Q: Max, your newest book is called Cast of Characters: Common People in the Hands of an Uncommon God. Where did the title Cast of Characters come from?
Well, the title Cast of Characters is very intentional because the Bible is a collection of characters and all their stories and happenings and things they do and things they should have done. Eve was the first to eat the forbidden fruit, but she wasn’t the last. I think you can argue that every page of the Bible has stains of forbidden fruit upon it. Whether it be Abraham lying about Sarah or Peter lying about Christ or Jonah running away from God or Saul running down people who loved God, the Bible is a story of characters; but overall the Bible is a story of how God uses Characters to accomplish His purpose.
Q: How did you come up the idea of Cast of Characters? And tell us about the unique family aspect.
We developed the idea of Cast of Characters by looking over many of the books that I’ve written and realizing there are so many stories of people, it made sense for us to collect all these stories in one volume. We enlisted the support of my daughter Andrea in this procedure. She had just graduated from college with a degree in English, and she really is handy with words. In fact, she’s off to pursue a Master’s degree in Literature very soon; and she was extremely helpful, she had some good insights, some creative connections, she saw some things that we had missed, and gave us some great feedback. It was a brief time that we had to work together, but I really hope that it’s just a taste of opportunities to come.
Q: The title of your latest book, Cast of Characters, sounds like you may include some rascals and rogues in this book. Is that true?
Well, the title Cast of Characters betrays the fact that we include a variety of people in this book. A lot of rascals, a lot of rogues, some troublemakers, a few that we’d call saintly--but even those people have halos that are a bit rusty and tilted. The great beauty of Scripture is that it is a story of God connecting with people. The big story of the Bible is God and his plan to redeem and use people forever in his eternal kingdom. Were gonna enjoy his presence forever, what’s fascinating is that he doesn’t do this over in one place and people live over in the other. The whole story of the Bible is God interacting, involving himself in the drama, the plot, the happenings of human beings. And consequently the Bible is a story of people, it’s a scrapbook of unusual folk, just like we are..
Q: Which of these biblical characters do you most often identify with and why?
To think which of these characters I most often identify with, I always gravitate toward King David--you know his life was so full of ups and downs, he was a mountain range of peaks and valleys. He had this endearing inconsistency about him where his heart truly seems to long for God but his behavior just doesn’t always quite catch up. He was that enigmatic character of one God but many wives. A man of peace but with blood on his hands. He was faithful to his friends, and yet he had one of his soldiers murdered. He’s just this intertwining of so many different emotions that I think we can all relate to David; and I think we love him most because we find that even in the midst of all of his inconsistencies he still had a good heart, and God loved that good heart. And if God can love David’s heart, I think He can love our hearts too.
Q: What is the importance of story in the Christian life?
This book contains stories because really the Bible is a story; the whole Bible is a story of God’s determination to redeem and rescue His children. Before the Bible is a list of doctrines, before the Bible is a suggestive behavior modifications, the Bible is a story. And it’s a collection of small stories, subplots, Gods interaction with people throughout history. I believe that’s why everywhere Jesus went He told stories, and He didn’t always make application of those stories. Often, He would tell the story and just leave the story for people to chew on and to live with; and that’s what stories do. Stories move in, they take up residents in our hearts; and what they do for you and what they do for me might be two different things, but they always do something because stories in and of themselves have a certain power. So, these stories of people in the Bible have power, they bring life and hope; and we can engage and connect with them, so these stories stick with us, these stories change us and I believe that these stories reflect the very heart of God.
Q: Why do these Bible stories matter?
Why do these stories matter? Well, they matter because we have handicaps, and we go through divorces, we make promises and don’t keep them. We tell lies because we don’t like the truth. Why do these stories matter? Because they are in the Bible. There is a story of a young boy who is handicapped and remembered by a king. There is a story of a king that cheated on his wife. There’s the story of a prophet who is so depressed that he became suicidal. There is a story of a follower of Jesus who didn’t believe that Jesus was who He said He was. These are the things we do—we get depressed, we have handicaps, we don’t believe Jesus is who He said He was. And so these stories are great tools for us, to help us to see how kind and patient God is even when we struggle. And also these stories are great tools to give to people. They are gifts we give people; and when people who have never read these stories discover that the Bible is populated by real people with real questions, with real concerns, they find their stories in these stories. And that’s my prayer, that we’ll all find our story in the stories of the Bible.
Q: You explain that these biblical character profiles reveal how God can “use man’s best and overcome man’s worst.” What do you mean by that phrase?
Well, this phrase is important because it helps us see that God uses us when we’re useful. But we still have a purpose when we’re not useful. Our use to God doesn’t depend on our own goodness; He can overcome our mistakes. In fact, what we mean for evil God can even use for good. So this phrase exalts God as the One who really leads the cast of characters.
Q: How can these ancient stories in the Bible help us in modern times?
When we study the cast of characters we see how people turn to God in the toughest times of their lives. These stories are so important because they remind us that when we don’t have anywhere else to go, we can go where we should have gone when we felt like we had everywhere to go--we can go to God. God allows us to get to the end of our rope because at the end of our rope we find that He is waiting on us there.
Q: Many Americans are experiencing tough times through job loss and financial stress this year. How can the experiences of biblical characters provide encouragement for modern readers?
The stories of people in the Bible are relevant to us because they went through what we go through. They went through financial challenges; they went through political change; they went through issues of storms of geography and storms of theology and storms of personality. Everything that we go through, they went through. And so when we see how God interacted with them and their difficulties, we see how God interacts with us. And sometimes the result is a bit convicting that God challenges us, or chastises us; sometimes the answer is very comforting--how God helps us and God encourages us. But, that’s the reason we love these people in the Bible because their stories are our stories, and how God interacted with them is how God interacts with us.
Q: This past year has been filled with transition for you and your family: managing serious health issues, changing your role at Oak Hills Church, becoming empty-nest parents. How have you and Denalyn seen God work through these circumstances?
Somebody said if you don’t want change, go to a soda machine because you will find change everywhere else. And that’s true; life is full of changes. We’ve found that in our own family over the last couple of years. I’ve had some health issues--thankfully I’m feeling and doing much better now. We’ve had some family changes--healthy changes but changes none the less--of one girl going to college, one girl getting engaged, another going off to graduate school; so a lot of transition going on in our family. But, we have found that God is that one unchanging center around which we can hover and to which we can tether. When we do that, our days seem to discover some stability, when we forget that our days are disruptive. I would say over the last 24 months I’d give myself a B minus in this; some days I’ve done well, other days I haven’t. But even on the days I haven’t, God has done His part. He’s been faithful, and in changing times He never changes.
Q: Each of these character studies could be called an epitaph for each person. What would you want on your epitaph, Max?
The most compelling Epitaph that I have ever seen I found in a south Texas cemetery. There was no date of birth, no date of death. Just the name, Grace Louellen Smith and these words: “Sleeps, but rests not. Loved, but was loved not. Died as she lived, alone.” I’ve often wondered--did she write those words or just live them? Was that her idea? Someone else’s? And reading her epitaph makes us think of the epitaph that we would want in our own lives to summarize our lives. I think the book Cast of Characters gives us a glimpse of the different epitaphs that would be used to describe some of the characters, but the ultimate question would be what epitaph would be used to describe our lives? I know the one I would like to describe mine: “Life is short and then its past and only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Click here for more information on Cast of Characters: Common People in the Hands of an Uncommon God by Max Lucado (Thomas Nelson, 2008).