Kate Orson loves to get lost in a book, but after feeling bereft at the end of her last, she felt drawn back to the Bible.
I recently read a book called Dancing With the Devil: An Honest Look Into The Occult From Former Followers compiled by Jeff Harshbarger. The book is a collection of testimonies from former satanists, witches and new age practitioners about their experiences and how they left behind their former lives to follow Jesus.
It was a fascinating read, giving an insight into how people are drawn to the darkness. As I read, I reflected on my own childhood, how at school with friends we talked about the grey lady who haunted the local graveyard, and how if you turned around twelve times in a mirror at night, Bloody Mary would appear. I devoured books on ghosts and the supernatural. As an adult I was drawn to the "lighter" side of spirituality, in the kind of spiritual practices where Satan "disguises himself as an angel of light" (Corinthians 11:14). Some people mentioned they’d written their own books in their testimonies, and I jotted down the names, hungry to learn more about the occult.
It was a fascinating read, giving an insight into how people are drawn to the darkness.
Then as suddenly as it had all started, in just a couple of days, it was all over. The book was finished, and I felt a sense of loss. I’m sure it’s something many readers will be familiar with. Whether it’s escaping into a fictional world, or expanding knowledge with a non-fiction journey, what could be better than a good book? Then, when that book is over, it leaves a gaping hole. Post-book grief is very real. In an article for the BBC bibliotherapist Bijal Shah said: "It’s a sense of loss that you feel at the end [of a book] and you’re grieving. It’s like saying goodbye to so many friends you’ve made, because you’ve got to know this person over the course of the book and now there’s no more connection."
As I was wallowing in my post-book grief, I remembered the words of Charles Spurgeon: "Visit many good books but live in the Bible." I’d been on holiday. I could have extended my trip and seen more of the sights, however, I sensed that the craving and hunger for more would never be satisfied, unless I returned home. I picked up my Bible, started to read, and remembered. This book is like no other. Augustine said that the Bible is: "Shallow enough for a child not to drown, but deep enough for an elephant to swim." Our home is expansive, and rich, and no matter how much we read there is always more to discover. Why do we ever leave?
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Just as Paul quoted the Pagan philosophers to make a point, I think it’s important that as Christians we have knowledge and understanding of the culture we live in. These journeys into the culture can be educational and enjoyable. However, like a risky journey into the wilderness there can be the danger of losing our way. I can’t help wondering if Spurgeon was referring to himself when he reminded us to live in the Bible. With a library of 7,000 books, perhaps he experienced a good deal of literary temptation!
King Solomon recognised the trap of knowledge when he wrote, in Ecclesiastes 12.12: "My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh." While Solomon had asked God for wisdom, he perhaps was also aware that too much focus on learning was not a balanced way to live. If Solomon felt weary in his day, just imagine how he would have felt in this modern world with so many more books, videos and podcasts at our disposal. There is so much good stuff out there, to deepen our walk, or decode difficult passages of the Bible. But it can be like a labyrinth to get lost in.
I remembered the words of Charles Spurgeon: "Visit many good books but live in the Bible."
God helped me early on in my walk by guiding me to always reach for my Bible every night. Then in spare moments in the day I visit other books. That’s my rule, although sometimes a tempting book or eye-opening podcast will grab my attention. Thankfully there’s often something I read or hear from a fellow Christian that reminds me how amazing the Bible is, and I am shepherded back home.
There are a number of benefits to living in our Bibles. The Center of Bible Engagement conducted research which found that reading the Bible one to three days a week had little affect on our emotional health. However those that read the Bible for four days a week or more experienced significant benefits including less feelings of anger, loneliness, or relationship bitterness. People were less likely to view pornography or engage in excessive drinking. People were also 200 per cent more likely to share their faith.
As Christians we are blessed not to be endless travellers, searching to fill a God-shaped hole. I pray that anyone suffering from post-book grief might be led to pick up the one book that can truly lead us home.