The purpose of life is to reach God, so we want to make everything we own work towards this. Since what we read can have a strong influence on forming our character and beliefs, we should make sure our bookshelves are stairs to heaven by being intentional about what books we keep on them.
When we manage our book collection, whether that is a bookshelf, a bookcase, or an entire library—or, if we’ve gone digital, an e-library—we should be alert for the impact each book has on us—and we should weed and prune our shelves as necessary. Since the purpose of life is to reach God, so we don’t want to waste our time with toxic weeds—even attractive ones. They’ve got to go.
How do I know if a book is a weed?
This is an important question. Simply reeling off a list of ‘undesirable elements automatically condemning a book’ is not a satisfactory answer. The presence of sin in a book—or in any form of entertainment—is not by itself (up to a point) a problem. Life is full of sin and so, inevitably, will art be. The potential problem lies in how the sin is presented and how the situation is resolved.
I would therefore set out three easy criteria for recognizing ‘weeds’:
1) Content Issues
For example, something sinful does happen in the book, but it’s presented as good, and the book ends without any negative consequences of this mistake occurring and without leading the reader to conclude that the thing presented as good was in fact bad—or at the bare minimum, making the reader ponder and question the original presentation of the sin as good.
2) How did it make me feel?
Did this book leave me feeling a good emotion or a negative one? If negative—i.e., it left you feeling unrighteous anger, hate, lust, despair, vengefulness, or further from God in any way—you may want to prune it.
Caution no. 1—Be aware that because we are not perfect—we are works in progress—it’s possible that something good (including a good book) could actually cause us negative emotions, because of our own imperfections. If we recognize that the problem is in us, not the book, we may choose to keep it. But more often than not, this will be a good indicator that it’s one to let go.
Caution no. 2—It’s worth noting that one can finish an excellent book about the Holocaust feeling righteous anger or a book about a disaster feeling healthy and appropriate sadness—so we should also be a little careful over our definitions of positive and negative emotions when using this criteria.
3) If Jesus came in…
…and sat beside me while I was reading this, would I be happy to carry on reading (or even turn and start a conversation with him about the book) or would I immediately stuff it under the nearest cushion and hope he didn’t notice? (He would, he’s God—but you get the idea.)
Possibly the best tests of all. If we would not want our Lord and God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, to see us reading something—ditch it, fast.
Although we don’t wish to fall into scrupulosity or attempt to divorce ourselves from reality, the fact is that we often cling to books we enjoy but know aren’t good for us. So, if you think there might be a few weeds on your bookshelves to heaven, now might be a good time to prune them!