Before diving into the narrative that unfurls through the pages of Scripture, we have to understand three things about how stories work. First, they need characters. While that might seem obvious—after all, we’re familiar with the Bible’s massive cast—a story isn’t a story without the right characters.
Throughout the Old Testament in particular, we’re fond of pointing out the characters we relate to the most. Abraham, Sarah, Rachel, Joshua, Rahab, Ruth, David, Solomon, Elijah—the list is as long as the Bible itself. However, no one on that list is the character that the Bible’s actually about. They’re bit-part players in a drama centered on one person—God himself.
Before we get any farther into the story of the Bible, we have to understand that it’s God’s story. He’s both the main character and the (ultimate) teller of the tale. He’s chosen to reveal himself to his people not in a list of attributes or complex theology books, but in story. So we have to avoid at all costs either making the Bible about someone or someones else, and we cannot allow ourselves to reduce the Bible to a textbook. It’s a narrative, so we have to approach it that way.
The second thing we need to understand about how stories work is the simple fact that every story has conflict. In fact, it’s not story at all without some problem the hero (in the Bible’s case, God) has to solve. That conflict drives the whole plot, and it’s the process by which the hero eventually wins out that makes a story actually say something.
Nearly every commercial you’ve ever seen on TV or interrupt a YouTube video makes use of conflict: “Use our competitor’s shoes and you’ll end up with sore feet and bad style. But use our shoes, and you’ll be both fleet and fly!” Conflict. There’s a hero. And that hero has a problem to solve.
The last thing we need to understand about story is that it has an author. That author controls the story—from the details of the cloth used to make the robe around Joseph’s shoulders to the color of the grass people sat on waiting for Jesus to break fish and bread matters. It’s there on purpose because the author wanted it to be. The author of the story had a reason for more than just descriptive details. The order of events in the plot; the parts of a person’s life that make it to the page; the dialogue that makes it in and the words that don’t—it’s all controlled by the author in order to tell the best story with the best point. It’s true in every story we’ve ever read or heard or watched, and it’s true of the Bible too.
Finally, there’s one more thing I should mention. The Bible is a huge book. Trying to condense it down to a few dozen pages in a summary will inevitably leave something out, rush through some details in favor of others, or fail to highlight every important theological point. The point of this telling of the Bible’s story is simply to highlight how the whole thing is God’s story arc.
Whether we like it or not, God chose to progressively reveal his nature, his plan, and his purpose for humanity through the slow burn of a story. Through that story, we discover his compassion for rebellious humanity but also his commitment to restoration. The conflict is as much ours as it is his, after all, his story is intertwined with our story, or maybe it’s better said the other way around. But that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves. It’s best to start at the beginning.