Saturday, June 21, 2008

Three Books Worth Reading This Summer

1. A Severe Mercy I have never been engrossed with the story of one’s life so much as I was while reading Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy. I read it during my Junior year of high school and sort of forgot about the story altogether. Then I went to a discussion on it in Berkeley and decided to peruse Sheldon Vanauken’s heartfelt story once more. Letting the pages tell the story, I remembered that it was a beautiful story that did not apply to me because I wasn’t in love. Reading it a second time through opened my eyes to the broader aspect of the story other than the near perfect love Sheldon and Davy shared. As a matter of fact, the grief aspect of the story took me to the brink of tears and as Sheldon whispers, “Oh love” many times over to Davy, I couldn’t help but to picture myself in the shoes of Vanauken as I stared down significant grief. C.S. Lewis’ surefire wisdom even falters during his own moment of grief as he experiences loss of a similar magnitude. A Severe Mercy ignites one to ask so many questions…“How are Christians supposed to love (eros)? What was good about sharing and doing everything in common? Why do we grieve death of another believer when we know their soul lies in eternal peace? How can one obtain the same inloveness that the Vanaukens obtained?”

I’d spent much time thinking about the questions the story presented without actually letting it sink into any personal application. After time passed and I thought of the story in terms of personal application, the question I found myself asking was, “What is my severe mercy?”…my shining barrier that God must rip away for me to be in complete “inloveness” with God. God had to take Davy from Sheldon so that he could grow to love God. Thus, the very thing Sheldon loved was taken away from him so that he could find True Love. Lewis says it was a severe mercy for God to do so. Severe because it was harsh? Or severe because it was absolutely and painfully necessary? God is taking something away from me that I do not want to let go and in the end, I will find it to be a severe mercy. Harsh…yet necessary. If you have not read the book, you should do so. It is good for your soul. If you have read it, than feel free to share your ideas.

2. Another great book to consider is Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography. I received this book when I was accepted to Torrey and thought, “cool book…maybe I’ll read it sometime.” In this book, I found the life of Frederick Douglass to be much like Augustine’s in Confessions. While Augustine admits that he should have “found’ Christ at a much earlier stage in life, Frederick laments the fact that God is even merciful for allowing slavery to exist. Either way, both men realize that their actions throughout the course of life were a direct result of Providence leading them to their respective state of finding Christianity. Men like Douglass motivate me to work my tail off at everything. Through his grief-ridden story, Douglass was able to find the hand of God directing him to salvation.

While the story of Douglass is compelling and heart-wrenching, the most powerful part is his appendix where he writes of slave owners, the slavery scene, and America in general, “Dark and terrible as is this picture, I hold it to be strictly true of the overwhelming mass of professed Christians in America. They strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Could any thing be more true of our churches? They would be shocked at the proposition of fellowshipping a sheep-stealer ; and at the same time they hug to their communion a man-stealer, and brand me with being an infidel, if I find fault with them for it. They attend with Pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. They are always ready to sacrifice, but seldom to show mercy. They are they who are represented as professing to love God whom they have not seen, whilst they hate their brother whom they have seen. They love the heathen on the other side of the globe. They can pray for him, pay money to have the Bible put into his hand, and missionaries to instruct him; while they despise and totally neglect the heathen at their own doors.

Such is, very briefly, my view of the religion of this land; and to avoid any misunderstanding, growing out of the use of general terms, I mean, by the religion of this land, that which is revealed in the words, deeds, and actions, of those bodies, north and south, calling themselves Christian churches, and yet in union with slaveholders. It is against religion, as presented by these bodies, that I have felt it my duty to testify.

Like so many unbelievers note, Douglass states the greatest turnoff to Christianity are Christians who don’t act like Christians. Even though it is important to note that the context of Douglass’ appendix was in light of the slavery movement during America (and thus the crimes of the religious may have been more extreme), the similar could be said of Christians today. Before Vanauken was led to Christ, he writes,

"The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians - when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths."

3. Job. The book of Job is terribly frightening and depressing. Depressing because Job’s laments bring sorrow to anyone’s heart. Frightening because it allowed me to realize that even though one can be entirely righteous such as Job, God can be far. In the eyes of God, Job was blameless (1:1). When calamity struck Job, he stated, “The Lord giveth and the Lord hath taketh. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this, Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (1:22). Nevertheless as Job cries out for the Lord to be with him and he cries out for the Lord to have mercy, the Lord does not respond. It may be one of those remarks such as, “The Lord answers prayer with Yes, No, or Wait…” But here was a completely blameless man seeking the will of God and desperately looking for the hope in God, and yet God did not comfort Job in his grief and sorrow. It is utterly frightening and completely appalling. There are times when we can try utter hardest to search for God, and yet He feels so distant. Is this a result of our own spiritual slothfulness? Or must we be patient and wait on the Lord (Isaiah 40:31)? Job was eventually blessed…but it seemed completely despairing that a completely righteous man such as Job called for comfort and received none. The point of this is not to say that God is distant from us…but it is to note that God will test us and will maybe even be far from us no matter how desperate are cries are. Seek the Lord and you will be find Him. Continuously seek the Lord and you will retain Him.

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