Whether This Really Happened

Recently, we told on this website a story we titled “The Brown Bag Christmas.” We specified very plainly that Carrie Fuller had shared with our Sunday School class this story from her own family, and we clearly spelled out that the small child in the story is her own grandmother. What is fascinating about that is that soon afterwards, I began receiving e-mails from people asking, “Did that really happen?”

I was glad to see that other websites and some publications picked up the story and adapted it to their purposes and reprinted it. Most chose to leave out the Carrie Fuller connection. The bad thing about that is that this wonderful and authentic story now lives in cyberspace and just like thousands of other tales which may or may not be true, this one is now circling the earth without proper identification. People will read it and think, “Just another Christmas myth,” and let it go at that. And I hate that. I grant you it’s a nice story and perhaps not of earth-shaking magnitude, but this whole thing symbolizes a larger issue for me.

People need to know whether a story is true. Someone inside us wants to know. Did this happen? Are these people real? Can I count on this? Or did someone just make this up?

They used to ask John F. Kennedy, Jr., whether he remembered his father and if he recalled playing around the desk in the Oval Office. He said something like, “I have a hard time knowing whether I’m actually remembering those things or I’m remembering something I’ve seen a hundred times on television.”

A half-dozen years ago, Fred Rochlin published a book (“Man in a Baseball Cap” by HarperCollins) containing stories of World War II which he had shared with his family over the years. It’s a typical war story, well-told and interesting, but the small book ends with an admission I’ve never seen anywhere else. Here it is verbatim.

“I remember flying from Dakar in the Senegal across the Sahara Desert through the Zagora Pass into Marrakech, Morocco. We were low on fuel. We landed at this dusty town, Timbuktu, mud huts, everyone speaking French. American Air Force fuel depot. Thousands of barrels of fifty-gallon, one hundred octane aviation fuel. We had cold beers. Refueled, took off, flew through the Zagora Pass, through the Atlas Mountains and into Marrakech. I remember all this with pristine clarity.”

“It never happened. I checked my old navigator log. We didn’t land to refuel. We flew right through the Zagora Pass. And we wouldn’t have refueled at Timbuktu anyway. Too far away from the course of our flight. So, where did that memory of that dusty French African town come from?”

“My memory, it’s accurate and false at the same time. It’s complex and simple. It changes constantly, often just to fit the circumstance. And yet, all this time I know I’m telling the truth because I’m relying on my memory.”

As a pastor, I’ve noticed that you can tell some stories over and over for decades and soon they become such a part of you. Your mind thinks you experienced those things, that you lived that tale, when all you were doing was relating what had occurred to someone else.

This is not a new development, this business of accidentally embellishing the truth or inadvertently creating our own versions of truth and calling them God’s. The Apostle Peter wrote, “We did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” (II Peter 1:16)

You were eyewitnesses? That’s good. You’re not passing along tales you heard repeated around campfires, stories with so many layers and versions and accretions that have built up over the years that finding the kernel of truth deep inside would be impossible.

However, we know that one’s memory can be faulty, that what one thinks he knows may turn out to be different from the way it was. So, Peter continues.

“And we heard this voice when it came from Heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic word strongly confirmed. You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dismal place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. First of all, you should know this: no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, moved by the Holy Spirit, men spoke from God.” (II Peter 1:18-21 HCSB)

We have something stronger than our own experience, Peter says; we have Holy Scripture.

I submit to you that the story of Jesus Christ and the Gospel of grace which the Bible presents is the most solid and most dependable of any story ever told, any claim ever made, and any promise ever uttered.

But you’ll have to read it for yourself to determine that. “Come and see” is a popular invitation found throughout Scripture, and it applies here. Come check it out.

Read the Bible for yourself.

Don’t take my word for it. My memory is not what it used to be. In fact, it never was.