One of the first articles I wrote for The Ministry Wire was “Four Reasons You Should Read Fiction”. It seems like fiction often gets overlooked, even by avid readers. I get it; we all have limited time with a lot of demands. “I can’t read everything, so why use my valuable time reading a novel?” Fiction actually has several benefits for us, though! I gave four in my earlier article: fiction develops a love for reading, fiction can be a great way to communicate truth, fiction can help you communicate more effectively, and fiction is fun.
With that in mind, I would like to recommend four of my favorite novels. I have found these books to be challenging, thought-provoking, full of truth, and great reads.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
What happens when a group of British schoolboys crash on a deserted island? Written in 1954, Lord of the Flies follows the boys as they struggle to work together to survive on the island. Although they initially attempt to set up some form of civilization, electing leaders and establishing laws, the boys quickly descend into tribalism and savagery.
What makes Lord of the Flies so compelling is its’ exploration of human nature. Many people are comforted by the idea that man is essentially good, and evil is a product of a corrupt environment. Golding takes the most innocent of men (children) and places them away from all corrupting influences. As they descend into chaos and violence, Golding illustrates the depravity of man in a shocking and impactful way. Golding effectively shows that man is inherently sinful and evil, a truth found many times in the Bible.
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
Imagine a great, grey city. In the center of the city is a bus that will taken anyone to heaven who wants to go. Not only that, but once in heaven, anyone who would like to can stay forever. Would not everyone go?
Lewis answers with a resounding no. Most refuse to ever get on the bus to heaven. Those who do go rarely stay for long. As Lewis states, there is a “great divorce” between heaven and hell. You cannot have both. What keeps so many away from salvation is their desire and love for their own sin. In the book, those who arrive in heaven from the grey city have the opportunity to stay and be with God forever, yet they almost always refuse because they refuse to repent of their own sins.
The most compelling imagery in the novel is the grey city with the bus to heaven. As men sin, they travel farther and farther away from the bus stop. Everyone can return to the bus if they wish; but the farther away they get, the harder it is to come back. Is it not so with salvation? No one is beyond hope. The worst sinner can repent, believe, and be saved; yet the more men indulge their sin and walk away from God, the harder it becomes to repent.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Truly a masterful work about the dangers of socialism. When the animals on a English farm revolt against their human masters, they believe they have set up a perfect society with equality for all.
Yet it’s not long before the pigs begin to claim more and more power and become more and more like the humans they so despised. Animal Farm is a great example of the power of a story to illustrate truth in a way that is so much more compelling and memorable than an essay. Even if you are not particularly interested in politics, this is a fantastic read.
Orwell expanded on these ideas in 1984. While I consider 1984 to be the superior work, I must caution that there is some inappropriate content in the middle of the book, and as such, I cannot wholly recommend it here.
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My favorite novel, and one of my favorite books. Focusing on Alyosha, Dmitry, and Ivan Karamazov, the novel explores themes of justice and (most importantly) the effect that faith has in life.
The most important event of the novel is the murder of the brothers’ father, and Dmitry’s implication in the murder. Dmitry’s trial, and the question of his guilt, illustrates the philosophical struggle in the book between faith and skepticism. Alyosha is a monk who devoutly believes in God, and is therefore motivated to live righteously and love others. Ivan, on the other hand, is an atheist, who holds that without God “all things are lawful”. The novel explores how these beliefs determine the fate of these men, and how our belief in God determines our view of right and wrong.
These are a few of the books I’ve read that have made a particularly strong impression on me over the years. Besides being excellent reads, they each contribute truth in a profound way that could not be accomplished outside of a story. Jesus Himself often used stories to teach spiritual truth; these great books do the same.