The start to any great adventure is Worldbuilding. A story is simply a story until you are immersed in the world in which it takes place. To feel the mud squishing between your toes, the sun warming your body as the cool air softly caresses your face, bringing with it the sharp stench of the unwashed brute walking next to you (the real world is rarely all sunshine and roses). It is these details that solidify these moments in our memory. It’s the same with Bible study. We often jump into a section of scripture without understanding the surroundings and culture in which it takes place. We must “breathe the same air” if we’re to truly connect with what it is that we’re reading. Spending the time to understand the world that you’re studying will help you to remember the small details, feel the emotion and understand what’s truly happening instead of superimposing our culture/world onto theirs. This will deepen our understanding and help cement God’s Word in our mind in a way that we’ve often missed.
“The king’s health gave witness to his hard earned years. His body, shaking from an unseen chill, despite the warm sun blanketing his bed. There were whispers throughout the palace about the fate of the nation. This was only the second true king to sit on the throne and he was truly like no other. The beloved king. A hero and giant killer! Even as a young boy he was known throughout the nation…and the nations of their enemies. He displayed courage well beyond his years and stature but did not fail to deliver on his bold words. And yet, despite his many heroic deeds, the king was as well known for his tender heart. He cared for his people as he cared for his father’s sheep as a young boy. He seemed to go out of his way to pursue peace among his people as passionately as he pursued his enemies on the battlefield. Even in attempts to take his throne, as well as resistance to his taking it in the first place, it was very clear that this king was established not by his own might but by his God. So what is now to become of this nation as the time of his reign wanes. The crown has yet to be passed on and they had seen many other nations rise and fall with the passing of a ruler. The hard fought peace from their many enemies was largely due to this blessed warrior who is now unable to even keep himself warm. They had been enslaved before, as well as having lived for years as vagabonds without a home. Memories of warfare, hunger, brutality and despair permeate the nation. The nation quaked in fear as the king trembled on his bed.”
This example is actually based on 1 King’s 1:1. “Now King David was old, advanced in years; and they put covers on him, but he could not get warm.” (NKJV) It is easy to jump into a study on 1 Kings and simply begin reading without understanding the backstory. It is imperative that we enter INTO the story. Here are a few tips for how to include “Worldbuilding” into your Bible Study:
- Read “backstory” – If you are doing a study on 1 Kings, read 2 Samuel to get a better understanding of King David, his family and the nation. If you read 1 Samuel you will also understand more of what the nation went through as it received its first king and what it was like under his reign. The more that you understand of the backstory the more you will realize the weight that even a simple verse like 1 Kings 1:1 conveys. You can even go back and read about the nation of Israel from it’s beginnings in Genesis with the lens of where it will be in 1 Kings. This will often reveal the depth of God’s promises and warnings as you see them from the future side. So much can be plumbed from depths of one verse and you can’t read too much of God’s Word.
- Study the characters – I will elaborate a bit on this in another article but character studies are crucial to building a world in which we connect. This is where we engage not just the mind but the heart. Take time to truly understand each character that you come across. Where did they come from, what has their life been like until now, what is there motivation for what they are saying or doing, how are they connected to the other people in the story, how are they feeling throughout the story? By asking these questions we are able to understand why they make the choices that they make. We are able to see them, not as a name on the page long dead, but as a contemporary. If we have learned anything from Marvel and DC movies it is that character development is important!
- Study the history – There is so much historical information about the cities, nations and cultures. It is easy to think of these places and people as antiquated and out of date with no real connection to our lives, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”. It changes things when you realize that Jesus Christ was born during the rule of Julius Ceasar’s grand-nephew (who he adopted). Or that the city of Ephesus was a bustling metropolis with running water throughout the city. We cannot disconnect the Biblical world that we study from its surroundings. These facts give us a deeper and better understanding of the message. These details didn’t need to be written down for the New Testament audience because they were well aware of what Roman life was like in the first century. It is up to us to use the abundant amount of information at our fingertips to understand the world in which God’s Word was written. This is not as hard as it seems. We love movies like Troy, Gladiator and 300, not to mention documentaries on Roman life and leaders. Reality is often stranger than fiction. We don’t have to make things up to make God’s Word interesting.
- Get into character – It drives me insane to hear God’s Word read in a monotone, emotionless voice. I can assure you that the apostle Paul was extremely animated and often loud while reciting letters to a scribe. There is punctuation for a reason. Paul was passionate in his love (and anger and frustration) for God’s people. Realize that when the religious leaders mock Jesus’ parentage (basically calling him a bastard and the son of a whore, John 8:1-59) it probably had a particular tone. This was not a gentle discussion. His response was probably not spoken in the bored, unattached inflection that is often used in reading the passage aloud. Know what you are reading! The Word of God is living and active and should be read accordingly.
- Use visuals – Once again, I’ll elaborate more in another article but D&D is often more than just theater of the mind. Create maps to show where people and nations were located as you tell the story. Use miniatures and models to show relativity to the size of the temple, competing nations, or a shepherd boy vs a giant. Some things need to be seen or experienced to truly appreciate.
Interestingly, none of this should be strange to a Dungeon Master (DM). In order to run an adventure, you must have a solid understanding of the world and the characters that are a part of it. Running a Bible study is no different. Do your homework, it will show if you have or not.
One word of warning. Stick to the facts. This is where D&D and Bible study divide and go their separate ways. In fantasy, we can create a world of our own imagination, adjusting characters and stories as we go. In Bible study we are discovering the truth of real people, places and interactions. We cannot simply roll a die to see what happens because those die rolled long ago. While we can enter into the mind and position of the character to better understand it, we are never in the driver’s seat. Their destiny has set in stone.
I pray that you will enjoy re-discovering the world which God has created and the vibrant stories that can teach us so much of His character and His will for our lives. If you need help or have questions just ask!