Literature reflects human ideas, beliefs, and societies.
This is so fundamentally obvious that we tend to overlook it.
Why do we take the time to read literature? Because humanity is valuable. The
Christian understanding of human life is one that stresses its inherent value and worth.
Roger Lundin writes:
the doctrines of Creation and
Incarnation affirm that human life is inherently meaningful. God has placed us in a
world filled with order and hints of wonder, and through his acts of revelation and
redemption he has entered into our history. As a result, although some things are
obviously of greater importance than others, everything in our own experience has
significance, and our attempt to discern that significance -- as well as we can -- is part
of our calling as God's servants. (5)
Christ's incarnation teaches us that God hallows the material and cultural world.
Because God created the world and loved it enough to enter it, Christians too should love
it and seek to understand it.
|2. When we read
literature, we discover common human ways of understanding life.
We find similar messages, insights, and lessons. We read about
closely related experiences. We also find similar mistakes.
When we read literature, we also discover significant differences. This allows us to
explore anothers message or life, even those separated from us by time and social
To read literature is a lesson in
worldview. We often learn how different others are in circumstances and approaches
to life, as well as encounter the diverse differences in what humans believe.
|4. Literature is full
of human responses and reactions in poems, essays, diaries, narratives, and in the
characters of narratives. As we respond to and analyze these, we can gain a greater
knowledge of the human psyche.
5. At the same time, we gain a greater knowledge of
ourselves and our own responses because we most inevitably compare our lives to those in
As we compare and contrast, not only various authors'
views but also our own views and those of others, we deepen our sense of human reactions
and our own self-responses. We have the possibility of becoming deeper, more self-aware
When we do this, we have the opportunity for discovering pride in our community and
culture, for gaining respect for anothers, and for learning humility as we interact
Yet being deeper and more self-aware
requires certain virtues, in particular, a sense of respect and humility. Good dialogue
requires faith, hope, and love: faith that communication can actually take place between
people; hope that something may come of our efforts; and love for our fellow human beings
in all their diversity, complexity, and variety.
|7. We dont
always agree with what we read, or we agree in part. We read literature to test the truth
of a message against our worldview.
Socrates believes that the soul is separated from the body at death, so he need not
sorrow. Indeed, for Socrates, the soul is trapped in the body and longs for the day it may
escape. As a Christian, on the other hand, I believe that the body and soul are both good
things created by God and that God intends to resurrect our bodies as well. Socrates
allows me to encounter a belief different than my own. He also allows me a chance to test
Socrates' belief and even reject it.
We can cultivate wisdom; learn of good and evil; and experience the call to justice.
Literature can not in itself make us a better person, but it can assist us in that quest.
Wisdom can be defined as skill in
living. By examining literary texts, their stories and their messages, we can
increase in our understanding of how to live life. We learn how to discern what is
healthy and destructive in the world, and we are challenged with injustice and its
consequences. Literature may even challenge us to ask what we will do to help end
the problems it pictures.
|9. Literature offers
us the beauty of words and stories, and as such, reflects the glory of God present in
language, narratives, and the stuff of creation.
Christian, I believe that not only is God the final source of all truth and all goodness,
but that God is also the final source of all beauty. Part of being
fully human under God is rejoicing in the wonder and joy that songs and stories and
language can bring to our lives.
Literature can entertain us.
Leland Ryken writes:
What constitutes a worthwhile use of leisure time? There is no one right answer.
. [But] literature has much to commend it as a leisure activity. In a day of mindless
leisure pursuits, literature stands out by engaging our mind . . . . It enriches our life
by making us aware of the world of human experience and human fears and longings . . . We
can upgrade the quality of our leisure time by learning to value what is excellent rather
than mediocre. (69-70)
Our use of our leisure is an extension of God's sabbath principle. God rested on
the seventh day, not because he needed to, but in order to teach us the value of
existence. God has created us to enjoy things. Times of rest and pleasure are
not laziness but times of celebration.
Literature can offer us cultural literacy. Literary figures, plots, motifs, movements, and
genres are a vital part of our cultural heritages.
One frequent question that students often ask: "Well,
why are these works considered so important?" Louise Cowan has suggested the
following seven reasons for why a text is considered a classic:
- The classics not only exhibit distinguished style, fine artistry, and keen intellect but
create whole universes of imagination and thought.
- They portray life as complex and many-sided, depicting both negative and positive
aspects of human character in the process of discovering and testing enduring virtues.
- They have a transforming effect on the reader's self-understanding.
- They invite and survive frequent rereadings.
- They adapt themselves to various times and places and provide a sense of the shared life
- They are considered classics by a sufficiently large number of people, establishing
themselves with common readers as well as qualified authorities.
And, finally, their appeal endures over wide reaches of time. (21-22)
Literature can open us to our own latent interests and talents; we may even discover part
of our vocation from God.
Frederick Buechner has noted that "the place God calls you to is where your deep
gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." For some of us, the study of literature
plays a part in this calling. Literature can challenge us to grow as individuals and as
communities, and for that, it is worth spending time with.
Cowan, Louise and Os Guinness. Invitation to the Classics. Grand Rapids:
Gallagher, Susan V. and Roger Lundin. Literature Through the Eyes of Faith. NY:
Ryken, Leland. Windows to the World. Dallas: Probe, 1990.