We are living in an information saturated age. We are bombarded by scores of witty quotes and blog posts (like this one) that it has become virtually impossible to really chew on all this “important” information. So , some, like me have found it easier to bookmark web links for later reading and add hundreds of books to our Amazon cloud and Wishlists. We no longer have the time to read the information we need to read, let alone the patience to memorize it.
Aldous Huxley made a prophetic observation about a century ago, in Brave New World Revisited. He feared that “we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy… There would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one… We would have so much information that we will be reduced to passivity and egoism… The truth will be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”
It is sad to observe and admit that this is what is increasingly happening today. As we gather for ourselves earthly treasures of helpful internet bookmarks and subscribe to notable websites and blogs, we have succumbed to a culture that fills up storehouses but seldom ingests the contents. The temptation to consume the instant has surpassed the temptation to consume the delayed, and eventually, the eternal. Delayed gratification seems to be a foreign concept today. We prefer booklets to books, quotes to sentences, status updates to conversations. Our minds are saturated with (and addicted to) de-contextualized trivialities from our virtual friends’ Twitter feeds and Facebook status updates.
However, internet bookmarks are not true memories. It is essential that I cultivate a culture of reading and internalizing information that I consider important. This is because real memories are not dormant, they are alive and dynamic. While computer memory only stores the information as a database and retrieves it in the original condition when needed, the human mind is a different kind of memory storage space. The human mind treats information like food. An important point to note in comparing information to food is the fact that our bodies utilize food in its digested form, not its ingested form.We ingest bread, meat, fruits and vegetables; we utilize carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins. Same foods, different forms.
Our brains are like the digestive organs for information, and the mind is the digestive system. The mind processes the information, disseminating it into chunks and forms that are relevant to the various real life encounters as we grow. In an unanticipated life crisis, you need the digested vitamins and proteins of information, not the bread and beef of book titles and web-links. This is clearly seen in our Bible reading habits. If you never read your Bible and you suddenly find yourself in a spiritual crisis, how you handle it reveals a lot regarding your reading habits. For instance, a person who doesn’t have the habit of going through the whole Bible at least once a year (or one who doesn’t do it at all) may find himself plagued by a question about patience. His instinctive move would be to search or Google “Patience Bible Verses”. Of course, he will get a good list of Bible verses that either mention the word patience or describe the importance of patience. He will even be able to formulate a nice systematic theology of patience from these verses, but it will be a lifeless theology.
The reason his theology will be lifeless is because it will have no lives in it. The Bible contains so much more than just quotes and one-liners about patience, it is also full of rich stories of patience in action. There are numerous sections that do not even mention the word patience or its importance, and yet they are the greatest depictions of patience ever. Stories like those of Abraham and Sarah waiting for their promised Son, or King Saul waiting for Samuel to return so that he could offer the sacrifice to God… Such stories contain deep lessons on patience that can only be learned through a serious and deliberate interaction with the Bible as a whole. Above all, the Bible is written by a patient God. Such wisdom is caught, not taught. And you cannot catch it unless you spend serious hours reading and meditating upon the Word of God. The same goes for every other book. Status updates and quotes by famous authors may be witty, nice and cute, but they are poor sources of any valuable information about life.
We need to revive a reading culture. More specifically, we need to revive a BOOK reading culture. One story about a patient man is worth more than a thousand quotes on patience. Similarly, one personal conversation with a friend will reveal more about them than reading a thousand Facebook status updates on their wall. Reading a book is like having a conversation with the author. You don’t just get a collection of disconnected facts and figures on various topics, you get to see and feel the heart of the writer. You get facts and figures that find their relevance in the life of the person presenting them. You get into their world and not only get to see the world through their eyes, but you also get to live through their experiences. God has made it ideal that we grow best through inter-personal relationships. In reading a book, you interact with the author’s person and you therefore get to grow as a person, as opposed to just being a database of deep quotes and statements that have little to no relation with reality or even each other.
Finally, King David loved to read God’s Word and promises. He treasured these words. And when he said;
“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11),
he wasn’t merely talking about a collection of commands and quotes about right living and fighting sin, he was reflecting upon conversations with God through the interaction with His Word. The reason he would not sin against God would not be because a specific command is piercing his conscience, but because a specific relationship is worth preserving – his relationship with God, which he has cultivated through communion with God through His Word.
May we be such readers.
In His service and for His glory,