I was thinking about the word "abridged" recently (which Webster defines as deprived or condensed) as I picked up an abridged version of C.S. Lewis's The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and wondered what on earth they could cut out. Because it is a story I am so familiar with, because every scene is a small but important part of the whole, I can't imagine being satisfied with anything less. The abridged version would in my mind most certainly be deprived.
Gregory Wolfe, editor of Image, a journal exploring the arts and religion, tells a story about telling stories for his kids. He describes the memorable bedtimes when he attempts to concoct a series of original tales. "My kids are polite enough to raise their hands when they have some penetrating question to ask about plot, character, or setting," he writes. "If I leave something out of the story, or commit the sin of inconsistency, these fierce critics won't let me proceed until I've revised the narrative. Oddly enough, they never attempt to take over the storytelling. They are convinced that I have the authority to tell the tale, but they insist that I live up to the complete story that they know exists somewhere inside me."(1) Like my reaction to the incomplete version of the Narnian classic, children seem to detest a deficient story.
Yet there is no doubt that our sense of the guiding authority of story and storyteller often dramatically lessens as we move from child to adult. In the mind of the young adult, literary or biblical stories take an authoritative back seat (though they may remain enjoyable or even believed) as the awareness of their own story, of which they begin to think of themselves as the writers, emerges. Even when there is a desire to view our own stories in the context of a larger narrative (the Christian story or the secular humanist narrative for instance) the temptation to choose an abridged version is real. Choosing the parts of the bigger story that speak to our own lives is deemed both attractive and practical.
The book of Acts is largely concerned with documenting the stories of men and women in the context of the narrative of God. It is a detailed reminder that within the details of our lives is the image of a storyteller and the presence of story beyond our own. As Peter and John heal a man crippled from birth who was often seen begging outside the temple gates, the crowd is astonished. Seeing their reactions, Peter speaks directly to the confused and fragmented thoughts of the crowd. "You Israelites," he says, "why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you."(2)
The people of Acts want us to hear that the story we are a part of has a beginning, a middle, and an end. "Indeed," concludes Peter, "all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days.And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers." Our story lies somewhere within God's story. And like children, we were not meant to be satisfied with the abridged version, but to walk forward as heirs of the kingdom of the great unabridged storyteller.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Gregory Wolfe, Intruding Upon the Timeless: Meditations on Art, Faith, and Mystery (Square Halo Books: Baltimore, 2003), 81-82.
(2) Acts 3:12-16.