On Faith: The Good Book and good books
By: Mark Hillmer, Pastor, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lake County News Chronicle
My daughter had just finished reading the third of Stieg Larsson’s “Millenium” series of crime novels featuring Lisbeth Salander, “The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo,” “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.” She summarized her experience (I could get through only one of them) by saying, “They were exciting to read but afterwards I felt just awful.”
That made me think of why I like reading George MacDonald’s novels: I feel better after reading them. In fact, I feel I am a better person each time I finish one of his more than 40 novels.
I was introduced to MacDonald by C.S. Lewis, who said he never wrote a book without some indebtedness to George MacDonald. Lewis, known best popularly as the author of the seven children’s books of the Narnia series (three of which have become movies), also said, “I never met an author as close to the spirit of Christ.” To discharge his debt to MacDonald, whom Lewis never actually met (MacDonald died in 1905 when Lewis was but seven years old), he published an anthology of the most quotable quotes of MacDonald. In his book “The Great Divorce,” an unforgettable bus trip to heaven, Lewis featured MacDonald as his guide.
Lewis, among the all-time great defenders of the Christian faith and an astute literary critic as well, observed that it is easy to write books about evil (read Stieg Larsson) but difficult to write convincingly about goodness. In his opinion MacDonald was one of very few writers able to write about goodness in a realistic way.
While the Narnia books are available (many families own the whole set), MacDonald’s novels and sermons have been hard to get. While living at the same time as Charles Dickens, MacDonald’s writings have never achieved the popularity of Dickens. That may change.
Thanks to e-books, one can now purchase all of MacDonald’s works for 99 cents. Whatever format is best for you, do yourself a favor: read George MacDonald.
The biblical rationale for my recommendation is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…and the God of peace will be with you.”
Do you want peace in your heart, the only place in the world where peace can get its roots down? Read true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, and excellent books. They will lead you to think about moral excellence and praise-worthy living.
Of course it is better to get to know true, honorable, and just people, but while you are looking for them, you may curl up with an edifying George MacDonald story.
GMD, as he used to refer to himself, began as a Scottish Presbyterian pastor. He was forced out of his congregation because his vision of God’s kingdom was too broad for them. He had this dangerous idea that God’s love was for all people.
In theological terms, he flirted with universalism. But that is a marvelous idea to flirt with. It’s dangerous because Jesus said that few find the way. But isn’t it marvelous to hope that at the end God’s mercy will win over even the most reluctant heart?
Good books are but exciting attempts to restate the love of God found in the Good Book. Both make you feel better.