Not even half of Americans read books/literature anymore, according to a study done by the National Endowment of the Arts. Reading books has been on the decrease –we’d rather have our minds numbed with CGI movies like Avatar, our X-Box 360, and sit-coms than delve into the riches of Plato’s Republic or C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces or Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
As an American citizen, I find this a very disturbing and embarrassing trend. The United States is a nation built on the high intellectual rigor of Western civilization and our high value on education. Literacy is an indispensible part of this foundation. No one can be called “educated” in the furthest sense who is not an avid reader. All of the wisdom of the ages (and the lessons from the folly) are contained in the written word. When we stop reading we lose something.
I say this despite a major paradigm shift I’ve had recently on the importance of the spoken word. Through training with “Simply The Story,” I learned about storytelling and how powerful this is. My beloved Bible is mostly narrative, written for the benefit ancient oral (and mostly illiterate) cultures. It was memorized, told, and retold regularly, rather than read silently. Fast-forwarding to today, the vast majority of people in the world are either functionally illiterate or do not learn by primarily written methods. This does not make them inferior human beings. We must simply use oral and pictorial methods if we are to be complete communicators who reach everyone.
That said, reading is still important. In an ideal world, everyone should be able to read. This is because while oral communication is a good and valid form of communication, reading/writing is equally as valid and fills in what oral communication misses. This is the mark of an educated person.
My point, if not clear so far, is: We need to read! Read old books and new books, fiction and non-fiction, secular and spiritual, books everyone is reading and books no one is reading,** books you agree with and books you disagree with, taking the time to reflect on what you’re reading. If you know how to read you are an incredibly privileged person already. Don’t waste it. Don’t miss the immense value of interacting with the written word. You won’t regret it.
**Reading what I call “wayside books” is a really excellent idea. As history moves along and culture changes there are some very, very good books fall that by the wayside – along with their wisdom. The book I’m reading that fits into this category is the 19th century book by A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve. I wish more Christians would read this book. It is an excellent insight into the mind of Christ. In my opinion, it’s more powerfully written than Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, the more popular classic on Jesus and discipleship. Dear Reader, read old books!
I was struck by something while reading in I/II Kings. You know that in every story you have the protagonist – the hero, the person(s) you identify and sympathize with. The antagonist is the one(s) who opposes the protagonist and does bad things – the villain. For those of you who’ve read the Book of Kings, it is very short on heroes, and very high on villains. It’s very depressing. Israel is divided into two kingdoms, evil reigns, kings follow injustice and evil, foreign powers keep attacking and oppressing the Isrealites, the men of God are persecuted, and the population has forgotten God to follow perversity and idols. The characters are mostly either bad guys or really bad guys. The good guys are few and far between, and prone to failure themselves.
What surprises me throughout is that God frequently helps wicked Israelite kings for the sake of His own Name. He helped Ahab win military victories over the Arameans because they were diminishing the God of Israel, so that they will know that He is who He is (1Ki 20). He helped Israel yet again under the wicked Jeroboam II because He saw all their afflictions and desired to show mercy (2Ki 14).
It struck me that the hero of this story isn’t Elijah, Elisha, and the other men of God in these stories. God is the hero. The prophets are just sidekicks. But God is the one doing the action, and powerfully working despite the vicious sins and failures of His people. He is the one who’s honor is on the line, who shows mercy and delivers people from trouble, causes kingdoms to rise and fall, and meets out justice to the wicked. God coolly deals with rebellious humanity with their salvation and His glory in mind, in total control of the situation.
God is the hero of your story too. Your life story isn’t about you. God is the one who gives your life significance, who delivers you out of trouble, forgives your sins, and befriends you in the best and worst of times of your life. By faith in Christ, all of this is granted to us. But too often we don’t live like this. Our life story was ordained by God, but we live as though it’s all about us. If that isn’t ridiculous I don’t know what is. Recalibration is necessary. Let’s recognize God as the champion — then our story will go as it’s supposed to go.