the result of the Lord God’s anger about idol worship or the Queen of Heaven’s anger that her worship had ceased), so we create a narrative to make sense of events that happen in our own lives. We tell ourselves stories. The question is, are we telling ourselves the right stories?