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Writing Life: Great Books Are Indelible

A good story will always include an enduring message that enters into the conversation of literature and the humanities. Any book, even old ones, will reflect the beliefs and ideas of their time. But the books that a culture chooses to pass on to future generations say even more about its beliefs and ideas. These are, after all, the best of the best, the most valuable stories, on display. Older generations (professors and parents) will pass these books to new readers because their message doesn’t fade with time.

Every story ever asks the questions, “What does it mean to be human?”, “What does it mean to live?”, or “What is valuable in life?” Even the Bible, tracing an enormous story — from creation, through mankind’s fall, and into redemption — considers these questions, and provides the answers we believe to be true. From that first story of creation, every story since tackles this question and answers it in a different way. We see threads repeat: worldwide floods, clashes between gods and men, and the rise and fall of great civilizations. New stories bring twists, changes in focus, and unexpected developments.

Each new addition to the conversation broadens it. In the past twenty years many academics/scholars have pushed for new, more inclusive ideas around great literature. The result has been many great works from international authors, multi-ethnic authors, and minority authors. Each one takes a facet of the diamond and reflects it in a new way, glimmering and sparkling. Now there are richer, more colorful takes on the same old concepts.

While every story, to an extent, takes part in this conversation, the great books are the ones that stay in the conversation even after thousands of others have risen to take its place. Think of a huge wave, moving towards the shore. While the crest of the wave sparkles like a thousand diamonds, it’s the force of the water behind the crest that propels it, crashing on the shore. Deny or dislike it, we are shaped by what precedes us. The greatest stories will continue to have effects on readers even long after they were written. What’s more, our newest stories will always be tinged with what came before.

As Christians, we face a particular challenge. Through the revelation of God’s word, we have the answers to the questions. Thus, the challenge is to recognize and appreciate “non-Christian” books with deep value, while simultaneously recognizing God’s framework as the ultimate standard of truth. Everything must flow from the greatest Story, the Word of God. Absolutely, it should be our role to continue to study and illuminate great works, even while recognizing that the ultimate truth will come from God’s word.

So search for the deep, powerful stories below the waves: the ones that propel the waves forward, driving them to new places. Search and find these stories, and study them carefully. And deeper than everything, look to the one who has created all the oceans.