Last week, a friend wrote on Facebook about a challenge from the New York Times. The Times is asking for entries to answer the query: Was your life changed by a book? Readers are encouraged to submit an entry of 200 words or less about a book that has influenced your outlook. I’ve been thinking about this question. What one book would I choose?
On my bookshelf there are many books that helped shape my way of thinking. I thought about Rich Thinking about the World’s Poor by Peter Meadows which helped shape my views on poverty and missions. I considered a humorous book of short stories by Bailey White, Mama Makes Up Her Mind. Or, perhaps I would select a book from my childhood enticing me to enjoy novels. I particularly recall my delight at ten years old reading The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas.
My mind kept returning though to the obvious book: The Bible, the book of books. I could write paragraph after paragraph about the dramatic, inspirational, and practical dynamics of the sacred book of books. The Bible has inspired multitudes of persons in its uniqueness among books. But let’s keep it short.
My first true encounter with the Bible was almost absurd. I was probably eleven years old at the time that I read excerpts from another book, a bestseller at the time, The Exorcist. My oldest sister had a copy, and I glanced a bit too long at it. I was scared, maybe even scarred, by the story of the demonic possession of Regan, an eleven year old girl. I had trouble sleeping for fear that I would share the fate of Regan.
At this time, in the early 1970s, the movie was released, too. I felt like I even resembled the actress, Linda Blair, who portrayed the demon-possessed girl. I was doomed.
My sister assured me that it all was a story, make-believe if you will. However, I knew just a smidgeon about the Gospels mentioning demons. So, I looked up instances in the Gospels of demonic possessions. Not only did they exist, but they had the power to possess the body and mind. I was terrified even more than before I read the Bible’s accounts.
So my first forays into reading Biblical texts made me a believer, not of the love of God, but in the power of the devil. If the Bible had accounts of demonic possession, then I could not idly dismiss the existence of such evil personified. I felt terribly hopeless.
My heightened fear of potential demonic possession eased, but a general malaise stayed with me. I had no hope. All life seemed purposeless. It wasn’t just the specter of Linda Blair that frightened me. It was just life in general. What meaning did my life have?
Then, I heard something when I was around 12 years old. I heard a man speak at my church who seemed to have an unmistakable sense of the divine about him. It was as if he spoke from a different perspective, not his perspective but from God’s.
I was convinced that the man in the front of the church had something more powerful than words with him that night. He offered me Hope. And I, like John Wesley, felt my heart strangely warmed. I reached out and took hold of Hope.
After that day, the Bible was no longer a book that just offered evidence of the power of the demonic. It offered a story of the One who was more powerful than any demon. I read the Gospels with new clarity. How had I overlooked it before? You see, Jesus did indeed confront demons but he had power over them. People were liberated from the power of the devil.
Since then, I see the Bible in so many ways. It’s not a book to condemn but to set free. It’s about light, not darkness. It’s a book of hidden treasures, with new insights to be gained daily from its reading.
I am certain that the New York Times is not looking for essays on the efficacy of the Bible in influencing a preteen girl both towards fear, and later, freedom. We, in the United States, live in a post Christian world. That great and glorious best-seller, the Bible, has been relegated to a place where it’s influence can be explained as a history lesson, a cultural milestone of years gone by. Current Bible enthusiasts are regarded as oddities, stuck in cultural backwaters that is being swept away by the modern cynical age we live in.
I remain, though, convinced of my convictions. The book that has changed my outlook more than any book I’ve ever read is the Bible. No matter how trite or how inane it sounds, the Bible remains my bedrock and foundation as the most powerful book in my life. It’s words are like my daily bread, new every morning.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
If you want to submit your entry about a book that has shaped your life to the New York Times, you must do it now. Entries must be submtted by 10:00 a.m on January 15.