A friend recently began rereading one of her favorite authors. His books had been a special source of comfort and wisdom for her in the midst of a difficult season in her life. She said pulling this old book off the shelf was like visiting an old friend. I think if we were to get to the essence of what it means to read a great work of literature, it would be this. Great books are those in which we cannot help but encounter that which is distinctly human. These masterful works of art somehow manage to touch upon the most transcendent and enduring facets of our being and they become conversation partners as we journey through our lives. When we read Homer’s Odyssey, for instance, we find another who has experienced the pangs and trials of the journey home. Shakespeare offers a sympathetic word to those afflicted by “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Lewis tells us that “All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.” Great works of literature show us that we are not alone. They show us that there are others who have come before us who have seen the effects of a fallen world and have asked what it means to be human in the midst of the tumult of the City of Man.
I remember the first time I read Augustine’s Confessions. I was struck by the sheer intimacy of the work. As I turned the pages I had to shake the creeping feeling that I was intruding on something deeply private. Essentially praying, Augustine confesses his weakness and sin, as well as his repentance, conversion, and his “love of [God’s] mercy and the sweetness of [His] grace.” As I listened to Augustine lay himself bare before the Lord, I found myself crying out with him “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new.” This was a man who deeply understood the trials of this life and the love of God toward the unworthy. He showed me the restlessness of my own heart and pointed me toward the God in whom I find a most certain rest. I set the book down and discovered that I had come to a truer knowledge of myself.
Christians live between two worlds. We wander as pilgrims through a fallen and falling creation. However subtly, great works of literature point us to the reality of the human condition. With all stories, there is conflict and resolution. This axiom alone demands that we acknowledge that there is a sense that things are not as they ought to be; tension inexorably drives us to a resolution. When we come face to face with the frailty of fallen humanity, we turn to place our hope on that which has substance. As Christians, we know that our only hope is in “Our God, our Help in ages past.” We cry out to God with the Psalmist “[We] have no good beside you” (Ps. 16:2). It’s only the Holy Spirit working through His Word that enables us to see that we are not made for this world. Yet, as we read Virgil, Dante, and Eliot, we come to a greater knowledge of what it means to journey through the City of Man even as our hearts long for the City of God. There is suffering and there is hope deferred (Prov. 13:12), but for the Christian we know that one day our restless hearts will find their rest in our eternal home.
 William Shakespeare, Hamlet.
 C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy.
 Augustine, Confessions.
 Augustine, Confessions.
 Isaac Watts, “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past.”
By Isaac Fox, a senior student at Reformation Bible College.