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Have you ever read a book and then felt like you had to repent afterward? 😂
Maybe the book had an open-door bedroom scene that totally fogged glass.
Or it might’ve described the gruesome, twisted rape of a child.
Whatever it was, it crossed the line.
I felt that way after reading Patrick Suskind’s Perfume for a college class. I know, I know it’s a classic. But it freaked the crap out of me, and I vowed I’d never read anything like it again.
But, there have been times when I’ve been reading a book, and I feel God tugging at my sleeve, whispering, “Put it down.”
And I ignore Him.
I keep turning the pages anyway, even though I know it’s trashing me up. For whatever reason, I don’t want to put the book down even though I should.
Professor and psychiatrist Anna Lembke describes in her book, Dopamine Nation, how she got addicted to (of all things) romance novels.
It all started after she devoured one wildly popular, addicting YA romance series. After that, she was hooked.
“I became a chain reader of formulaic erotic genre novels. As soon as I finished one e-book, I moved to the next: reading instead of socializing, reading instead of cooking, reading instead of sleeping, reading instead of paying attention to my husband and kids.”
As Lembke herself admits, this type of reading is unhealthy. (Just so you know, she overcame her addiction and went on to help many others with theirs.)
This type of reading doesn’t please God. It doesn’t enhance our spiritual walk. I don’t have to convince you of this.
Can we read books for pleasure and please God at the same time?
Reading is a gift from God. When we read wisely and well, it draws us closer to God.
In fact, reading can foster selflessness and fraternal love.
C.S. Lewis says it best in this quote from An Experiment in Criticism. He asks why do we read? And he answers like this:
“We seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves.
We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own.
In love we escape from our self into one other.
This process can be described either as an enlargement or as a temporary annihilation of the self. But that is an old paradox; ‘he that loseth his life shall save it.'”
Reading allows us to see life from the viewpoint of another. And empathy blossoms in our heart.
Sarah MacKenzie hits the nail on the head in her book The Read-Aloud Family.
“When we finish the final chapter of a book that has touched us on a deep level and we slip back into our own shoes, we are never quite the same. We’re changed. We start the book in one place and leave it in quite another—more merciful, more understanding, maybe a little more compassionate than we were before.”
We feel God’s approval in this kind of reading.
We don’t have to choose only sanitized books or books that can pass the TSA of Christian censorship.
We can read to please God when we pick up Homer or even Harry Potter.
We can read good books with godly discernment and walk away with treasures untold.
Empathy is one of the richest gems we can gain.
Another is virtue.
“Literature embodies virtue, first, by offering images of virtue in action and, second, by offering the reader a vicarious practice in exercising virtue, which is not the same as actual practice, of course, but is nonetheless a practice by which habits of mind, ways of thinking and perceiving, accrue.”Karen Swallow Prior, On Reading Well
- Empathy for my fellow humans.
- Vicarious virtue to train my mind.
Stories offer these treasures—freely.
Can you name any other hobby that can say the same?
Yes, reading requires effort, but the rewards are rich, and they last a lifetime.
If you’re feeling a little soul-starved…a little dissatisfied with the superficiality of it all…a good book is never far away.
My prayer for you is that you let reading lift you up, not weigh you down.