God the Storyteller: Why We Should Value Happy Stories

Have you ever read a poem or a story, eagerly awaiting that climactic, often tragic, moment, only to find it never comes? Most likely you thought How boring! and quickly moved on from the happy tale. There are not many of these happy stories in existence, mainly because it’s easier to write tragic stories. It’s harder to make a story interesting when it’s about a happy ordinary person, than when it’s about a troubled or sad ordinary person.

It’s like Leo Tolstoy’s opening line in his great novel Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

When people are happy, it’s usually for the same reasons – they have a great job, their family is still together and loving, they have great friends, everything is going well. But people who are unhappy, those who we write tragic stories or poems about, they are never unhappy for the same reason – and that’s what makes the story interesting.

When I was younger, I used to wish that something tragic would happen to me – a car accident or a kidnapping (always with happy endings, of course) – because I wanted my life to be more interesting. I wanted my life to be a story that other people would want to read. I had a pretty normal life growing up, so I thought that if something unusual happened, my life would be better. I was dissatisfied with living a happy, normal life, and I suspect I’m not the only one who has ever felt that way.

But what does this feeling say about our view of God?

We don’t like stories that don’t have some tragic element in them, yet God is the ultimate storyteller, and He is writing each of our lives’ stories. Each life is unique, but there are those that aren’t tragic – the ones that we think are boring. But God is deeply interested in even those boring stories. He wrote them, so how can He think they are boring? How can any of our lives be boring or dull or normal with God as the author?

Have you ever thought that you could write your life story better than God can? This is just because you do not know what coming. Think back on the past ten years of your life. Did you ever see yourself where you are today? Chances are, you didn’t, and maybe you see that as a good thing but maybe you see that as a bad thing. Either way, you could never have orchestrated your life to land you where you are today. And you can’t work out all the details and direct your life to where it will be in another ten years. You don’t see how your life relates to other people’s live or how their lives relate to yours – you don’t see the big picture. You can’t know the best way your life can play out. Only God does. And you can’t judge His writing because you don’t know the ending yet. Your favorite part in the story could still be yet to come.

So how can we trust God to write our stories in the most interesting way possible? I thank God that I haven’t experienced any major tragedies in my life, but sometimes I still feel like my life, if written down, would make a boring story. Trust is hard, especially when you feel disappointed with life. But perhaps it would be easier if we realized that all of those happy families that Tolstoy mentions are not all alike. They may be similar, but God has made each one unique in some way – and He is interested in each one. If we were more interested in the stories and poems that describe happy, normal people – if we tried to figure out what made them unique in their happiness – maybe then we would also be interested in our seemingly mundane lives. God wants us to be happy; it’s not a bad thing, yet we treat happy people as if they weren’t interesting people. God doesn’t create boring stories, and He has authored each of our lives. We should live life trusting God with that job, and we should treat other people’s lives as a manifestation of His great creativity.

  • Kim

    Great post, Stephanie!

    Timothy Keller says (paraphrased) “We live in the first era of history that considers ‘happy endings’ to be works of inferior art. Fairy tales are considered for children only. Why? The modern world is sure that ultimate reality is not expressed through a happy ending. Life is not like that! Life is full of brokenness and paradox and irony and frustration…

    Stories resonate deeply because they witness to the fact that deep down we know some things are important and true and right and good. But the stories point to it and evoke it but they don’t define it. However, in the gospel story, of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have the ‘myth that became a fact.’ The Jesus story is not one more myth pointing to the underlying reality, but it is the underlying reality to which all the stories point….

    In no way is the gospel story ‘saccharine’ or sentimental. The ‘happy ending’ of the resurrection is so enormous, that it swallows up even the Cross. It is so great that it can admit the depth of the sorrow and brokenness of life…Indeed, the gospel story takes evil and loss more seriously than anyone else, because it says that we cannot save ourselves. Nothing short of the death of the very Son of God can save us…

    If we disbelieve the gospel and we weep at the happy ending of some story, we will slowly sour, because our minds tell us ‘life is not really like that.’ But if we believe the gospel then we both make stories and take in stories with even greater wonder, mirth and joy. Our hearts slowly heal as we make and listen to and weep at stories (both tragedies and fairy tales!) because we know life is like that – because of Him!”