Point of Reference

How do you tell a story without a point of reference?

point-of-referenceHow do you explain a truth to someone who has no similar point of reference without finding common ground to begin?

I remember reading the story by Edgar Rice Burroughs… He had become an inhaler of the pulp novels that were so popular back then and stated:

…if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines, that I could write stories just as rotten. (circa 1929)

So, he began writing and produced some worthy stories that are still enjoyed today. The most famous one I remember is “Tarzan of the Apes” (1912). In this book he tells how this hairless man-child, orphaned and adopted by a family of apes, in the jungles of another continent, he finally learned how to read through picture books left behind by his parents. Without comprehension of all the pictures, or an inkling of how to phonetically pronounce letters, or how to put letters together to pronounce word, he learned how to pronounce these letters and words and begin to speak a form of English that could be understood.

“By the time he was seventeen he had learned to read the simple, child’s primer and had fully realized  the true and wonderful purpose of the little bugs.” Burroughs, Edgar Rice. Tarzan of the Apes (p. 55). . Kindle Edition.

Those little bugs were the letters that appeared with every picture in the book. Magically, laboriously, he learned to read. His progress was rapid, and without coaching, training, or hearing another spoken word of language, his ability to reason helped him learn language that was as foreign to him as ape speak would be to you, or I.

A question was asked of me yesterday, “How would you introduce God to an alien without the use of the Bible?” A valid question, true, but not necessarily regarding the alien, of course. Do we not try to do this every day with our words and our public/private life? We hope we live Godly enough that someone will comprehend how different we are from the world surrounding us, and we hope our language of faith speaks of our great trust in God who watches over us daily.

Still. When we try to explain God we often fail without turning to a reference point.

This is a problem. Our reference point is founded upon our belief in God as we were taught, and as we found in the Word. The Bible. It becomes our reference point. For generations, man has written words about the truths within the bible, but mostly they simply add to the layer. Layer upon layer of language, descriptions, definitions and understanding that must be dug through in order to find the baseline Word of God.

Imagine those early characters found in the Word of God. Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, even Moses… None of these folks had the Word we take for granted. In fact, they are the reference point that we base our belief of God upon. Yet they lived for centuries without a book to hold in their hands. Though imperfect at times they still lived following God through the spoken story and example passed from one generation to the next.

This makes me pause, and ask again, how well are we telling the story of God to strangers, or even to our own family? Somewhere along the way we have created an industry telling us that the only way to comprehend God is via another man’s study from centuries ago. We think it takes high education and deep research to tell us what the Word says so simply. We accept their premise and never crosscheck their position. When they write about those foundation words, what do they really mean?

Love. Peace. Joy. Grace. Faith. Hope. Trust. Salvation. Sin vs sinless. Repent. Baptism. Born again. 

If you tell your story to a stranger who does not have the similar reference of the Word of God, then you have to teach and train the hearer to understand God’s definition of these words and not necessarily the way this world comprehends.

God tells Moses to write the story, and he does. Our bible finds its roots in a section called the Pentateuch. The Books of Moses. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” (Exodus 17:14 NKJV)

Repeatedly, God tells Moses to write. The Law. Covenant. Commandments. Write them in a book, on a post, on stones. Write them plainly. (Deuteronomy 27:8) Notice that. Plainly. It essentially means, “Make well known. Engraved.”

It takes time to explain plainly the Word of God. You have to be like Tarzan. Slowly. Laboriously. We get to add the other verbs to make sure it is successfully learned. Teach. Train. Share. Listen. Correct. Approve.

Remeber. It took us more than once to learn the letters of the alphabet, or the numbers to count as high as we could understand, and all those other things we learned in our multiple decades of school. We slowly learn the language of those tools we need in life. Formulas. Poems. Authors. Words. Definitions. Language. Science.

All of this takes time. Yet, too often we have only a single moment to example God to a stranger, and maybe not from a common reference point. 

What are you saying with your testimony? Think about it. This is really important. You may get only a single chance to share God with someone…