Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I Like My God Like I Like My Books

I used to think that books existed primarily to make me smarter. Then five minutes ago I read this:

Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow on the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, at a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe. - Franz Kafka

Walter Brueggemann invokes this image of an axe to describe the work of the prophets who speak the Word of God. That he does so is fitting, because before Kafka there was the author of Hebrews, who used words similar to Kafka's to describe the work of God's words - the work that makes them necessary hearing:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

A good book does not confirm us in our present state, but confronts us with an alternative reality that evokes a new way seeing and hearing and feeling and thinking. So must a good God.

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