Friday, January 16, 2009

Hero of the Hudson: A Lesson in Narrative Theology

The recent heroics of Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger III on US Airways Flight 1549 are growing in fame. His hero status has (in under 24 hours, mind you) topped the national news with titles like "hero pilot," and has even spawned a facebook group honoring the "The Hudson River Hero." And, not to downplay Sullenberger's heroism, he clearly deserves our accolade for his obvious selfless acts, preparedness, and perfect execution of a crisis plan under crisis circumstances.

But all the hype makes me wonder, knowing the forgetfulness of our society, what the activity of that facebook group will be in a week... a month... or a year. Will Sully's phone be ringing off the hook with interview requests, book deals, and crazed fans after a few months have gone by? Only a rare few heroes of even the last century are still household names today.

After God had brought plagues on Egypt, parted the red sea, delivered manna and quail in the desert, and was preparing to drive out the Canaanite nations before Israel, He expressed His concern for the same forgetfulness in the hearts and minds of His people. "When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers," He warned, "be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Deut. 6:10-12).

God understood that, just as the heroics of Mr. Sullenberger, no matter how great, are at risk of being forever forgotten, so are the mighty miracles of God that demonstrate His character and His love for His people. How could Moses ensure that the children and grandchildren of the generation who witnessed all these things would not forget their God who did them? Just as we tend to forget the heroics of a crisis after the crisis is over and we rest comfortably in our armchair, so would Israel grow complacent as they rested comfortably in the land of milk and honey where God would establish their borders and bless them.

Herein lies the importance of narrative theology—the story behind the doctrines! About such "doctrinal" beliefs God told Moses to instruct the people: "In the future, when your son asks you, 'What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?' tell him: 'We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.' (Deut. 6:20-21). Tell these stories! God wants His fame to never be forgotten!

Fortunately, God is not a God who delivered us once and has left us be ever since. He is present with us, active in our lives. What stories will you tell your children about God? How has He been a hero in your life? How will they learn to revere His name and proclaim His fame?

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