I love reading. Books are beautiful – the covers, the pages, the words. The smell of the paper and the ink, too. And then there’s the story!
But what’s a girl to read? The choice of books is vast. And although it’s tempting to judge a book by it’s cover and read a book that displays a gorgeous picture or an intriguing title, that’s not always wise—not for a girl who loves Jesus.
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
When I was younger, I thought this verse meant “don’t talk to boys if you want to guard your heart.” But now I think there is a more mature, thoughtful explanation of this verse – an explanation that applies to a girl who loves Jesus, and reading. I like what this commentary says:
We must set a strict guard upon our souls; keep our hearts from doing hurt and getting hurt. A good reason is given; because out of it are the issues of life.
Note that Mr Henry doesn’t say “don’t do ‘this’ or ‘that’ if you want to guard your heart”. He says “we must set a strict guard upon our souls”.
“Because out of [your heart] are the issues of life.” In other words, you may physically be what you eat; but you mentally/emotionally/spiritually are what you read. (Or hear. Or watch. But I’m talking about books – and thus “what you read” – today.)
And that still makes me ask: what’s a girl, who loves Jesus and is trying to set a strict guard upon her soul to honour Him, to read?
I love a good story, but a good story isn’t easy to find. And although it is easy to avoid fantasy if, for example, your conscience doesn’t like fantasy, it is hard to avoid romance. I enjoy historical fiction, but a lot of historical fiction is really historical romance. (I’ve learned this fact the hard way!) And is reading romance okay?
An answer is found in this verse:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.
It was while I was wondering what the Bible says about reading romance, that I thought of this verse. It’s a command. There is not to be “even a hint” of:
- Sexual immorality
- Any kind of impurity
Clearly these things “are improper for God’s holy people”. That’s me and you – among others, around our world, who share our faith. If we take this verse seriously we’ll work to keep immorality, impurity and greed out of our lives. But do we work to keep it out of our books, out of the words we read, out of the words that become “us” when we let them through the strict guard upon our souls? And how can we apply this verse to the books we read – and specifically the books that include romance?
Sexual immorality. Once we thought morality was “just” about what we did; and then Jesus said it was about what we thought too:
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Obviously this verse applies to women as well as to men. We step over the line from “moral” to “immoral” in our thoughts. A lot of the books in the world (including “Christian” books) that include romance, feature conversations and situations that encourage the reader to experience in her imagination whatever emotions and sensations the heroine of the book is experiencing. Those fantasies in our thoughts – are they moral? Are unmarried women supposed to think about those things? Are married women supposed to think of those things outside the context of their relationship with their husband? We are to “flee from sexual immorality” (1Corinthians 6:18). The Bible is clear:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality.
So we should avoid immorality in our thoughts – and thus in our reading.
Any kind of impurity. The writers of the Bible stress the importance of purity. According to my dictionary purity means “freedom from sin or defilement” and also “chastity” and “sincerity”. Paul urges Timothy to “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Paul also urges Timothy to “treat younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Timothy 5:2). I don’t find, personally, that reading romance encourages me in purity. Not because romance isn’t “pure”, but because a lot of romance in books is “forbidden love” and thus it isn’t pure.
“Forbidden love”? The sort of “love” that is really lust. The sort of “love” that is a temptation indulged and a romance enjoyed out of line with God. The sort of “love” that destroys hearts and families and societies. We’re not to condone “forbidden love”, but to pursue love that is “sincere” (or pure) while “hating what is evil” and “clinging to what is good” (Romans 12:9).
Greed. The Bible says:
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
The words are clear. We are not to covet anything that belongs to our neighbor. It’s interesting that our neighbor’s wife is listed among the things we are not to covet! It used to make me laugh, but now … ? I don’t covet any of my friends’ husbands, but I do have to fight the temptation to covet their love and their wedding rings. I’m an unmarried woman, but they’re wives and mothers and I want to be a wife and a mother too! My experience is that reading romance is an excellent way to break this commandment and covet my neighbours’ romances and marriages. Think about it for a moment! If I read a book in which a knight rescues a damsel from distress and, incidentally, they fall in love … what am I thinking about? Romance. Love. Marriage. Good things (Genesis 2:18), but things God has not given me at this time and, therefore, things I’m going to be tempted to want more than ever by “a sweet story”! For a married woman, perhaps the temptation is to compare her husband and her marriage with another standard of masculinity and love. The result is the same: we “set our desire” on that which does not belong to us today.
I believe there is a place for the gift of romance to be celebrated in stories. Think of the biblical stories of Isaac and Rebecca, of Boaz and Ruth in the Bible. Think of the historical stories of Martin and Catherine Luther, of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon. And think of the stories in books that include a romance – a romance that increases our desire for a godly relationship with a godly man, that increases our willingness to wait for a unity of faith and vision as well as love and that increases our surrender to God’s perfect plan for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11 and 1 Corinthians 2:9) and His perfect time for all things (Romans 8:28 and 2 Peter 3:8) … including romance (Ecclesiastes 3:1 and Ecclesiastes 3:8).
Ultimately the issue is our hearts – and that which flows out of our hearts into our lives. Paul said:
But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.
(2 Corinthians 11:3)
Are we in danger of being led astray from our “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” by the aforementioned gorgeous pictures and intriguing titles of the books we read? By the stories that include romance? By the stories that, maybe, we let through the strict guard upon our souls because they’re “sweet” and we’re girls and we, naturally, desire and enjoy romance? If we’re not sure, we can ask these questions about the books we read:
- Can we take the romantic element out of the book and still have a good story?
- Are the hero and/or the heroine driven by selfish lust or selfless love?
- Are there conversations or scenes that make us imagine emotions or sensations we shouldn’t be imagining as unmarried women – or even as married women?
And we can ask God for wisdom: “God, what do You think of this book?”
And He’ll tell us what He thinks!
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
May we guard our hearts and our lives from anything of immorality, impurity and greed. May we not be deceived by Satan into embracing anything that leads us astray from sincere and pure devotion to our Messiah and Saviour. And – even when it’s really, really, really hard finding a book to read – may we say with Paul …
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.