One Simple Concept that Changed How I Read the Bible

This is not hyperbole: a few years ago I heard of one simple concept that has changed how I read the Bible. Not only that, it has also changed how I view my life and my relationship with God.

And this is coming from a person who has spent a majority of his adult life in college and seminary studying the Bible.

Big deal, right?

Here it is:

There is an Upper Story and a Lower Story.

Upper Story and Lower Story

A few years ago our church did a sermon series called The Story. For 31 weeks we walked our people through the storyline of the Bible—from Creation to New Creation. This series was based on a book called The Heart of the Story, written by Randy Frazee. And in this book he introduces the Upper Story and the Lower Story.

The Lower Story is the events we see from a human perspective. It is a story of triumph and tragedy, of promotions and job loss, of life and death and everything in between. There is no broader perspective; we just react to the events that happen to us and our loved ones. Like an autobiography, the Lower Story is the story of our lives, as told by us.

The Upper Story, on the other hand, is the story of those same events, but viewed from God’s perspective. It is a much grander perspective, with deeper meaning and purpose. It is not a story of reacting to events, but of events that happen for a reason.

Upper Story and Lower Story in the Bible

The Upper and Lower Stories can be seen throughout the Bible. In fact, biblical authors are commonly flipping between the two. Think about Job and how the narrative literally switches between the Lower Story (Job suffering) and the Upper Story (the Throneroom of God). All of Job’s speeches reflect his confidence in God’s Upper Story, that there are deeper things going on.

One of my favorite illustrations of the Upper and Lower Stories is found in the story of Elijah fleeing Jezebel (1 Kings 19). Elijah arrives at Sinai distraught because he is the only prophet of God left, and it seems as though his time is up. From a Lower Story perspective, the picture cannot get any worse for him: Jezebel is bent on destroying him. But God then gives Elijah a glimpse of the Upper Story picture: God has succession plans in place and ready to enact. Moreover, He tells Elijah that there are 7,000 others in Israel who are ready to take Elijah’s place. To Elijah it seemed as though God was not moving, but when he sees a glimpse of the Upper Story, he finds that God has been working all along.

In Our Story

Our awareness—or lack of awareness—of what is happening in God’s Upper Story can be frustrating. But just because we don’t know all that is taking place in the Upper Story doesn’t mean things aren’t happening. John Piper said it well in this tweet:

When we are thinking about our story, we need to remember that we can only see a glimpse of the full story. We may never know how God is using our circumstances to bring about His will. All we can do is handle what He gives us in the Lower Story, and pray for His Upper Story to work its way out.

Brandon Schmidt

I am Brandon Schmidt: writer, husband, father, brother, reader, and laugher.