Our biography

I read a book about Peter the Great recently and interested some and bored others by sharing my enthusiasm for the great man. Why do we like to hear the story of illustrious men and women? The obvious answer is that we see in them something of ourselves: the best of what we are or would like to be. We also, of course, follow the stories of evil men and see what we could have been. These stories are mirrors in which we see how we look and what we might do about it.

Few people have books written about them but in a sense there is a book that is about all of us. It is our biography. I mean the bible. It is full of heroes and villains; Moses and Pharaoh, David and Goliath, Joseph and Herod. Children’s bible stories pick out the best bits, full of action and contrast where the humble win out against the proud and powerful.

As we grow older we go deeper, for example, into the stories of Elijah and the oracles of Isaiah. We learn not only the story of Christmas but the signs of Jesus and the teaching he draws from them. The passion is not just a drama but our drama, our life. We follow Paul as he tirelessly trudges the roads of Asia Minor and battles with the headwinds of the Mediterranean. We see him rejected, frustrated, attacked, stoned, flogged and imprisoned. We begin to see it is our story or at least the story of many of our contemporaries.

And we try to grasp the climax: ‘Yes, it is true; the Lord has risen …and they stood there dumbfounded’ (Luke 24:34, 41). This bit just doesn’t fit. We know what suffering is, frustration, humiliation. But joy, lasting joy – what is that? Is it credible? Is it part of my life, my story? I may say it is, search for it, but do I find it. That bit is pure gift. We cannot create joy. We can have a party, we can celebrate but we cannot plan joy no more than Solomon could with all his glory (Luke 12:27).

So there it is: my story. My origins (Gen 1:27) and childhood (I Cor 13:11); how I was punished when I deserved it (Lam 1:14) or when I was innocent (I Pet 2:19); how I grew (2 Cor 4:17) until my eyes were opened (John 9: 11) and I became the friend of God (John 15:15) and how this led me to share his sufferings (Phil 3:10) and what remains is to share his glory (I Cor 2:9).

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