One of the most important things I’ve discovered in my seven years in college (sigh) is that reading is an amazing thing. Like many people growing up, I thought reading was lame. Why would I read a book I’m not required to when I could hang out with my friends, play basketball, or play Xbox? As a result, I only read what my teachers assigned for me or the Bible for the first 18 years of my life.
But the summer break before I started college, I saw this TV show that I really enjoyed. Then I learned it was based on a series of huge (900-1500 pages each) novels. So, I bought them. And read them all…in about four weeks. After I was done with them, I surfed around on the internet and discovered other books that sounded fascinating to me. I ordered a dozen of them and borrowed other books from friends.
Suddenly, I was immersed in a whole new world. Not only did I find amazing novels and works of fiction that made me marvel at how creative people could be (a reflection of God’s creativity within us), I was exposed to books about specific times, places, and people in history that have done remarkable things and suffered pains I couldn’t imagine. In a way, books have given me the opportunity to transcend my own experience and see what people of different backgrounds, other perspectives, and other worlds go through and how they experience them.
That, I think, is the power of reading. It gives us an unparalleled look into someone else’s life that you can’t get unless you speak with them in person. It shows us the world we live in from a different point-of-view. It helps us think more holistically about the world. Most of all, it helps us identify with people different from us.
The problem we face is that people, on average, are reading less and less for pleasure. In a time of socio-political upheaval and when it seems like so many people won’t (or don’t know how to) listen to or try to understand each other, we are making less effort to engage with one of the best methods of doing so. In my opinion, it’s one of the biggest problems our culture has to address.
Christians, however, are called to be set apart, to bring the Light of Christ to a dark world. Our mission is to bring the message of a merciful, loving God to people who don’t know how fiercely they are loved. Arguably the best model for how we can do this is the Apostle Paul, the man who brought the gospel to the Gentiles of the Roman world. Explaining his methods to the church at Corinth, he wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (ESV).
This raises the question: how can we be all things to all people? It starts with learning about them, identifying with them. Then we can communicate the gospel to them in a way that they can understand. One way to come to a greater understanding of others is to engage with them, in conversation and life with them. The other is through reading their stories, their experiences. So, let’s use everything at our means to identify with those who need the gospel. Let’s read.