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12 Friends, 12 Stories

Think of the 12 people who know you best. They’re not necessarily your best friends. Some may know you well because they’ve been connected to you since you were young. They’ve seen everything from the curious toddler to the awkward teen and the confident adult and, thus, can easily identify the personality traits and core values that have survived and grown over the entire span of your life.

Some may clearly understand the person you are in certain situations, like work or school, but have no idea who you are outside those contexts. Others may have seen only how you function in intense times of challenge or crisis, times that tend to bring out the best and worst in us (sometimes from one minute to the next).

Still others may not have particularly deep knowledge of you, but do know who you are by breadth. These folks have seen how you behave in a variety of situations that make wide-ranging demands on your patience, skills, kindness, compassion, faith, and ability to honor God and the values by which you profess to live regardless of circumstances.

If you asked each of these people to tell your story, the tale of who you are, what would they say? What would they consider essential when telling your story? What would be peripheral? What would they leave out entirely?

Would their stories sound at all similar? Would the stories merge or conflict or both? Would you recognize the person you are now, or parts of the person you are now, in any or all of their stories?

Friends who have known you for decades may tell the funniest stories, offering the most moving and complete pictures of your life. Desiring more than anything else to honor their friend, these folks might be more inclined to leave out the slightly sullied or sordid stories that paint you in a less than flattering light.

Those with artistic gifts might express themselves in poetry or song. Persons of a more analytic bent might write a chronology of your experiences and accomplishments. While one lauds you melodiously in something like a minstrel’s epic tune, the other recalls your personal history in vivid detail complete with dates, places, and persons you have influenced.

Then there are those people who see into your heart with a profound understanding of what make you tick. They may not have known you as long as some have, but they get you. The stories they relate weave together your most basic beliefs and commitments in ways nearly identical to the way you would tell your own story.

The fact that these stories are radically dissimilar in content and format doesn’t make any one of them less true than another. Nor do their distinct tones and focal points make one better or worse than the others. They are simply the varied reflections of 12 well-meaning and sincerely motivated people who know you in different ways and to different extents.

It’s unlikely that we’d hear this collection of stories and think, “Which one of these people is lying?” or “That can’t be right! Are they even talking about the same person?” Far more likely, we’d say, “Wow! I had no idea that she’d accomplished so much,” or “I hadn’t thought of that before, but it’s totally him!”

Speakers can only speak from their own experience. Even though you asked each of these persons to tell your story, you didn’t place any limits on how the stories should be told. Differences in memory, intention, purpose, audience, context, and depth of knowledge in the minds of each speaker create the individual contours of each story. The fact that each person used their gifts and unique experience of you in the telling only makes for a more well-rounded and complete expression of who you are, an expression that one of these speakers alone could not possibly accomplish.  

So it is with the group of speakers, friends and acquaintances of God, who were inspired to tell God’s story in what has been preserved for us in the various books of the Bible. God asked each one to speak truthfully about Him. But He allowed them to speak and/or write out of their own experiences and to use their skills and gifts in telling the Divine story.

All of them, from one perspective or another, spoke of God as a faithful friend and ally. Some did so by creating a historical record of God’s dealings with His people (Moses, Luke). Others reported encounters with God in times of crisis and upheaval, whether of their own creating (Jonah) or in the world around them (Jeremiah). David sang holy songs to his God, hymns as much of praise and honor as of hope in desperation. Solomon reflected upon God’s beauty and goodness in poetry. The closest followers of Jesus told His story from their own viewpoints, stressing the facts about Him that moved them the most and motivated them to tell others about their dear Friend.

The fact that these stories differ in many ways doesn’t make any one of them truer than any of the others; nor does it mean that some are better or worse reflections of who God is than are the others. They are just the well-meaning and sincerely motivated words of people who God asked to tell His story, to speak about who He truly is, for His purposes and to the historical and spiritual audiences that God chose. The Spirit of God inspired each speaker to tell God’s story as they had experienced it and/or as it was revealed to them.

All these stories together give us a more well-rounded and complete picture of who God is and what He is about in this world than could any one of the stories on its own. The Bible as a whole can reach and further inspire faith and service in more people than could any one book on its own. That’s part of why God asked many friends to tell His story. He asks us to read the Bible’s accounts for encouragement and the building of our faith relationship with Him. Then, God asks us to tell His story from our experience.

What story about God will you tell?