Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tall Tales: The Book Made Me Do It (Part Two)

You see, the phrase 'the book made me do it' is an abdication of our responsibility to take our thoughts and actions and conform them to the image of Christ. We like passing the blame on our circumstances. Then nobody can hold us to blame.
While this concept is challenging, it should also be encouraging to us. The book can't make us do wrong. And while this means we have to take responsibility, it also means that we can rest in the assurance that the pages don't hold some magical power over our ethics and morality.
-The Book Made Me Do It (Part One)

Dubious encouragement, some might say. But really, my friends, we do need to take personal responsibility for the books we read, rather than allowing ourselves to drift here and there, picking up whatever catches our fancy, and then blaming any ill effects on the book, rather than ourselves.

There. That almost summarized this entire post. But don't worry; I won't end it this soon. :)

The questions I ended with last time are as follows: Does that mean we should pick up just anything? Shouldn't we call the limit at some point? After all, we may make the choice, but we still need to be careful with the influences we're feeding our minds with.

Very good points. Let's start with the last one first.

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
-Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

The Hebrew word for 'heart' in this passage is leb, which means, according to Strong's, the heart; also used (figuratively) very widely for the feelings, the will and even the intellect; likewise for the centre of anything.* We're to guard what goes into our intellect, the knowledge that affects our will and our thinking, because of the consequences of perverted knowledge:

 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
-Romans 1:23, NIV

The Greek for 'heart' here is kardia, which refers to the thoughts or feelings.
And the result of this folly and blindness is found in Romans 1:28:

 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.

The Greek word for knowledge in this passage is epignosis, which means  recognition, i.e. (by implication) full discernment, acknowledgement*

So from the above we can draw the conclusion that just because a book cannot change us, we still should be very careful to guard our will, intellect, and emotions, lest we lose our discernment in what is good and what is bad.

Does anyone see a contradiction here?

How do we reconcile the two points--the fact that a book in itself has no power over our ethics and morality, and the fact that we should carefully guard ourselves lest our intellect be darkened. Does the book have power after all? Were we wrong to agree so quickly with the Jekyll and Hyde illustration?

Fear not, my friends. We were not. You will find the answer to this knotty point in Romans 1:25:

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

They exchanged. That's the key word here. What people often blame on the book--"the book made me lose my faith in Christ" "the book made me think it was okay to lie" "the book caused me to cherish wrong thoughts towards Johnny" is really a deliberate act of our own. Notice that this first phrase doesn't contain any passive verbiage. They deliberately exchanged the truth of God for a lie.

It's still our fault.

When we pick up a book, and after reading it, find ourselves on a wrong course of action, we shouldn't blame it automatically on the book itself. It's us. We chose deliberately to exchange God's holy and righteous truth for the lie that the book presents. The thoughts about how we should place our faith in the creature, or tell a falsehood, or indulge in idolatrous thoughts towards Johnny--they're all lies that the book presented, and that we chose to accept.

So finally, do we deliberately avoid the lies--or since we get to choose, does just about anything go?

1. We'll get plenty of falsehood.
Please don't go out of your way to find some falsehood. We don't have to deliberately pick up Darwin's Origin of Species just for a little mental gladiator game. Satan is the father of lies, deliberately seeking whom he may devour. It's not necessary for us to go out and meet him, with a red target on our shirts. When we follow the concept 'anything goes' just to see how many times we can beat, we're not following a biblical pattern of caution or dominion. This leads to my next point:

2. Have a purpose to your reading.
If you pick up Origin of Species, or Mein Kampf, or any type of man-centered literature (i.e. falsehood) then don't pick it up just because you don't have anything else to read, or you want to know what it was like, or you haven't read it yet. Every book should be read with purpose (even sometimes the purpose of rest and refreshment). It is purposeless reading that opens up the way to compromise.

3. Recognize your abilities.
If you don't yet have the mental capabilities, Scriptural knowledge, or inclination to diligence required for evaluation, then simply put, wait until you do have it. Don't pluck the flower before it's blossomed. Don't go out into harsh weather unless you're properly dressed for it.

4. Realize that knowledge is a snare.
Here, I'm not talking about Scriptural knowledge. "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." The danger with man-centered ideology in textbook or story format is that oftentimes we allow ourselves to be intimidated with the false knowledge they present. It sounds so reasonable. The Christian faith sometimes goes beyond the bounds of human reasoning. And so we look at the error, and deliberately make the exchange of a faith that goes beyond our puny strength for the depraved knowledge that looks so good to our present understanding. Satan doesn't blatantly advertise the fact that he's out to steal our faith when he presents a wrong idea; no, he mixes the falsehood with a little bit of truth so that we question in our mind. And it's after we question that we begin to make the exchange. In this day and age, we're intimidated by the string of letters after the name, and the elite publishing houses under the author, and that opens up the door for us to say "They're so knowledgeable. I'm not. They must be right."

5.Tremble at your weaknesses.
I don't have any intention at this point of picking up books like Darwin's or Hitler's or any other blantant man-centered ideology, because I know who I am. I know that I live with a sin-cursed body and a sin-cursed mind, and though I am redeemed and cleansed with the blood of Christ, I still have to fight the rest of my life against my flesh. And I think that too often as Christians, we replace "the blood of Christ cleanses all" with "the blood of Christ makes all permissible". I know that nothing--no book--can pluck me out of my Father's hand. But I also know that I have the capability to exchange the truth of God for a lie, and therefore, I keep very close to the truth. I don't need to put forth any effort to expose myself to falsehood; it's already inside me. But I need to constantly expose myself to truth so that I remember the teachings of Christ.

And thus we can end with a summary of our second Tall Tale. The idea that a book can make us sin, and can turn our minds away from the truth, is not a biblical idea. We are responsible for our sins, and we make the decision to remain with the truth or to exchange the truth for a lie. If we're not properly equipped, it's easier for us to make the exchange, and we should wait sometimes until we're mature in the faith before we try to take up and evaluate man-centered ideology--or sometimes choose not to take it up at all. 

In the end, whether they're easy choices or hard ones, we still bear the responsibility for the decisions and the results of the books we read. (And by God's grace, we can make the right ones.)

For more information about this concept of man's choices in regards to ethics and beliefs, I encourage you to find J.F. Baldwin's The Deadliest Monster. And until Friday, I wish all you bibliophiles some very happy reading. :)

Lady Bibliophile

*(Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)


  1. Dear Lady B,
    How can you recommend The Deadliest Monster when you've never read it?
    I agree that the strongest lies are mixed with truth. Like in the Last Battle. :) Excellent post!

    1. Dear Sister,
      Sometimes I recommend a book that I know to be good, even when I haven't read it. :) Besides, I've listened to you reading it out loud, so I have heard some of it. :)

      Love and cuddles,

  2. While reading this, Gen. 4:7 comes to mind:

    7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

    Thankfully, by God's grace, He enables us to overcome!

    I have learned a lot by listening to the reading of this book, too:)!

  3. Excellent verse. :) It summarizes this whole post beautifully. Or perhaps I should say, the post expounds upon the verse. :) I love your additional insights...


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