Someone recently wrote to a national newspaper to highlight the opening line of a novel that was first published back in 1951: “The Day of the Triffids” by John Wyndham. The back cover of my copy describes the book as “fantastic, frightening, but entirely plausible.”
The opening line in question reads: “When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.”
The point of the correspondent’s letter was of course to point out an unnerving similarity to the present time. The book many of us read years ago and believed belonged to a way-off time lodged firmly within the author’s imagination suddenly hits us with a new relevance.
Interest has also been rising in other books that seem to connect with where we are now. “La Peste” by Albert Camus is a novel set in Algeria in the 1940s, though believed to be based on a cholera epidemic occurring in the previous century. Daniel Defoe’s “Journal of the Plague Year” goes back even further, to the Great Plague of London in 1665. Both have been mentioned more than once in the last few weeks by those commenting on what we are now facing.
The fact that words written for a particular time and context can speak powerfully to another generation in another place should be no surprise at all to those who engage with the Bible. That is why the reading of Scripture is central to all our acts of corporate worship (remember those?) and why we are encouraged as part of our discipleship of Christ to follow a pattern of Bible study. The books of the Bible are thousands of years old yet still we can have that experience of encountering something that speaks right into our own time and circumstances.
Now, in our reading we always need to take account of what we can discover to be the original context, purpose and meaning, in order to distil what is the essential truth presented. Sadly, significant harm has been done over the years to some followers of Christ by acting on, or having imposed on them, what a Bible passage says now, without bothering with what it said then. All sorts of bizarre behaviour can be justified by that kind of approach.
May God continue to bless us with the light and wisdom of his Holy Spirit in our reading of his word during this time, and to surprise us with its power to speak right into our situation.