Comfort & Counsel

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by Jacob Ninan

King Solomon was one who explored various pleasures, hobbies, knowledge, ‘wisdom’ etc., as much as he wished to, because he had the means to do it as a king. But at the end of it all he came to the conclusion that it was all chasing after the wind and ultimately a heap of vanity. None of the things he pursued had any lasting value, and he had to concede that finally only God mattered and man’s relationship to Him. Unfortunately he was persuaded by his many wives to go after other gods. But he could still not deny the fact that respecting and obeying God were the only worthwhile things any man could do (Eccl.12:13,14).

One of the things Solomon recognised was the vanity of making books in countless numbers. “The writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body” (v.12). This has become truer now than ever before, with the disappearing of the handwritten manuscripts, typed sheets of paper and manual type setting for print. The physical aspect of writing is now so easy, and editing and publishing so routine. As a result, there is a glut of new books coming into the market every day. But taking a cue from Solomon, are all these books worth the effort of production, and the money people spend in buying them? Sadly, no.

Thinking only about Christian books, there was a time when authors felt compelled by the Spirit to put down in writing what they had learned from Him in order the share the message with the others. We can say that many of them were ‘inspired’ to write those books, seen from the fact they have become ‘classics’ and survived even centuries to bless modern readers. Many of them have been translated into many languages because people have recognised their value. Their message is still relevant for us even though their quaint old language may need revision.

But beginning some time towards the end of the 20th century books began to come out in large numbers which stood out not for their contents but for their advertising campaigns and the impressive titles and cover pages! The goal of many writers and the publishers seems to have changed from blessing the readers with the message to entering the bestseller lists. As the number of books multiplied, the value of the contents plummeted down. Matter which could have been expressed in ten pages now took two hundred. It was bloated up with larger fonts, greater line spacing, attractive layouts with a smattering of catchy graphics, bullet points, space for notes, etc. People are so impressed with how the books look and the commendations that have been given on the cover that they do not realise they are not getting value for their money.

Anyone who has been in ‘ministry’ for some time feels compelled to bring out a book in keeping with his or her status. Big names even get ghost writers to do the hard work and just add their ‘signature’ to it. Catchy titles, clever organisation of ideas into ‘easy steps’ and easy-to-remember acronyms, descriptive stories, testimonies and worksheets make things simple and manageable for even lazy readers. At the end of it all, the whole subject matter could have been condensed into an ‘abstract’ if there was one!

Ideas that have not been tried out are presented to the readers as if they were God’s truths. Teachings that have not stood the test of checking with the Bible are brought out glibly and in a convincing manner. The appeal of the author’s fame makes many books become popular without having to substantiate the claims made in the advertisements. Sometimes publishing companies pay prominent people to write on subjects which the publisher’s marketing division decides are going to sell well, even if the authors have not been inspired to do so or have exercised themselves with those subjects (Heb.5:14). Authors write about what the people would like to read rather than what they need to hear. The result is the ‘making of many books’ which only result in the ‘weariness of the body’!

From the point of view of technology, we also see a trend moving away from the printed page to e-books. On the other hand, people prefer watching DVDs to reading books – printed or electronic – to get information. DVDs are played on DVD players, and DVD drives themselves are no longer standard equipment in laptop computers. Videos are downloaded from the internet or copied through USB drives or Bluetooth. Smartphones are the most popular end platforms, especially among the young. Web pages on the internet are now designed for fast download (cutting down on the size of the material) and the small display screens of the phones. ‘Heavy stuff’ containing lots of reading material and graphics are no longer ‘mobile friendly’. As the smartphone display size has become standardised to between 5 to 6 inches diagonally, more people prefer to use their multifunction capability rather than additionally invest in larger sized tablets or e-readers. All this is pointing to the direction of keeping things short and simple. But what happens to resources required for in depth studies? At the moment serious students still depend on printed books.

Today’s people seem to be in a hurry to get knowledge served to them in the easiest practical way and also in an easily digestible form. The general pressure of life has something to do with this trend. But it may also indicate that people have no desire or motivation to take the trouble to chew over truth and digest them. As a result, books that are being prepared for them tend to be shallow in content so that people can consume them quickly without effort.

When it comes to young people, there seems to be a general aversion to reading, starting from childhood. Most of them are tech-savvy, and grow up with smartphones, computer screens and TV. Parents who are being beleaguered by the pressures of life and the consequent shortage of time and patience tend to direct the children away to the quick fix of such media. So here we have a set of youngsters growing up without much interest to read, even in school or college, and their literacy levels are abysmally low when it comes to the Bible and Christian books.

When Christians come across this situation, some of them focus on how to make better use of technology to reach children and young people. Though this is commendable in itself, is it also not necessary to take other steps to ensure that these youngsters get a special push to ‘read’ books, including the Bible? Without this, it might become difficult for them to proceed later to deeper level studies that can equip them for their own spiritual growth as well as for ministry. Parents need to pay special attention to this aspect, as also Sunday school teachers, youth leaders and pastors.

At the same time, some attention needs to be given to identifying Christian books that are helpful for spiritual growth at different levels from among the large numbers that are coming out. Here, churches have to look beyond the parochial scope of their own literature to what godly people from all over the world have written. Many of the older books are available for free on the internet, and others can be collected in libraries for the benefit of the people. One way a pastor can encourage people to read such books is by referring to material from such books in his sermons and creating an interest in his listeners.

We know that practically every aspect of a godly life is under attack these days, and in many ways the standard of the church and its people is going down. The area of books is just one of them. But this too is an aspect that needs attention in order to try and arrest the tendency to fall away. “Be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness” (2Pet.3:17). We also have a responsibility to pass on to the younger generation the vision and understanding that God has given through the centuries to His servants who have written them down.

-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, October 2017

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