Session 1: God's Authorship
Creating a community isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. To meet with a group, get to know the individuals, and acquire cognitive facts about them definitely helps you build community, but these components on their own don’t guarantee real community.
It’s also helpful to know certain principles that contribute to deep, rich community. This study will address some of those principles, but even knowing them isn’t enough. Something more is necessary, but it’s hard to obtain because it can’t be measured or quantified. This essential element is trust.
So the goal of this study is for group members to pursue new depths of trust with each other out of a common commitment to discovering God’s authorship in their own lives. Instead of just studying the concept of biblical community, your group will work through a tool called “Life Story” to build trust and establish community. As you work through “Life Story,” you will first examine your life and then present it to others as stories authored by God.
But first, what does it mean to say that God is the Author of your life?
Individual Aim: To recognize that each person’s life is a story authored by God.
Group Aim: To discuss God’s authorship of people’s lives and the responsibility individuals have for their own actions and choices.
Read Session 1: God’s Authorship.
Read Life Story: Introduction beginning on page 61.
Read Life Story: Step A beginning on page 63.
It’s been said that the most powerful words are “Once upon a time.” The listener immediately perks up and wants to hear what will follow. Whether fictional or historical, a well-told story has dramatic impact. Some of our most vivid memories of Scripture are stories: David and Goliath, Daniel and the lions’ den, Jesus walking on the water. Jesus understood the power of stories and used parables as one of His main methods of teaching. He used stories to communicate with His followers in a meaningful and life-changing way.
Stories can communicate meaning far more powerfully than most people realize. When people begin telling stories from their own life experience, you can sense the emotion in their voice. Often you can observe more excitement or intensity in their words when they tell personal stories. That’s why telling stories about experiences that have most influenced and shaped your life is a deeply personal exercise. Taken together, those most significant stories are “your story.” Do you realize that you have a story? Even more important, do you know that your story reflects the authorship of God?
In order to genuinely be a part of a community, you must be able to tell your story. People must be exposed to your happenings and your heart. But in a Christian community, telling personal stories will always include, as a crucial component, your experience of God’s providence, salvation, and sanctification. To tell stories in this manner, you need to learn to observe what God has been doing in your life. The result will be an act of worship as you express and respond to expressions of God’s goodness and love.
This study’s fundamental exercise, “Life Story,” answers the question “How has God authored my story up to this point in my life?” This question immediately raises more questions:
- How does God’s sovereignty fit with the freewill decisions that have shaped my past?
- What does God’s authorship really mean?
- Has God written a screenplay through which I must simply walk with little or no control over the outcome? Or am I a player on a stage with no script at all?
Though at times you might like to subscribe to one of the views suggested in the last question, neither scenario is accurate. Humans are inherently limited in their ability to understand how divine sovereignty and human responsibility (also known as predestination versus free will) fit together. So as you and your group review the events in your lives and speak of God authoring your stories, try to avoid blaming God for any painful or sinful actions of others or yourselves. On the other hand, don’t ignore God’s control of the events.
Consider the life of Joseph. He was able to rightly reconcile his brothers’ sinful actions—which really and negatively affected his life—with God’s control over his life. In Genesis 45:4-5 he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” And in Genesis 50:19-20 he said, “Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Regarding Joseph and his statements, theologian D. A. Carson comments,
He (Joseph) did not picture the event as wicked human machination into which God intervened to bring forth good. Nor did he imagine God’s intention had been to send him down there with a fine escort and a modern chariot but that unfortunately the brothers had mucked up the plan and so poor Joseph had to go down there as a slave. Rather, in one and the same event, God was operating and His intentions were good, and the brothers’ intentions were evil.
Scripture doesn’t try to explain how these conflicting intentions are compatible; it merely states that they are.
Perhaps no event displays this conundrum more than the death of Christ. Peter prayed this regarding the death of Christ: “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:27-28). In the same action, Herod, Pilate, the Romans, and the Jews committed the greatest miscarriage of justice in the history of the world. Yet this atrocious act fit with God’s plan. Again, Carson’s insight is helpful in highlighting the significance of this concept in our doctrine:
A moment’s reflection discloses that any other account of what happened would destroy Christianity. If the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is pictured solely in terms of the conspiracy of the local political authorities at the time, and not in terms of God’s plan (except perhaps that He decided at the last moment to use the death in a way He Himself had not foreseen), then this means the Cross was an accident of history. If it were an accident cleverly manipulated by God in His own interests, but not part of the divine plan, then the entire pattern of antecedent predictive revelation would be destroyed (including the Day of Atonement, the Passover lamb, the sacrificial system, and so forth). On the other hand if a person stresses God’s sovereignty in Jesus’ death, exulting that all the participants “did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (4:28), while forgetting that it was a wicked conspiracy, then Herod, Pilate, Judas Iscariot, and the rest are exonerated of evil. If God’s sovereignty means that everyone under it is immune from charges of transgression, then there is no sin for which atonement is necessary. So why the Cross? Either way, the Cross is destroyed.
As you begin to explore your story in detail, you will face the same issue of human responsibility and God’s sovereignty. Inevitably, events in your life will seem inconsistent with God’s authorship. Sinful choices, others’ cruelty, rejection, disappointment, sickness, and even death mark everyone’s life. Exploring your life can turn into an exercise of bitterness if you blame God for such events and actions. You can also go astray or feel disillusioned if you label “good” those things that God would never call “good.” By faith, you must recognize that all of the events in your life are compatible with God’s sovereignty. Some of those events require faith that God is in control. The compatibility between your free will and God’s sovereignty will not always answer your questions. Instead, the mysterious compatibility of the two can cause you to recognize and accept both that God is in control over the world and that humans still exercise their own responsibility.
To reap the benefits of your story, you must believe in God’s power in all of life. As Paul explained to the Athenians, “The God who made the world and everything in it . . . he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. . . . ‘For in him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:24-25,28).
You can submit intellectually to the compatibility between human responsibility and God’s sovereignty, but that doesn’t always ease the emotions of grappling with the hard parts of your story. As you begin to think and pray through your life, ask God to use this exercise to strengthen your faith in Him as the Author of your story.
Complete Life Story: Step A beginning on page 63.
Read Session 2: Experiences and Relationships.
Read Life Story: Step B beginning on page 73.