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The Bible in One Hand, a Book in the Other

Somebody once said that if you were down to your last dollar and had to choose between buying something to eat and buying a book, by all means, buy the book.

Make that a good book, something substantial and worthy.

Of course, when it comes to what constitutes good literature, and good art generally, views will differ, and one makes recommendations only by accepting the perils attached thereto. I once encouraged a dear friend to see a certain film which caused her no end of grief, and so having learned my lesson the painful way, I have only selectively (and with clear disclaimers) ventured on that thin ice ever since.

But short of making actual recommendations, the principle is sound, a variation on a theme Karl Barth once said. Barth was a prolific writer (though of good and substantial theology) and he was of the opinion that good preaching required a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. That recipe doesn’t do much for a preacher’s job security but it’s pretty good advice nonetheless, and I have often thought that the same applies to the walk of  faith generally: we who follow in the footsteps of the Master would do well to carry a Bible in one hand and good (as in substantial and worthy) literature in the other.

The idea is that good literature (and art) is nothing more than an extended discussion of the human condition. From human foibles and everyday foolishness and frustrations to the failures from which we construct human history, to the extent that we recognize our essential (if not our common) humanity, a good book will unfold and develop themes with which all of us can readily identify.

Grim stuff sometimes, the human condition, but good writing delivers us to that place where, for a people of the Way, another Book becomes the indispensable companion. Good medicine: a Bible in one hand, a really good book in the other, each reinforcing the other and feeding the spirit.