It wasn't until I was about thirteen or so that I wondered what to do with the sin in my reading material. I'm not saying that I was reading anything horrific, but until then, the story had been enough for me. I was so engrossed in whether Sir Percy would rescue the old priest, that I never noticed when 'something else' slipped out of his mouth in the process. I wanted to know 'whodunit' so bad, that I never absorbed the fact that good old Wimsey was winking at all his friends' and relatives' affairs.
And then I began a quest to find out how to overcome evil. I learned a great life lesson in the process.
Painstakingly, I began weeding out all the 'something else’s' and sordid 'whodunits' from my reading material. By the time I was done with my evaluations, my stack was pretty small, and I really wasn't enjoying the call of the page any more.
Reading is almost like oxygen for me. If I have a book in my purse, I can wait in perfect content when the car breaks down or I have a dentist's appointment. And the bigger the book, the better. I remember waiting in a doctor's office for one of my family members, reading Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit. The spine was probably a good two inches thick, and the book was nothing to sneeze at. I had to pause in my perusal to listen to an older gentleman exclaim over its size. Some of you can really relate. :) And if you can, you'll also relate, when I say that I can't breathe right if something is wrong amidst the shelves. (Figuratively, of course.)
It took me many months to figure out. Over a year in fact. But by the end of that time, I was slowly realizing that yes, I mustn’t excuse the evil, but my 'beau ideal' of a good book was totally unreal. Because, unconsciously, I was expecting all the books I read to be God-breathed and flawless.
I'm not saying that we should wink at sin. Some books I did whittle out of my stack for good. But God taught me that only He is perfect, so only He can write a flawless book. All other attempts by our sinful human natures will be only poor attempts to copy His perfection. And so when I choose to read a book by anyone other than God, I will encounter mistakes. I will encounter sin.
So how do I deal with this? I learned to take the imperfect to Perfection, and let Him teach me how to evaluate whether to keep or toss.
Here are a few steps He has taught me to use after I’ve judged the book by its cover, and then begin on the text:
"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5).
God gives good gifts to all His children, and to those of them that are bibliophiles, He gives the gift of good books. He will direct and show you which ones He allows you to read. I find that my reading is individually tailored to my personal walk with Him. Sometimes He gives me a book to read that I may not recommend to others. Sometimes He says "They may, you may not," and I have to leave the book on the shelf. He always makes it abundantly clear when I ask Him for counsel.
2. Honor the wisdom of the authorities He has placed over you:
"Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck" (Proverbs 1:8-9).
Have you ever heard "What's that book?!" It's a warning signal. If you're not willing to share the storyline with your proper authorities, then you probably shouldn't be reading it. They ask because they love you, and it is their God-given duty to protect you. When I was young, my parents would say no sometimes, and I have always tried to trust them. Now that they have laid a foundation of trust they allow me freedom to examine and judge for myself, but I keep them informed so that they know I am trustworthy.
3. Cultivate a strong foundation:
"Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who have left the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil" (Proverbs 2:12-14)
If you spend the time of your youth developing a close prayer life with the Lord, studying out the principles of His Word in daily Bible reading, and listening with an open heart to preachers of His Truth, then you will be in tune with His Spirit, and you will find a limitless store of wisdom that you can carry into your literary adventures.
4. Trust the Lord to shield you:
"For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones" (Proverbs 2:6-8).
God has never left me guessing, never thrown me upon my own resources. When I go to the library, or a bookstore, I often pray that He will shield me from temptation. He always has. He always will.
5. Face your fear:
"For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).
Never be afraid to let the light of God's truth illuminate your bookshelves. He never takes away something that is beneficial, nor does He indulge in capricious revenge. He wants the very best for you. If you place yourself and your books in his hands, then what better place can there be?
A Few Practical Suggestions
But sometimes a book He tells me to keep, He also tells me to edit.
Here are a few things I do, when I find that the book I'm reading may not be 'the beau ideal' but contains redeemable content.
-Oftentimes such authors as Sir Walter Scott focus on highland or medieval cultures. These people could be very superstitious, bordering sometimes on witchcraft. When I read Ivanhoe or the Lady of the Lake, I don't feel comfortable reading about an animal sacrifice or someone's wicked incantations. To avoid this, I have to skip one chapter (or canto, as the case may be) and I don't have to deal with it at all in the rest of the story.
-In the WWII genre of fiction and biographies, the cruelties committed in German concentrations camps are sometimes suitcases I don't want to carry, such as in Eric Metaxas' Bonhoeffer. Maybe I'll skip a paragraph; maybe I'll skip an entire section. With a little editing, I can conform the book to my own needs and convictions.
-In cases where characters are particularly foul mouthed, I take correction tape and presto! it disappears as if they had never spoken it. (Obviously, I have to buy the book to make this happen.) Since I'm more interested in stories than collector's editions, I don't consider this to be defacing the book in any way, and it sure makes it a lot more enjoyable to read.
These are a few examples, but the principles stay the same, no matter the genre. What my dad told me time and time again when I was younger: "We don't do in pretend life what we wouldn't do in real life." Don't let your characters get away with things. :)
One more thought: If you've never done this type of editing before and would like to try, you might find a warning helpful before you begin. You will most likely encounter someone that thinks this unnecessary, and tries to laugh you down. But I would encourage you to remember that editing is not cheating or over-reacting. I do it to take captive every book to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. I play by His rules, and read by His standards. And if I am following the commands that he has laid forth in Scripture, then that is the only necessary thing. You read according to your conscience, not according to the fear of man.
What do you do to edit the books you read? I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions to help me further in my own reading adventures.
Ready for a little fun? Lord willing, I'll post my first book review this Friday, on one of my favorite authors. Hopefully the first of many more to come.
Don't forget! I love special requests. Do you have a favorite you'd like to see a review on? Send me an email, or leave me a comment, and I'll certainly try to include it.