Surely, I’m not the only person who dreaded reading Shakespeare in high school sophomore English. Ugh. Reading Julius Caesar was drudgery. Yet years later, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed seeing a Shakespearean play. Othello, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet among others were quite enjoyable. I had no trouble following the dialogue. William Shakespeare wrote to be heard, not simply read. I’m not saying Shakespeare is lousy literature. It’s quite good—but it’s better performed.
One young adult in England, however, has no choice but to read Shakespeare. Reading the plays of Shakespeare is part of a sentence handed down by a judge.
Ben John is a 21-year-old who had become captivated by neo-Nazi literature. His reading had motivated him to write harsh, threatening letters against liberals of all shapes and sizes. Upon investigation, authorities discovered his reading also included bomb-making instructions and other information that pointed to a potential act of terror.
John had filled his mind with hateful ideas, and those ideas was slowly morphing into hateful actions. Evidence that he was preparing for an act of terror led to his arrest and trial. He was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison.
The judge, however, offered him an alternative to prison. Ben John could avoid incarceration if he changed his reading habits. The judge first made John promise to stop reading the extreme, neo-Nazi-inspired materials. Then the judge told the young man to read William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and the like. If the young man came before the judge every few months, tell the judge what he had read, and allow himself to be quizzed on what he read, he could avoid the two-year sentence.
The judge saw in this young man someone who was simply being influenced by the wrong voices. He reasoned that, if he could fill his mind with better content, his thoughts and attitudes would change. So goodbye Hitler; help Hamlet. [Source}
Some may think the judge is short-sighted, but he is spot-on. What we fill our minds with matters. Even as followers of Christ, we can be influenced by the thinking of the world and an ever-changing culture. It can be subtle, but over time we can downplay the seriousness of sin (and especially our own sin) because the world downplays it. Our views of how to address issues of morality, immigration, equality, family, and so forth can be more influenced by political voices than biblical standards. We must strive to think biblically.
And to think biblically, we need to read the Bible! Read it, study it, meditate on it, study it some more. If you’re not regularly, systematically reading and studying Scripture, don’t wait and make this a new year’s resolution. Start now. Starting January 1 will not make it any easier. Why wait? You need God’s Word infusing your life and feeding your thoughts and attitudes now.
Billy Graham said, “The very practice of reading [the Bible] will have a purifying effect upon your mind and heart. Let nothing take the place of this daily exercise.”
The Bible is full of words on the benefits and blessing of reading and knowing God’s Word. Through the pages of Scripture, we discover the character of God, His purpose for our lives, and the way to live for the greatest benefit and pleasure. It’s all tied to knowing—and following!—God’s Word to us.
Test me in this. Read the Bible daily for the next six weeks, and you’ll see your heart and attitude changing. His Word is a living Word, setting you free to see life as it really is. When you renew your mind with His Word, you will be transformed (Rom. 12:2).
“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy— dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8).
Reading the Bible is no prison sentence. Quite the contrary. It shows us the truth and sets us free.
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