One of my favorite movies is Shadowlands, a story about C.S. Lewis and his life with Joy Davidman. In a somewhat inconsequential scene, we find Lewis talking to a student who had stolen a book, and in the midst of the conversation the student says “we read to know we’re not alone.” I have always loved that quote, and in response to others who might ask me why I read so much, I think I would offer the same response.
Even though I’ve become picky about the books I read, I don’t limit my reading to one genre or discipline. I’ll read science, history, philosophy, psychology, poetry, literature, religion, theology, mythology, fantasy, science fiction, economics, pretty much anything that piques my interest. When I think about why I read so much, I don’t believe it is merely for knowledge’s sake, though that is a definite result. Rather, I think I read, as Lewis’ student so aptly said, to know I’m not alone.
I could write of how Tolkien, Lewis, Herbert, Hyack, Smith, Postman, Nouwen, Oliver, Card, Adams, Stott, Miller, and many others have helped me sort through my inner world and find my place, but I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention David. Make of it what you will, and I’m sure someone will wonder why I don’t just say “the Bible,” but it is mostly in the writings of David I find words affirming that I am not alone. And while I have read many books and authors multiple times, none have I read so consistently as the Psalms. In fact, a few years ago I spent over a year reading the same psalm every day constantly finding something new. Today, as I read Psalm 40, I realized it might be the perfect psalm to explain why David’s words have spoken so deeply to me.
As a child, I had the distinct impression a Christian was one who, once saved by faith, never wavered and never struggled. Sure, the occasional difficult time might come along, but for the most part, life was supposed to be good. While I won’t go into the specifics here, it didn’t take long for me to have my “Siddhartha” moment and realize the world was not all peaches and creme. There was death, disease, and war; duplicity, deceit, and betrayal; everything that lurked in the dark soul could be found running around in the world in broad daylight. But I didn’t see it only in the world of sinners, I also saw it all in the world of believers. However, unlike Siddhartha, I did not abandon the beliefs in which I was brought up, rather I found solace in the writings of David.
Psalm 40 tells me that although I sing a new song because God lifted me from the pit of sin and placed my feet on the solid rock of Christ, my heart will often fail under the strain of life’s struggles, strife, and sin. Yet contrary to what I thought I was being told as a child, I don’t believe those two things are incompatible. It’s possible to have your heart pulled between the songs of praise and the dirges of defeat. It’s possible to want to yell out with Jack Dawson, “I’m the king of the world” and in the next moment find yourself laying on the floor of your dark closet crying, wondering why God seems to have abandoned you. It’s possible to experience the full range of human emotion, both positive and negative, as a believer because that is how God designed us: the negative emotions and feelings don’t mysteriously disappear the day you give your life to God.
If you were to ask me, I would say this broad range of emotion is what David was feeling as he penned Psalm 40. He knew what is was like to have feet slip (Psa. 38:16) but also what it was like to be placed on solid ground (Psa. 40:2). He knew what it was like to cry out to the Lord and hear no reply (Psa. 10, 12, 13) but also what it was like to be heard (Psa. 40:1). He knew what it was like to be deaf and blind not seeing or hearing the Lord (Psa. 38:13-14) but also what it was like to finally, like Job, see and hear God (Psa. 40:6). He knew what it was like to proclaim God’s greatness before the world (Psa. 40:9-11), but he also knew what it was like to be oppressed by his own sin so much that he felt like he would die (Psa. 40:12). He knew all of this and yet in the final words of Psalm 40, he also hopes that God, his deliverer, would not forget him.
It is good to know I am not alone.