Reading for the Glory of God
A couple months ago, I read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. As I read it, I became aware of the way our society handles those we don’t understand like a wet tissue -- to be avoided or handled with extreme care -- and how this strips them of their intrinsic worth as a human being, God-breathed and purposeful. I was convicted of my own treatment of those we deem other, as I thought of how Jesus treated everyone, and what the Pharisees thought about it (Matthew 9). I think of the song, “Failure to Excommunicate” and more specifically the lyrics, “Jesus loved the outcasts / He loves the ones the world just loves to hate / And as long as there’s a heaven / There’ll be a failure to excommunicate.” It’s always a fight to overcome our culture, to accept everyone as Christ accepts us all.
I find literature to be an excellent place to explore other perspectives and observe how to interact with people. I can observe and learn, I can better meet people where they are in life, just as Jesus does with us and just as he did when he met with the “tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9: 11). When we read books with that mindset, I believe that we can glorify God.
What We Read
That being said, I don’t think that as Christians, we must close ourselves off to reading only books by Christian authors or reading only books with church-y, religious plotlines. To be clear, I will never say this to mean that you should not read the Bible. Never will I suggest that, because there is nothing that can replace the word of God. In the same way, we cannot confuse Christian articles and commentaries and other religious books with the word of God. We cannot just call it our Bible reading to read a chapter from the latest Christian non-fiction book by whomever is on the top seller list. God speaks to us through his word. It is true he can speak through other people, but he speaks to us directly when we read the Bible for ourselves and parse it for understanding, “for the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
When we have a knowledge of the Bible and a good picture of who Jesus was when he, as the Message put it, “moved into the neighborhood” and walked among us (John 1), we can apply what he has written on our hearts to every aspect of our lives. When we read the Scriptures, we can go into our own neighborhoods and live empowered by the Holy Spirit to see past the faces of the people we interact with down to the heart of who they are (1 Samuel 16:7) — and we need the Holy Spirit to do this work because we are such image-driven people, always making judgments based on external appearances. We are cautioned to not dwell on outward appearances because the way someone looks is not directly proportional with the state of their soul. Thoughtfully reading a wide variety of books helps us with this.
For example, in novels, especially in romantic-comedy types, we can see how conflict rises when a character judges by something they see isolated from the actual truth of the whole of the context of the situation. This mirrors our lives, in that we crave answers to our questions, so we’re willing to fill in the blanks to try and make sense of various events, deciding things based on what we hear, making judgment calls on things we see rather than seeking the truth of the matter. Reading allows us to safely explore ways to approach situations like these out of the context and stress of real life so we can try and act more proportionately to such situations.
Thoughtful reading also allows us to explore the untold worlds of human motivation, including our own. By reading Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault, I have learned that a lot of the behaviors I exhibit today are a response to what I experienced as a child. I have seen reflections of my life in the accounts of other survivors. And reading that has helped me realize that I am not alone in how difficult it can feel to face life some days; there are more people out there than we realize who understand the things that we’ve experienced, and reading about them helps us to understand and develop empathy so we’re not so shell shocked when we encounter them in our neighborhood (to borrow from Eugene Peterson).
I have read The Road Back to You and The Path Between Us, as well as other articles and excerpts from teachers of the Enneagram. I’ve come to understand more about myself, particularly that my core motivation in life is to be competent, and thus I fear being useless or incompetent; and I have learned that those fears and motivations impact how I interact with others. I’ve also learned more about myself by reading and researching practices in sanctification, because the way we interact with each other is relative to the way we interact with God. So through reading we can learn more about ourselves, what motivates us, what scares us, and how we can grow and become more like Christ. And when we become more like Christ, we’re better stewards of the gifts God has given us to do the good works prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10).
Reading with a Filter
It is true that God is above all things and by him and through him and for him all things were created (Colossians 1:16). This doesn’t make everything acceptable, though. I think it is our responsibility to run what we read through a filter. There are Christian books that contain within them heresy that lead our hearts down paths that separate us from the truth of God under the guise of religiosity, just as there are non-Christian books which glorify sin and depravity in a way that is blatantly not beneficial for us to read.
I am vigilant in surveying even the Christian books that I allow to fill my thoughts, for they will in turn flow out of my mind and heart into the way I live and interact with others. If I’m not motivated to grow in Christ and build up the church by living more like Christ by a book, it was a waste of time to read it. Even if a website or blog mostly shares content that is good and glorifying to God, we must be careful to run that through a filter because our most sure source of truth and edification comes through the word of God.
Let us be careful not to allow ourselves to fall victim to the all the lies of humankind; let us not abandon the God-breathed Scriptures we have been given. At the same time, let us enjoy the gifts he has given humankind to write and be creative. May we become more like him in all things, growing in faith and love.