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Fiction & Literature

 

Many of life's best pleasures are difficult to express. Why do we enjoy swimming on a hot day, reading a good poem, picking a guitar, or relaxing with friends? We can easily list reasons—it's fun, it's stimulating, it's pretty, we like company—but simple reasons don't explain the inherent goodness of these things.

Mankind was created to enjoy good. All true enjoyment comes from God, and the best way to enjoy anything is to receive it as a gift from our Heavenly Father. As followers of Jesus Christ, Christians are not only able, but instructed to find pleasure in the world around them. We don't have to flounder around on our own, though: our relationship to God equips us to experience true beauty and goodness. When God created the world He called it good. What God calls good is good, and He shows us through His Word and the Holy Spirit exactly what those things are.

At Exodus Books we enjoy good things, including good books, good music, and good fellowship. Literature reveals the thoughts and attitudes of other people and helps us experience the world from their perspective; music moves us without words, articulating through sound alone our deepest emotions; and fellowship is essential to vibrant Christian community because without friendship there is no unity.

Not that there aren't levels of goodness: there are some things we don't particularly enjoy, but that we can learn to appreciate. We enjoy what is obviously good, which reflects truth, and that is generally positive. Many things don't fit those categories, but are still worth our attention; some of them are even beautiful.

For instance, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is a novel of bad morals and despair. But it's not just that: aside from the author's poetic style, it presents an honest, consistent picture of life without God or meaning. While it would be easier to ignore the book and not have to deal with it, to read it and appreciate it while rejecting its message will bring us to a much better understanding of the world around us.

Which begs the question: How much do we need to know about the world around us? Paul tells us to be in the world but not of it, and an easy assumption is that the less we have to do with everything non-Christian, the better. The old answer that you need to know what others think in order to reach them is helpful, but incomplete. More to the point: the only way we can truly appreciate and be thankful for blessings and goodness is to have some knowledge of darkness and suffering with which to contrast them.

God is at the heart of enjoyment. There is an active element in the pursuit of wholesome pleasure that is often overlooked—we must eat food, drink wine, listen to symphonies, and play freeze tag to the glory of God, and therefore we must do these things with discernment and thankfulness. Reading The Great Gatsby is absolutely okay as long as you're aware of the author's point of view, and your enjoyment is rooted in God rather than the book itself or certainly any unchristian attitudes it expresses.

We mustn't apologize for having a good time—Christians don't need to be sorry when they enjoy literature, music, art, food, or anything else. The only thing we need to repent for is failing to thank God for the good things He's blessed us with and for failing to use the reason and discernment He's given us when engaging the culture. We hope our selection of good things is both helpful and thoroughly enjoyable.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.


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