The Gift of Books

Whenever you finish reading a book, a gift has been given to you–the gift of personal growth. You are no longer the same person you were when you started that book. You have learned things that you did not know before. Your worldview, your way of looking at the world, may have changed. Your curiosity has likely been piqued, and you may now want to read other books and investigate other topics that before you did not even know existed.

I would like to share three books which I’ve read, two recently and one not so recently, that have changed my outlook and view on things. I love books for several reasons. They bring joy to me as they transport me to other times and places. They spark my imagination. As I discussed before, they also change me and cause me to grow as a person. And there’s one that has changed millions of people’s lives, and that is the Supreme Book–the Bible.

I first read the Bible completely from Genesis to Revelation during my college years. No other book has affected me the way the Bible has. I became a Christian at a young age when my mother shared the Gospel with me, and I put my faith in Jesus as my Lord and Savior. My knowledge of most of the Bible, however, was fairly limited to the basics until I got older. After I went off to college, I wanted to know for myself what the Bible said and why I believed what I believed.

Reading the Bible did at least three things for me. First, it helped me to grow as a Christian and learn about what God’s will was for my life. Many people when they read the Bible get bogged down in Numbers and Leviticus. Let me say, though, that the Old Testament is full of action and interesting stories. Far from being boring, it relates the lives of Biblical heroes, such as Abraham, Joseph, David, and Jeremiah, but more importantly it shows how God worked through His chosen people, Israel, to establish the Davidic Line, from which the Messiah would come. I was perhaps most excited when I saw Christ prefigured and prophesied about in the Old Testament in multiple passages.

Moving to the New Testament, one finds Jesus’ ministry, the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the early Church, and the Epistles. In Matthew 5-7, you will find the famous Sermon on the Mount. One of the things I learned from the Sermon on the Mount was the importance of mercy and forgiveness. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” I discovered in Romans 12:9 that my love was to be sincere and I was to hate evil and love what is good. I learned from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 that I was to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and be thankful in everything.

The second thing that the Bible did for me was that it confirmed to me what I believed and why I believed it. I became more confident in my faith and my worldview. When debates on current issues arose, I could look back on the Bible as my foundation for what I believed on any certain topic. I guess you could say it grounded me in a society which had a very uncertain moral compass.

Third and finally, reading the Bible helped me to appreciate all the allusions and references to it in Western literature. You can’t read The Scarlet Letter or speeches from Abraham Lincoln and fully understand them without knowing the Bible. Much of Western literature refers back to either the Bible or Shakespeare.

The second book, which I just read in the last few months, is All Quiet on the Western Front. It, of course, is the fictionalized account of a German soldier in WWI, based upon Erich Maria Remarque’s actual experience in the war. The book describes in graphic detail the physical and emotional horrors of trench warfare. One of the themes of the book is the difficulty that the soldiers face in readjusting to civilian life and the psychological devastation the war inflicts upon them.

The book affected me on an emotional and a philosophical level. As I read it, the narrative brought sadness to my heart as I thought about the suffering of the soldiers in the trenches on both sides. I had studied WWI before, but this novel helped me to get a more complete picture of how horrific the war was on a human level.

Philosophically, it caused me to ponder the moral ambiguity of the war. Soldiers from the Allied and Central powers were killing each other, not because the soldiers had anything against the other, but because their respective countries were at war with each other. This moral uncertainty is captured perfectly in a scene in the novel where the main character finds himself in a hole in No Man’s Land with an enemy soldier. He has to kill the man to save himself, but then he feels guilty for doing it when he realizes that this man is just like him and has a family, too. Remarque does a superb job of exploring the human element in a very inhumane and mechanized war.

The most recent book that I’ve read (in fact I just finished it before writing this) is The Only Woman in the Room, a surprisingly delightful book that I did not even know was out there and had no intention of reading before I saw it advertised on Facebook as the Barnes and Noble book of the month. It was written by Marie Benedict, and it is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Hedy Lemarr.

The book traces her life from a Jewish girl in Austria to her career as an actress and inventor in Los Angeles. I learned a lot about Austrian culture in pre-WWII days as well as the abuse that Lemarr faced in her marriage; as well as the sexism she dealt with in her endeavors as an actress and an inventor. I’m not one to subscribe to notions of feminism and chauvinism, but Benedict really makes the reader, even male readers, feel compassion for Lemarr over the mistreatment she faced as a female who refused to let herself be powerless in the face of oppression.

These three books are very different, yet they all impacted me, and when I finished them, I was changed in some way for the better. Now, let me say that I’m not trying to equate the latter two books with the Bible. I believe the Bible stands above all books because it was written and inspired by God. My point in writing this blog post is that no matter what book you read, if it is a good one, it will change you in some way. Books are powerful forces. They can change lives; they can change the world. And we would be remiss if we did not take advantage of what they have to offer us. So, grab a good book, snuggle up in your favorite chair, and start your new adventure. You won’t be the same after you’ve finished it.

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