Viewpoint: Gospel Is a Treasury of Stories

Contributed By the Church News

  • 18 January 2015

Stories are used in the gospel to draw attention and teach principles.

Article Highlights

  • The gospel of Jesus Christ uses stories to teach lasting principles and lessons.
  • The Church is home to thousands of faith-promoting stories that can inspire and motivate.

“We have in the Church an untapped, almost unknown, treasury of inspiring and faith-promoting stories. They are the best of their kind and there are thousands of them.” —Elder Bruce R. McConkie 

The gospel of Jesus Christ is, in large measure, a gospel of stories—stories that illustrate and illuminate, stories that inspire and encourage, stories that build faith and foster assurance, stories that reprove and admonish on occasion.

Writing in the New Era magazine of July 1978, while he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: “We have in the Church an untapped, almost unknown, treasury of inspiring and faith-promoting stories. They are the best of their kind and there are thousands of them.

“One reason they are the best and most faith-promoting stories is because they were selected and edited by the Lord Himself. They are the ones He had His prophets choose and place in the holy scriptures so that we could have samples before us of how to act and what to do in all the circumstances that confront us in life.

“They are stories of real people who faced real problems and who solved them in a way that was pleasing to the Lord. They have been preserved for us so that we will know how to act and what to do in all the affairs of our daily lives.”

In addition to the factual stories that Elder McConkie alluded to here, there are numerous parables of Jesus, such as the Good Samaritan, and symbolic or allegorical allusions that pervade the scriptures, such as the allegory of the tame and wild olive trees in Jacob 5–6 in the Book of Mormon.

Stories that inspire and motivate are not limited to ancient scripture.

“There is, of course, nothing wrong with telling a modern faith-promoting story,” Elder McConkie wrote in the above-cited article, “one that has happened in our dispensation, one that occurred in the lives of living people who we know, whose voice we can hear, and whose spirit we can feel.”

There is an easily discernible reason why so much of gospel truth is presented in narrative form and why the Master Himself used storytelling in His teaching.

Briefly stated, we give ear and respond well to stories. Often, at the pulpit or in the classroom, a teacher can gain renewed attention from listeners by launching into an appropriate and well-told story. Many a parent has calmed an unruly child by reading or telling a tale.

Good stories are interesting, even entertaining, and they are memorable. They solidify principles and concepts in our minds through illustration, and they leave a lasting impression.

Ironically, the Savior used stories both to illuminate and to veil His messages. Asked on one occasion by His disciples why He spoke to the multitudes in parables, He replied:

“Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath” (Matthew 13:11–12).

There is much to ponder in this response from the Master Teacher. He seems to be saying here that His parables are a means of conveying hidden treasures of knowledge to the faithful, to the spiritually minded, to the teachable, to seekers of truth.

Much can be gained from the spiritual and intellectual exercise of pondering over a parable to discover its meaning. When one has thus paid the price, the reward comes in the form of enlightenment, like a light being suddenly switched on in a darkened room.

Often, one sees perceived truth in a parable that one has already begun to understand in other ways.

After giving the above response to His disciples, Jesus went on to explain His parable of the sower. It describes the way His words are received by various groups of people: the prideful, the easily offended, the distracted, and the humble and teachable (see Matthew 13:18–23).

A similar message is conveyed in the scene played out in the dream of the iron rod, the tree of life, and the great and spacious building experienced both by Lehi and his son Nephi (see 1 Nephi 8).

Like the parables, actual events in the scriptures carry precious, sometimes hidden, meaning. In 1 Nephi 3:7, Nephi tells his father, Lehi, that he is willing to do “the things which the Lord hath commanded,” explaining that the Lord prepares ways to accomplish the things He commands.

In our everyday lives, this scripture has great power in times of trial and when we face challenges. Just as with Nephi, the Lord will, as faith is exercised, prepare ways to accomplish tasks and overcome challenges.

Indeed, many of the events of the Old Testament teach of the mission of Christ. The commandment given to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, for example, was a type relating to the atoning sacrifice of Christ (see Hebrews 11:17–19). The story of the prophet Jonah in the belly of the fish, among the various concepts it taught, symbolized the death and resurrection of our Lord (see Matthew 12:39–41).

Taken together, the stories in scripture—and in our latter-day history as the Lord’s covenant people—tell of His goodness and mercy in all ages. As Moroni wrote in a Book of Mormon passage quoted to virtually every prospective convert to the Church of Jesus Christ: “Remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts” (Moroni 10:3).

May the treasury of inspiring stories help us to do that.