Reading as Solace

Mark A. Green
Friday, February 28th 2014
Mar/Apr 2014

Grief requires process time. Immersed in your favorite book with your favorite music playing in the background, you sense a tiny bit of stability amid the vortex of pain. An insistent rapping startles and then draws you to your front door. It is a well-intentioned visitor stopping by to drop off a book he would like you to read on suffering. You oblige him, but the book is awful. Your whole world slows. Time stands still. You stare down at the book. What will you say when you see your friend again?

At times like this, I am reminded of my first pastor back in Lansing, Michigan. He would often hold babies that, according to him, looked about as endearing as a gnarled grapefruit. ‘Now that’s a baby!’ he would exclaim, and the parents would titter together in a giddy way, certain of their wise pastor’s affirmation of their new baby grapefruit.

As I cradle the book in my hand, I pause and think of my pastor’s loving wisdom. I take a deep breath and say to my friend, ‘This is quite a book, isn’t it?’ I hope my bookish friend’s reply allows me to softly segue to some unrelated topic. If he insists on discussing the book, I simply smile and nod. This politeness seldom fails, though friends occasionally do a double take when I close our conversation with, ‘I find myself unable to adequately express my gratitude for this book.’

If we guard our time, we gain precious hours to devour not just good books but great books. Intentionally ignoring calls to mediocrity may gain us the opportunity to read words that dazzle and delight the soul.

Coming to our Christian life, we are like untrained babies clutching a compass. As we learn our Bibles, our confessions, and then the deeper doctrines, we learn that God’s eternal Word points true north during times of deep grief and pain. The books lining my library wall provide a firm foundation by helping me understand and study the Bible, the most important of all books. After the Bible itself, the first priority must go to our church’s confessions. These Reformation-era documents still sizzle and crackle with the wild voltage that is the gospel of our Trinitarian God.

With such strong foundations, we are equipped appropriately. We are unperturbed by the sirens of our time. Never more will we be tossed here and there by the false doctrines dispensed by the Oprahs and Chopras of our current era. We orient to the truth and put such childish gibberish behind us.

Now, with our compass properly calibrated, we read and recommend superb books reflecting riches found in both common grace and saving grace. We eagerly explore worlds living between the pages of exquisite writing. We walk on the wild side of old England with Dickens; we trudge the enchanted desert lands with Elliott; we soar among the Everest peaks with Krakauer. We enjoy and embrace the truth and beauty of our Creator, whatever the origin. While our hearts heal and we try to find our balance, it seems good to rest. Well appointed with wisdom gathered across the ages, we head to our favorite reading nook and, for a season, ignore visitors tapping at our front door.

Friday, February 28th 2014

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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