Companions on the upward journey

Floating islands, heavenly praises, Jesus' love, and clearer visions of God's plan-the author found all these through the books described here.

Ella M. Rydzewski, editorial assistant, Ministry.

As I cleaned out the last items from my old family home this spring, I found a rumpled brown sack lying on a bookshelf. When I picked up the sack, the aged paper tore, and three tattered books fell to the floor. I had not seen them for years, but these old friends were so familiar I felt I had read them yesterday. They brought back memories of a lonely childhood spent in rural Maryland.

While I grew up, books, not television, functioned as my gateway to the world. Early black-and-white television sets didn't provide good reception, and so my family didn't have one. I'm glad. Over the years I have become convinced that children growing up with a steady diet of television are restricted in their creative ability. The wayward Israelites who worshiped Asherah poles and Baal would feel comfortable with this modern equivalent of child sacrifice before an idol.

I find the effects of televsion detrimental to my spiritual life. Television, a psychological fast food, adds fat to the intellect and cholesterol to the soul, leaving them too sluggish for spiritual exercise. Good books, however, have the potential for changing lives, because they take thought and time to digest.

Reading is as important to me as breathing, for I am a true bibliophile. I am on the mailing list of numerous publishers and find it difficult to pass a book store. Clothes and furnishings hold no fascination for me; I am tempted to spend the family budget on books. They act as my spiritual directors, teachers, psychologists, and friends. The Bible, being the ultimate book, meets my needs more than any other. But there have been times when God has led me to other books that have answered my needs.

What makes a book life-changing? Not so much the book itself, I believe, as timing. What at one time may seem an ordinary book may at another period in one's life become special. Books can provide relief from psychological pain or a flash of insight that answers an important question. My spiritual journey winds over hills and through valleys, and there are books for both parts of my pilgrimage.

A book for the right time

Several years ago I lived in that paradisiacal city considered to be one of America's most desired metropolitan areas—San Diego. Part of San Diego's harbor area includes a cluster of shops known as Vacation Village. Tucked away in one corner is a bookstore that offers hot drinks and pastries with its books. I went there regularly.

On one of those golden mornings so common in southern California, I drove to the shop. The sun found no reflection in my heart that day, for I was still pained by recent news that a longtime friend had died in an auto accident. I could not imagine the world without Anya, for she had been so interested in it. Her interest unfortunately attracted her to what we now call the New Age movement. When she and her companion Warren occasionally visited me from San Francisco, her explanations of her new worldview seemed bright compared with the dustiness of Christianity. There was an excitement and yet mystery about her beliefs. Not particularly interested in them for myself, I could see they had made a change in Anya, and it seemed a change for the better. Then in the prime of life she was gone.

While browsing through the books, I wondered what had happened to my own experience as a Christian. I pondered Warren's belief that Anya would contact him.

Curious, I inspected the science fiction section. I was looking for something as exciting as Anya's tales of reincarnation. It must have been an angel who brought my hands to rest, not on some mystical New Age volume, but on an unusual little book—Perelandra, by C. S. Lewis. The author's name seemed familiar, and so I bought the book.

Lewis's descriptions of Perelandra fascinated me. I could imagine its golden sky, floating islands, and many-colored forests. He opened my mind to the idea that God has created many worlds, and that we can expect them to vary as people vary.

But it was the plot of this book that really captivated me. Through his imaginative storytelling Lewis effectively presents the conflict between good and evil. The book's narrator begins the story by taking the reader down a misty road in England. The narrator is en route to visit an unusual friend. Before the book ends, the reader travels to a planet where an other Adam and Eve play out the same drama that happened on earth 6,000 years ago.

The "Un-man," representing Satan, seeks to bring about the fall of "the Lady" of Perelandra. Lewis writes: "Though the Lady had no word for Duty, he had made it appear to her in the light of a Duty that she should continue to fondle the idea of disobedience, and convinced her that it would be a cowardice if she repulsed him. The ideas of the Great Deed, of the Great Risk as a kind of martyrdom, were presented to her every day, varied in a thou sand forms."1

Lewis deals with the subtlety of the temptations of this Eve in ways we may not have previously related to the Eden context. But they were no doubt there, too. They are temptations similar to those the enemy uses against God's people every day.

This book with its types of Christ and Satan led me to contemplate spiritual matters. It also led me to read others of Lewis's numerous books, including the well-known Mere Christianity. I definitely believe that God used the works of this Christian writer to bring me to a more intimate relationship with Him.

One good book leads to another

Lewis's use of visionaries in his stories led me to read in more depth the writings of Ellen White. I appreciate the old favorites—Steps to Christ, The Desire of Ages—but the book that attracts me most is the not so widely read Early Writings. Perhaps this book's lack of popularity stems from its troubling sense of urgency. Or maybe it's because the modern intellect finds it difficult to accept the idea that God sometimes communicates in symbols through visions and dreams. Whatever the reason, I think those who avoid Early Writings are the poorer for it.

In this book Ellen White's writing is as unpretentious, simple, and straight-forward as was the young woman herself. Early Writings was penned before the need for secretaries and the resulting revisions and compilations that became the norm in this writer's busy life. Its style is fresh.

The visions, rich in symbolism, are not readily understood in today's world. However, one is particularly meaningful to me. Ellen writes that she saw those looking for Christ's advent traveling an upward path. A light shone on the path so that they could not stumble. "But soon some grew weary, and said the city was a great way off, and they expected to have entered it before." 2

As the path became more difficult, some of the pilgrims continued to com plain. The light behind them went out, and these travelers lost sight of Jesus and fell.

But the kernel of this vision offers encouragement. Ellen White conveys that kernel in these words: "If they kept their eyes fixed on Jesus, who was just before them, leading them to the city, they were safe."3

On days when my spiritual journey seems dark, life distracting, and my search for truth confusing, I remember those words.

The book nobody wanted

Every day books arrive at the Ministry office. Some I send out for review; others go to the General Conference library. Those we don't consider appropriate for either review or the library we allow Ministerial Association staff members to pick through and take home.

After one such giveaway there remained a book everyone had passed over. It had no bright picture cover to attract attention; it was just a small red volume with gold-leaf letters that read A 365' Day Guide for Praising God. 4 I took the book home just in time to start the new year with it. Since then I have read from the book daily.

Each entry in this book begins with a verse from Psalms praising God. Then follow three short paragraphs from the author and a conclusion expressing his admiration for the Lord. As a sample, here's a paragraph from July 1: "The night is filled with Your majesty, power, and glory. The days burst with Your wonders. You are the center of the universe, Great King."5

I do not know the author, Paul Fellows, but he gives evidence of an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father. Every sentence in the book forms part of a verbal mosaic that beautifully expresses his love for God.

To some the words may seem repetitive and the concepts unoriginal as they imitate the psalms. But the thoughts come from the heart. Actually, the book brings to mind some thoughts from Early Writings: "The angel showed me those who ceased not day nor night to cry, 'Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.' 'Continued repetition,' said the angel, 'yet God is glorified by it.' "6 And "We should not come together to remain silent; those only are remembered of the Lord who assemble to speak of His honor and glory and tell of His power; upon such the blessing of God will rest, and they will be refreshed."7

From the time I became a Christian as a young adult, I have attended church services that discourage the expression of feeling. I have learned from this little volume what it can mean to celebrate God's greatness.

An old theology worth studying 

The last book I want to mention disputes church tradition dating back to the third century A.D. Neal Punt's What's Good About the Good News? which has been advertised and reviewed in Ministry, proposes to show the error of the teachings that persons are lost either because they are not elected for salvation (Calvinism) or because they haven't properly accepted the gospel (Arminianism). Neither of these concepts of salvation sounds like good news. Either could easily be the basis for pride, insecurity, or elitism.

Countering these ideas, Punt presents biblical evidence for believing that Christ's sacrifice covers the sin, original and otherwise, of all people whether they have heard of Christ or not. Yet Punt does not teach universalism. He acknowledges that the Bible specifically says some will be finally lost. His point is that only those will be lost who specifically reject salvation. 8

As Punt says: "This insight has vast implications for the way we read Scripture, are assured of our own salvation, build one another up in the faith, see the coming of Christ's kingdom, view the masses of man kind, and for the approach we use in evangelism."9 It suggests that we should consider all persons children of God unless we have ample evidence to the contrary. The good news that we are all equally part of the family of God leaves no excuse for either arrogance or low self-esteem. In addition, this view illuminates the fate of the innocent heathen and of those dying in infancy. Nor does it leave any reason to question our own salvation. Imagine the joy that can bring!

Would such a belief cause more sin? Maybe. But isn't it how people behave when they have complete freedom that reveals what side they have finally chosen in the great controversy? Many sensitive people turn from Christianity be cause of its exclusiveness. Upon hearing the real good news they would be more likely to respond positively for the right reason—God's love.

Punt's thesis as expressed in this volume does not answer all theological questions. 10 But it opens the door for us to see more of God's tremendous love for all of humanity.

I had always dared to hope we had such a gracious God. To me, being saved by knowledge has never seemed any more fair or loving than being saved by works.

We must admit that we know of people who could not tolerate the glory, unselfishness, and love that permeate heaven and that will eventually also fill the new earth. These people have learned alien ways and remain unwilling to unlearn them. But for those who have chosen to accept and give love, God is truly both fair and loving. This book's message will warm your heart as you view yourself and others with new dignity.

1. C. S. Lewis, Perelandra (New York: Collier Books, 1944), p. 131.

2. Ellen O. White, Early Writings (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1945), p. 14.

3. Ibid.

4. Paul Fellows, A 365-Day Guide for Praising God (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1989).

5. Ibid., p. 100.

6. White, p. 116.

7. Ibid., p. 115.

8. Some Seventh-day Adventists have taught that persons are saved until they choose not to be, but the concept has often been obscured by other emphases.

9. Neal Punt, What's Good About the Good News? (Chicago: Northland Books, 1988), p. 5.

10. For more detail, see his earlier work, Unconditional Good News (Grand Rapids: William B. EerdmansPub. Co., 1980).

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Ella M. Rydzewski, editorial assistant, Ministry.

December 1990

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