Simply put, a narrative is a story or an account. This may sound innocent enough, but narratives can be a very powerful as they often drive people and behavior. People or groups that seek power usually have a desire to shape or control the narrative in order to affect the behavior of those who hear their story. Let’s take some time today to look at external and internal narratives.
Even though it may be obvious, I think it's important to state that words which come from around us are external narratives. These stories can come packaged in nearly any format from a written article, a video documentary, a movie (or TV show), a chapter in a textbook or even a question that leads us to the conclusion the one asking the question desires us to arrive at.
Advertising narratives often communicate “Purchase this product for a better, more smooth life.” Narratives promoted by a cause or interest often say “This is so important it deserves your time, energy and financial backing.” Social narratives say “The majority of your neighbors tolerate this idea, so you should too.”
When you strip everything away, external narratives say “buy”, “support”, “think” or “believe” and often relate to political, social, economic or religious ideas.
Last week I wrote about The Fall and God’s curse found in Genesis 3. It is clear that in this account, The Serpent resisted God’s Word and took control of the conversation with Eve by simply asking “Has God indeed said...?” Eve stumbled as soon as she listened to the voice that was pushing the wrong message — and the message was simply The Serpent promoting his own narrative to her.
Like Eve, Nehemiah also encountered false words, but with a different result. After returning to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, Nehemiah encountered resistance from various enemies including men named Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem. Sanballat repeatedly tried to shape the news and narrative to fit his own selfish needs while disparaging Nehemiah.
Nehemiah did not “buy in” to the fear and lies of the different narratives that Sanballat confronted him with — rather Nehemiah stayed true to The Lord and the spiritual task at hand! Nehemiah shows us that it is possible to resist and even reject the enemy’s make believe stories.
When the stories that surround us enter in (through our ears or eyes) and are received, they change from an external to an internal narrative. External narratives can place a lot of pressure to act upon someone, but I feel that internal narratives are even more potent. Think of it this way — which more believable, the story someone else tells you or the story you tell yourself?!
People naturally operate off of their internal narratives. Let me give you a personal example. I have never been adept at mechanical tasks or inclined to learn in this area. For 30+ years of my life, a simple project like changing a bicycle inner tube and tire was intimidating to me. I eventually got to the point where I told myself "I can’t do it. I can’t learn." That was a convenient narrative (especially when I could just lazily ask someone to replace the tire for me) but somewhere along the line I started thinking differently. I asked myself "Why do I believe what I believe? Why can’t I do it? Why can’t I at least try and see what happens? God gave me a well designed and useful brain, right? So why can’t I at least try?" Guess what, I tried and was able to change the inner tube and tire! My old internal narrative was false. Simply put, I was lying to myself! I was operating off of my own internal and false narrative and it STUNK! I don't want to operate this way anymore and I hope that you don't either!
Most examples of internal narrative that I think of begin with “I”. “I can’t...”, “I have to...”, “I want to...”, “I’ve never seen...before”, or “that’s never been done before.”
When we go back to Genesis 3, I believe we see both the moment and the thought process that led from The Serpent’s false narrative to the point where Eve ingested (or internalized) his stories (lies) and then began acting upon them (see Genesis 3:6).
There is Another Message
Take heart! Narratives aren’t the only option. There is another kind of communication that doesn’t come from around or from within, rather it comes from above. It’s not a story, a narrative or fabrication — it is The Truth. God always speaks The Truth. His Word is True. Always.
Oftentimes both internal and external narratives are in conflict with God's Word, but stories are lies and His Word is true. Take Abraham (at 100 years of age) and barren Sarah (at 90 years of age) for example. The external narrative says “She is past childbearing age, not to mention her body doesn’t work properly. It a’int happenin’.” Abraham’s internal narrative sounded similar
God’s response (remember, He doesn’t speak stories or narratives, He only speaks The Truth) was
Remember and consider that Abraham, Sarah and Isaac’s lives played out just as The Lord promised — after all, He cannot lie!
How About You?
Where do you stand today? Are you being swayed by the popular social and political narratives of 2017? Do you tell yourself lies/stories and then operate off of them? Would you rather believe what you tell yourself, or God’s Word? Let’s choose to receive His Truth (which is The Only Truth) and to reject deadly narratives!
Verses about external narratives: Proverbs 1:10-19, Matthew 24:23-27 and Job 1:6-12
Verses about internal narratives: Genesis 6:5, Judges 21:25, Jeremiah 16:12 and Jeremiah 17:9
Verses about God’s True Word: Numbers 23:19, Psalm 12:6-7 and Psalm 33:4