Lessons in a bookstore

It is unheard of for me to feel agitation around shelves and shelves of books.  Yet that is exactly what happened on a recent foray into a large bookstore in Edmonton.  Normally a chance to browse titles and peruse pages is a welcome and somewhat leisurely treat, often longed for but seldom indulged in.  In retrospect I must admit that there were things other than books on my mind that day – weighty and complex issues that encompassed my spirit.  But although they affected my frame of mind at that particular time, they were not the source of my “biblio-anxiety.”

My bookstore experience was an unsettling affirmation of some observations and thoughts that I had been processing for some time.  In my personal reading and study I have been focusing on Christian apologetics and thoroughly appreciating the thoughtful challenges of authors such as Ravi Zacharias and Oz Guinness.  In addition, my job as an English and Social Studies teacher requires me to be acquainted with numerous texts, ideologies, and perspectives of thinking.  Generally speaking, I enjoy my reading and research in all of these areas.  So why the disconnect in the bookstore?

Well, it began quite innocuously as I was searching for a book by a particular author.  I did not find it, nor could I find much of anything by any authors that I would consider to be solidly grounded in a Biblical world-view. But there were a plethora of books.  Books everywhere, about everything.  Romance books with sensual covers.  Science fiction books with apocalyptic themes.  History books that delved into the atrocities and obscurities of mankind.  Biographies and autobiographies that often resembled tabloid sensationalism.  Self-help books ad naseum.  Diet books ad infinitum. The feelings of unease began closing in.  I was surrounded by literally thousands of pages replete with human wisdom and insight.  And it all seemed so empty.  I was lost in a world of knowledge about everything and nothing. My search for a particular author became a desperate hunt for anything that resembled the wisdom of God.  I found some possibilities here and there… Dostoevsky on the end of the 4th self, C.S. Lewis in the children’s section, Chesterton in the bargain bin.

The uneasiness became frustration.  Not because I couldn’t find the book I had hoped to find, but because it further served to confirm some previous observations about the vast amounts of information that are available at the click of a button via the internet.  As a teacher, I appreciate the ready availability of information.  It makes my job much easier in so many ways.  But, like the bookstore, the world wide web of information is fraught with human wisdom and perspectives that are anything but Godly.  Anyone can post anything about everything.  Never before has so much information been twittered, blogged, facebooked, chatted, texted, youtubed, or podcasted.  One can comment on news stories about which one knows virtually nothing, and somehow each perspective is as valid as anyone else’s.  We feel empowered by the opportunity to express ourselves, and so we do – often with reckless abandon.

I am not against any of these methods of communication.  I appreciate the connections that facebook has brought back into my life.  I chat with dear friends and precious family members.  I blog.  I gratefully listen to podcasts by Godly teachers that I would never get the chance to see or hear in person.  But what I am acutely aware of is that even with all this vast array of information and knowledge and communication, we as human beings are still destroying each other.  We are still lonely and isolated and desperate for love that is real.  We are still madly searching for meaning in our existence even though Darwin was supposed to have penned a clarification for us on that issue years ago.  We are surrounded by knowledge and yet remain fools.

What scared me most that day was the thought that if I was feeling overwhelmed by all of this information, what must the teens that I teach feel when they try to find answers to the situations in their lives?  Where is the grade 12 student going to get answers when her mom tells her that the 17 years of raising her has been nothing but a waste of time and energy; that having a daughter has done nothing but hold her back from the things she wanted out of life?  What answers do the books on the shelves and the web pages give to the young man in the prime of his life who has decided that life is just simply not worth living anymore?  What wisdom is provided for the stay-at-home mom who copes with loneliness by living vicariously on facebook while the real world of raising children collapses around her?

I know that all of them can find answers of some kind – in books, on the internet, from others.  Our world is not short on answers; but when answers are based on the shaky foundation of self-determinism we find that we are no better off for having embraced them. We are increasingly at risk to the abuses of our own wisdom.

Hence my feelings of agitation.  Fearful agitation.  In the end, I shelved the feelings until I could make better sense of them, put on my English teacher’s persona and bought a benign but practical book on vocabulary.   Clarification came later as I returned to the source of all knowledge and wisdom – the Word of God.  It was like standing in the middle of a whirlwind and finding an anchor in the calmness of that space.  The Word of God has always contained everything needed for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”  That has not changed; what has changed is the sheer number of other voices that are trying to make that same claim.  Minus the righteousness part perhaps – after all, what is right and true has become a matter of personal preference and/or expediency.

I have never before felt more urgency for the need to allow God’s Word to permeate every area of my life; to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ”; to “see to it that no one takes [me] captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”  Anchored in the truths of God’s Word, I have a firm place of strength, consistency, clarity, perspective… and transcendent wisdom.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  Only the beginning!?  And yet that offers so much more hope and purpose than all those shelves of books and a whole cyber world of human wisdom.

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