I was reflecting before God this morning and praying when the following question arose in my head: whether it is more important to believe the historical fact of the biblical stories or to believe the stories themselves.
For whatever reason, the story that occurred to me as I was thinking about this is the story of Lot’s wife. After they left Sodom, a place that was known for its wickedness and sin, a place in which God could not identify even 10 good men, she turned back (against the orders of God’s angels that led them (delivered) them out of Sodom), and she turned into a pillar of salt.
Is there really a pillar of salt somewhere in the vicinity of Sodom where lot’s wife turned back? Does it matter?
As I was thinking about the question, it occurred to me that the story is what matters. Sodom is representative of depravity, wickedness and sin, the nature of the world around us in which we live, the state of a person who has not given himself or herself over in loving submission to the God who made us. God calls us out of that sinful state to follow Him. this is true whether Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt or not.
In the Midrash, Lot’s wife is identified as a Sodomite. Sodom was her hometown. We read in Genesis that Lot was slow in leaving when the angels warned him to get out. The Midrash suggests that Lot’s wife didn’t want to leave, and she left only reluctantly. The Hebrew word translated “looked back” implies a “wistful regard”. (See the Pulpit Commentary on Genesis 19:26 in BibleHub)
It seems that Lot’s wife really didn’t want to leave Sodom and looking back was as much an act of the heart (desiring to be back in Sodom) as a physical one. The application to us is that we should not be tempted to look back wistfully on the sinful lives we once lived. It’s like a dog returning to its own vomit. (Proverbs 26:11 and 2 Peter 2:22) Why would we turn back to the sin from which we escaped? And yet we tend to do that.
Returning to the point of the question that arose in my mind this morning, I am reminded that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness….” (2 Timothy 3:16) The Scripture is what is useful, not necessarily that the stories are true. The critical truth of most stories is contained within the story itself.
I am not necessarily suggesting that the Bible is filled with nothing but fanciful stories, religious fables. But, for those of you who have trouble reconciling the stories with historical fact, this is for you. The quantum of proof necessary to believe a biblical story may seem lacking in some cases. Reconciling historical fact with the story isn’t the critical point. The story is the point.
Whether these things actually happened as a matter of historical fact is only a side issue. We tend to get caught up in the side issues and miss the primary point. The stories exist as vehicles that convey spiritual truth. If we never get past the fact question, we never get to the truth kernel.
The story of Adam and Eve, for instance, is the story of humanity. We are imperfect (fallen) creatures. We are lured away by our temptations to our own detriment. It explains why the heroin addict tried heroin the first time, even knowing that a single use leads to addiction. It explains why a person starts smoking cigarettes even knowing that they cause cancer. It explains why we tend perpetually to chase after the grass that seems greener on “the other side” while the pasture we seek ever eludes us.
The greatest story, of course, is the story of the birth, life, death and resurrection of a man named Jesus, who is known as the Christ, the messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. CS Lewis calls the story of Jesus the “true myth” of which all other myths are but a shadow. CS Lewis didn’t mean that the Gospels are just a story, that Jesus didn’t actually live, that he wasn’t who he claimed he was or that he didn’t actually rise from the dead.
The story of Jesus, perhaps, is the only story that really matters, and the fact that it happened can’t be understated. Paul says, if Jesus was not raised from the death, then our faith is in vain. No other stories matter in the same way that this one story matters.
I am not sure of the value of the thought exercise from this morning. Perhaps, we need to focus on what really matters more, and focus less on peripheral things. I know that many believers would say that the historical nature of the Bible, the whole Bible, is not just a peripheral thing. I tend to believe that it has historical value – the whole thing – but my faith rests most securely on Jesus Christ. That is the story that matters.
Postscript: “The birth of Christ is the central event in the history of the earth – the very thing the whole story has been about.”