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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Reason I Write (and The Reason You Read)

Near the exact middle of his classic war novel, "Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet On The Western Front)," Erich Maria Remarque makes a startling statement through his main character: "Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine guns, hand-grenades--words, words, words, but they hold the horror of the world." Remarque understood the power of words, using them to display the fulness of life and the horrors of "The Great War" (World War I) before our eyes. George Orwell was about eleven years old when "The Great War" broke out and he, too, understood the power of words (is it any wonder both writers have been banned).

Orwell's 1946 essay, "Why I Write," proposes how words in their right arrangement "share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed." This is one reason of four Orwell suggests that one would write, for "aesthic enthusiasm;" that is, for the joy of words in their arrangement. Three other reasons include what he calls "sheer egoism." Writing can be a selfish act, for writing arises out of "the desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death . . . . Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money."

Another of Orwell's reasons to write is out of historical impulse, the "desire to see things as they are, to find true facts and store them up for the use of prosperity." Orwell finally suggests that one writes for political purpose. This last is perhaps the most intriguing, as he uses the word "political" in a different sense. Orwell means the "desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people's idea of the kind of society that they should strive after." While Orwell admits his writing is for democratic socialism, he is not far from the divine reasons to write.

The fact that we use language should not be taken for granted, for the use of language is part of what it means to be made in God's image. God spoke all things into being yet left one task for man to complete: the naming of the animals. Simply put: as God created with words, man (made is God's image) is to be creative with words. One might argue that communication occurs in the animal realm, so there is no distinction between man and animals. The actual difference is that man uses words and this is what separates man from animals.

Consider further how God commanded mankind to spread out over the earth, to fill the earth. This is not a harsh command and unreasonable command, but one that benefits man and allows him to fulfill his purpose as God's vice-regent. What does man do but disobey by coming together in one place to build a monument to himself! The result is that God caused man to fill the earth by "confusing" the language; that is, He took the one common language of the earth and made more through which people spread out according to their manner of speaking! This did no harm to that which was made in His image, but gave the bearer of imageo dei opportunity to be yet more creative!

A brief survey of writing in scripture reveals interesting reasons for writing, such as communication when no other means are available (Luke 1:63) or to record history as opposed to informing the future, as Orwell suggests (Luke 1:3). Writing is used for more legal matters (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) such as dictations (Jeremiah 36:2, 27-28), to issue orders (Esther 8:5, 8, 10), or insure a covenant or contract (Nehemiah 9:38). In one case, particular writing was destroyed then restored (Jeremiah 36:21-32). Interestingly, this has been part of the history of the preservation of God's Word (Exodus 24:4, 12) and survival of God's Word over time. The Bible is the most read and most quoted book in human history--it is impossible to destroy God's Word.

God wrote with His finger on stone (Exodus 31:18), on a wall (Daniel 5:5-29), on the ground (John 8:6, 8) and in the hearts of men (Romans 2:15). The divine reason to write is, to borrow Orwell's terminology, "political." Words are the means through which the problem of truthfulness arises. Were my motive "sheer egoism," I would not write, for my literary contributions are few or not well-received for various reasons (conveyance of gospel truth, being one). Were my motive "aesthetics," well, I am sure there are others with better word-smithing talents. The reason I write is not to stock shelves for posterity, electronic or otherwise.

Though I pre-post my blogs at least two weeks in advance, Reformation Theology posted this blog on March 19, 2010, which begins: "Generation after generation has read the insights of its writers. This is why fresh statements of old truth are always needed. Without them people will read error." This is why I write: to communicate the truth of God and His Kingdom to the widest audience possible. The reason I write is to see people changed for the glory of God in Christ Jesus that I could reach in no other way.

The dedication, "Turning Topsy Turvey," to the Shepherd Library in Columbus, Ohio by writer Mary Ann Williams includes the following lines that stresses the vitality of writing and reading:

“'Teach your children to read and write.
You must live for the answer to ignorance.
You must twist each darkened hollow stare into a glimmer of knowing.
Each little face must feel the joy of unlocking the ageless secrets of the written word.'”


These impressionable bits of human clay can travel without leaving your doorstep.
They can unravel the countless mysteries of their sorrow- filled past and cloudy future.
They can rush into the arms of God by understanding the many voices of the past who leave their marks in the Holy Book.
Teach these young Black children to laugh at themselves through our tales of long ago.
Teach them to love letters, words, pages, books so that when they look at you, they will know that you care."

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