Over the holiday, I’ve been reading Long Story Short: The Bible in Six Simple Movements by Joshua McNall. It’s a very enlightening little read for anyone who enjoys the Bible, reading, or storytelling, and I gifted it to my mom and my friend because I enjoyed it so much.
As I was reading through the third chapter about the nation of Israel, one idea really struck me. McNall describes the enslavement of God’s family as a means of teaching them how it feels to be exploited. They are treated as less than human so that as they rise in power they will, you know, not do the same thing to other people (he makes this case well and in far better language than I can).
This makes absolute sense to me when you consider the scale at which a God of all the Universe must view things. Four hundred years or so is but a blip on the cosmic radar, and slavery an unpleasant scar. But my mind kept wandering back to a generation within that time. I imagined a single person born, living, and dying with a whip at his back and a yoke across his shoulders.
For that man, there was no future of freedom. There was, however, a purpose. Not for him, but for his descendants. For his people.
I’m writing a story that pulls most of its lessons from history, condensing and distilling the broader lessons learned by humanity and tying them into nice little character arcs. This idea of a single person in the sea of Israel the Nation has inspired me to explore the characters for whom things did not pan out, the ones who missed their chance, or who perhaps chose comfort over destiny, in order for my main characters to end up where they needed to be for the story to begin.
This means broken hearts, failures, addiction, repeating patterns of abuse. It means that sometimes the father becomes his father so that his son can become more. That some characters are born, live, and die without fulfilling their potential.
Because sometimes the story is tragic. Sometimes we experience things not for ourselves but for the benefit of others. Sometimes we are lost, not because that is our destiny, but because we are destined to share our pain with someone who needs our support.
Sometimes our story is bigger than ourselves.
So to anyone who today is suffering, is crying out to their God, or is wondering “why me?”: I’m not sure there is a fair answer. But I believe we connect best to one another through tragedy, that empathy is born from the fires of suffering. That we start from the bottom so that one day we can say: “Now we here.” That, perhaps, we are treated by life as less than human so that as we rise in power we won’t do the same thing to other people.
In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Experience is a brutal teacher, but you learn. My God, do you learn.”