Three Kinds of Stories: The Origin

At some point in high school you probably heard the maxim that there are really only three different kinds of stories, the rest is just window dressing (aka “details”). The three types are commonly listed as…

  • Human vs. Nature
  • Human vs. Human
  • Human vs. Self

Here’s the cool part: there really aren’t three kinds of stories at all. There’s only one story. The three kinds are just subplots.

Shamelessly lifted without permission from Strewth! by Josh Way. Hopefully he’ll forgive us if we send him some traffic:

Today I had the pleasure of leading a Bible study based on Gen 3:14-24. The story so far is this: after God creates a perfect world and lovingly places the crown of his creation, mankind, into a wonderful home, they disobey him. They break the one easy command he gave them, and sin enters the world. Yes, they were egged on by Satan (who had possessed a serpent), but the fault, ultimately, was with humans. Here’s where we pick up…

14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all the livestock
    and all the wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
    with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat of it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
 and to dust you will return.”

20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

See anything familiar here? Let the careful reader take note:

  • Human vs. Nature: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
  • Human vs. Human: “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
  • Human vs. Self: “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.”

That last one may take a little explaining. It’s a bit of holy irony on God’s part. Mankind is not so much like God anymore, because he now knows evil as something he must struggle against, indeed, as something that masters him unless the Lord calls him to a new life in faith. Thus, human vs. self.

But it’s not so much that the “three kinds of stories” have their origin in sin. The main point is this: the “three kinds” are subplots to the one, big, real story out there.

God said to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Of course, this is none other than the first promise of the Savior! And in fact, that is the story that drives the “three kinds” subplots, because God created each of the “three kinds” in order to remind mankind that we were not created for this kind of life. We were not created for a sinful, messed-up world where we struggle daily against our environment, each other, and our selves. No, we were created to live in peace and harmony with God, with all his creation, with each other, and with our selves. In fact, when properly told, the “three kinds” of stories amount to none other than the Law, the Law that drives sinners to cry out to God, “what must I do to be saved?”

The answer isn’t found in the subplots. It’s found in the main plot, which Jesus himself broke down for us about 2,000 years ago:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).


7 thoughts on “Three Kinds of Stories: The Origin

  1. So, you’re saying there’s really only one story: dealing with sin? I can see that — after all, if there’s no sin and no effects of sin, there’s hardly any good stories.

    Except — there were stories before the fall into sin, weren’t there? If there’d been no fall into sin, Adam and Eve would still tell their kids how they met. Adam could still talk about naming the animals. These are important stories, too!

    And in heaven I firmly believe we’ll still tell stories, though there they’ll really be ultimately for the glory of God in a perfect way!

    Of course, you’re not really talking about stories in a perfect world. You’re talking about stories in a sinful, fallen world. And because of where we live, every story will be tainted by sin — both in our telling, as well as those characters within our stories. So there will be sin — leading to conflict between humans, nature, and self. This is a neat way to “unify” the three types of conflict.

    It makes me wonder just how different the stories told in heaven will be…

    1. Good point that there are (or will be) “stories of perfection.” Here’s another mind-bender: will there be any conflict to speak of in our heavenly stories? Often what makes even a sublimely happy story greater than a recounting of facts is a surprising twist. Is “conflict” possible without sin? At first blush I’d say, “no,” but… I suppose I can’t say with total certainty.

      Of course, while there will be other kinds of stories in the life to come, I think I can still argue that there’s only one story for the here and now. It just depends on how well you tell it. And the best telling? The Bible.

      (Yes, I’m being far too clever, but what good is a hypothesis if you aren’t willing to back it up a little! :D)

      1. I think I have a short answer to that question: would it really be so bad for a general to retell the tales of his victories, long after the war is won?

  2. I guess I can’t back this up with a passage from Scripture, but there’s a song by Stephen Curtis Chapman where he sings:

    “Someday I’ll sit down with my angel friends up in heaven
    They’ll tell me about creation
    And I’ll tell them a story of grace.”

    That song has a ring of truth to me, that one of our joys in heaven will be to recount the wonders of God’s grace in our lives. It would be hard, though, to recount the utter joy we hold if we could not also recount how terrible life gripped by sin is.

    Then again, I can only conceive of this from the standpoint of a sinful man living in a sinful world. I don’t know what it will mean to live without sin. As the Lord proclaims in Revelation: “Behold, I am making all things new!” Perhaps the very way we tell stories in heaven will be completely new.

    1. Moses and Elijah talked to Jesus about what he was about to do — which was die for their own sins! Granted, the transfiguration probably isn’t “normal operating procedure” for heaven, but that might give us a hint…!

  3. Brandon, I always think of 1 Peter 1:10-12 when I hear that one.

    (Copied from for your convenience:

    10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

    NIV 84 version)

    That may be where that song is based. Not sure. Could be that he just liked the picture.

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