The Influential Power of Stories About Jesus, Part 1
There’s an old saying Christians often use to encourage themselves when things aren’t going their way: “I know how the story ends—Christ wins!”
It’s a great saying, and it really does encourage. But when it comes to story, knowing how things turn out in the end may work against us.
So how exactly does this “curse of knowledge” affect our approach to stories about Jesus? And what can we do to avoid it?
Before answering, I need to clarify a thing or two about “story” and “influence.”
According to storyteller and researcher, Kendall Haven, when it comes to the power of a story to influence, there are two story elements that make a huge difference: danger and risk. Danger refers to the consequences of the main character’s failure to obtain his or her primary goal—the more undesirable the consequences are; the greater the danger. Risk refers to how unlikely it is that the main character will succeed in light of the obstacles he or she faces—the more impossible the obstacles are; the greater the risk.
In reference to stories about Jesus and their influential power, a new question presents itself: Did Jesus face any danger and risk on his way to the cross?
Take a closer look at that last question. It’s not “Did Jesus face danger and risk in reference to dying on a cross?”
Even when Jesus’ dying on a cross is the primary goal of a story about him, risk and danger still factor in. Just because we know that was God’s plan for him, and that it’s what actually happened in the end, doesn’t mitigate the danger and risk that existed as events unfolded in real time.
To illustrate, everyone knows a cancer survivor or two whose initial diagnosis offered no hope of remission. But they received healing, and now they’re cancer free. Our present knowledge of God’s plan for them does not diminish the very real danger and risk they endured along the way. Similarly, just because we know how Jesus’ story ends should not lead us to minimize the very real danger and risk he faced at almost every turn.
Of course we know that Jesus’ dying on a cross was always the plan. But it wasn’t always Jesus’ primary goal in every story.
In Matthew 12, for example, Jesus’ primary goal was to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that the Gentiles would eventually hear about him and hope in his name (Matt. 12:21). And so he withdrew from a synagogue where he had healed a man with a withered hand. And as he continued healing people, he “ordered them not to make him known.” The danger Jesus sought to mitigate arose from people attempting to make him King without his first dying and rising again. The likelihood of this happening was great enough for Jesus to insist that people stop making him known.
Then Jesus healed a man who was blind and mute and demon-oppressed. But the evil-hearted Pharisees declared that he did it by the power of Beelzebul. So now a new danger presented itself, along with new risk.
If Jesus allowed the slander to stand, the people he had told not to make him known would begin to think that Jesus wasn’t really confident of his identity as the Promised Son of David. They would give up on him and never call on him to be “saved.” And Jesus’ story would never spread beyond the Jews to the rest of the world, leaving key prophecies about him unfulfilled.
Meanwhile, Jesus also knew that the evil-hearted Pharisees were conspiring to destroy him. He also knew that by speaking up now, it was likely they would make their move, which would have resulted in his death, but would have also bypassed the cross.
And so Jesus spoke up.
END OF PART 1