Reading a book is like beginning a relationship with a stranger. If it doesn’t inspire your interest, you may leave the story unfinished. Reading a good book is like beginning a relationship with a stranger who becomes a friend—a friend who understands you and leaves your soul just a little bit lighter.
As someone who thinks about God, I’m often asked about the writers who have influenced my theology. These are the first that come to mind. Moses, Paul, John, Luke, Matthew, Mark and Isaiah, along with thirty-three others. The only writers I trust are the ones that wrote the Bible.
Everyone else, I read with a blend of interest and suspicion. It should be said that the writers of the Bible invite this interest and suspicion. They would like you to be captivated by their message of a risen Man, but not without testing them with truth.
Outside of these ancient literary giants—whose words have shaped the past, subvert contemporary myths and persist in guiding the future—I am particularly interested in those that marry wit to theology because that tells me they enjoy the company of the person they are writing about. Chesterton and Lewis exemplify this joy like no one else I know.
I particularly suspect those who marry doctrine to dogma because that tells me they are afraid of those who disagree with them. Fortunately, it’s not a characteristic of those who wrote the Bible.
Paul reasoned with them. Luke wrote history for them. John loved them with all his heart. But these contemporary custodians of dogma cannot suffer the doubts of their dissenters. I will not name these heretics.
In every writer, I look for passion, wonder, reason, truth, beauty and awe; simply because this is what I see in the longing of Job, the movement of the Psalms, the profundity of the Proverbs, the beautiful irony in the narratives, the poetry of the prophets, and the zealous reasoning of Paul.
The great thing about reading a good writer is that this invisible person knows the sound of your soul without really knowing you. She knows this because he is telling the truth and the song they sing satisfies the longing of your heart, even if only for a moment.
In a writer, I look for that one thing which separates a skilled writer from a good one. I look for the courage to tell the truth.
None of the writers of the Bible were writing without risk. They did not write to be rich, popular or powerful. They were putting their necks on the line—saying things about God that the religious would condemn, the philosophers would frown upon and the powerful would trample upon.
Some of them died for their words. Others were rejected all their lives. All of them bore the heavy burden of the prophetic soul. But they persisted with their passion because they were devoted to that one thing which every writer who is worth his salt should make her mandate. They wrote to tell the truth.
When I meet characters invented by writers, I am not put off by the flawed, the irreverent or the rebellious, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
A woman caught in adultery is rescued from the wrath of moralistic chauvinists. A glorious king gives into an affair, conspiracy and murder. A father of nations resorts to being a coward and a liar. A philosophical giant was a persecutor of Christians.
The writers of the Bible knew well that the most colourful characters were those whose stories were told honestly, without glossing over their ungodliness. The world of books is not a world for the moral micromanager. Neither is the world of the Bible.
God is the first offensive artist. Everything else is imitation.
A good book teases you with the invitation to enter its world. It’s an invitation that can’t be fully answered. But the good book presents you with an author who entered his story—a stranger who became a friend.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. It’s an intrusion that can’t be fully explained. That’s why an experience is needed. And it is given to those who ask.
Image Credit: Rebecca Milby