Wednesday, September 22, 2010
True Stories and Truth Stories
In my Hebrew Bible class last night we had a lively discussion about the historicity of the stories in Genesis. One student raised the issue of whether the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis was "factual."
Some understand this creation story literally and calculate that the earth is around 7,000 years old. You arrive at this by counting the generations from Adam and Eve going forward. Others understand the "seven days" in this creation story as figurative, pointing out that science has calculated the age of the earth as 15 billion years old.
I believe that the debate over "literal vs. figurative" is misguided. This is where the difference between a "true story" and a "truth story" comes in. A true story is a story that historically factual while a truth story ignores the issue of whether a story is factually based.
I believe that many of the stories in Genesis are "truth" stories. They convey important truths about God, the world and us. For example, whether you take the creation story in Genesis 1 as factual or figurative, the truth is that God is the creator of a creation that is pronounced "good."
To view many of the stories in the Bible as truth stories means that you put a bracket around the issue of their historical reliability and try to discern the truth that the story conveys. This makes the question of "did it happen in this exact way?" superfluous.
If upholding the historical facts of the biblical stories is important to you, that's fine. However, the more important issue is not "did it happen this way" but "what is God saying to us through this story." God speaks the truth to us in a variety of ways, not only through historical events, but through story, poetry, metaphor and parable. To hear the truth in these stories is to be set free to follow it.