The Importance of Reading I

It was originally the intention of the Session of CERC to ask me to make a speech on the subject, “What Does the Bible Say about Reading?” Quite frankly, I was a bit puzzled about this request, chiefly because I always considered reading a normal part of the Christian life. Because other subjects I was asked to speak on took more time than anticipated, this matter of reading was pushed aside.

But then it was brought to my attention that there was good reason for a speech on reading, because Singaporeans as a general rule, do not read very much – that is do not read very much apart from their textbooks. “There isn’t any time,” students say, “to read anything else but that which has to do with our studies.” And so, interest in and love for reading are lost in the welter of learning what has to be known in order to have a successful career.

Hence, it was with some urgency that it was suggested to add a speech on reading. When that proved impossible, it was suggested that I write what I was going to say in the speech in an article for “Salt Shakers,” and this I gladly do.

The Bible’s References to Reading There are not many references to reading in Scripture. This is probably due to the fact that there was not much reading done in those days prior to the invention of the moveable type printing press. Books were scarce and expensive and most people did not have them. The books that were available were scrolls, difficult to store and handle and easily broken.

The scarcity of books is the reason why all Israel or Judah were gathered together to hear the books of the Bible read to them (Deut. 27:14 – where the Levites are probably commanded to read all the words of the law to those on Mount Gerazim and Mount Ebal; Neh. 3:5, 8; Esther 6:1). Paul in his instruction to Timothy concerning what was required of him to be a good minister admonished Timothy, “Give attendance to reading” (I Tim. 4:13). Though the apostle was nearing the end of his life, when he urges Timothy to come to him, he tells Timothy to “bring with thee the books, but especially the parchments: (II Tim. 4:13).

There are a few metaphorical references to books in Scripture: The decree of election is sometimes referred to as the Book of Life; and the great event of the Judgment Day will be that the books, which record all that a man did, will be opened. But these references are not about our calling to read.

When we discuss the importance of reading we must also take into account the differences between people. Some people have a “knack” for reading and usually learn to read before they go to school and before anyone teaches them. Others never learn to read at all except in a very limited way. I had a cousin with whom I spent many hours, trying to teach him to read. I never succeeded, although, without every learning to read, he became a very successful business man.

There are others who, while they learn to read, for some inexplicable reason, never learn to enjoy it. Reading   for them is laborious, difficult, a constant struggle and barely worth the effort that needs to be put forth.

It is worth mentioning in this connection that reading of good, solid, worthwhile material is necessary in the life of a Christian, even for one who enjoys reading, but finds “heavy” reading most difficult.

Reading skills are like muscular skills. The harder one works at it and the more intense is the effort the more reading skills improve.

I   recall that   especially   in college, when taking courses in philosophy, I ran into some pretty difficult reading, for philosophy can be very difficult to understand. Some of the material had to be read and re-read seven or eight times before it began to make sense.

I recall one man, a Presbyterian, told me he was reading Rev. Herman Hoeksema’s “Reformed Dogmatics.” There were passages, he said, that he felt like he was driving a snow plow trying to break up a huge snow drift. The truck, in order to break through, had to back up, put the accelerator down to the floor, and ram the snow drift as hard as he could. He would probably advance about four feet. Then the same actions had to be repeated.

This is the way the ice is broken in the big lakes near where I live. They freeze over in the cold of winter, sometimes to a depth of more than 6 meters. But cargo ships are eager in the spring to begin hauling cargo through the lakes, and so ice breakers are sent out with powerful diesel engines and thick steel prows. They back up and then, with full speed, smash into the ice, sometimes even riding up on the top of it, hoping that the weight of the boat will break the ice. Foot by foot, they open a path for cargo ships to get through.

So it is with reading. One does not automatically find all reading easy and enjoyable. He must work at it, persevere in thinking hard about what he is reading, and he will find that gradually his reading skills of “heavy” material will improve.

But the point I am making is that people vary widely in their ability to read. Yet, even slow readers and readers to whom reading is difficult can and must improve their skills, if they are to be responsible Christian readers.

Written by: Prof. Herman Hanko | Issue 6