God often speaks to me through literature. I’m an English major and I spend a lot of time reading. The books I read, obviously the ones in my courses at UT, are rarely Christian books. They are neither written by Christian authors nor do they proclaim to support Christian beliefs. Many of these books are written by proclaimed atheists, some of them with the specific purpose of mocking or rejecting Christianity.
Despite the intentions of these books, they often point me to the gospel and encourage me to draw nearer to Jesus. Sometimes this happens because the novels are filled with characters desperately seeking joy, fulfillment, and purpose—essentially, characters screaming out for the gospel without even realizing it. Sometimes literature points me to Jesus because the authors write thoughtful prose that reflects the truth of Jesus. Sometimes literature draws me closer to God simply because its beauty reflects that of Christ.
The Lord often speaks in the most unexpected places because, I think, He’s always speaking to us. What’s even cooler is how He speaks to each of us in ways that we best hear. There isn’t only one way to listen to God or worship God or experience God. Rather, there are an infinite number of ways because He is an infinite God. He speaks to some through the beauty of nature, to others through music, to still others through theology.
Isaiah 35:6 promises, “Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.” I often downplay the power of the Holy Spirit. I assume that He can only speak in certain ways, reveal Himself in certain situations, when the conditions are right. Embarrassingly, I often think that the Holy Spirit requires me to act in a certain way, to say the right words or do the right things, before He is able to speak. This is a completely un-Biblical mindset.
We see in Isaiah that God promises to us He will display His presence and glory in places where it seems completely improbable or unlikely or impossible. The power of the Lord is far bigger than whatever earthly forces He faces. As believers, we need to live fearless lives, trusting that Jesus can speak even in the most unlikely of places—even in novels written to disprove His existence. Let’s transform our mindsets and look for the presence of Jesus in all things, because I bet we’ll find Him.
The Voyage Out
The following quotes come from the novel The Voyage Out, written by the lovely Virginia Woolf. These quotes all come from a scene in which protagonist Rachel attends a church service at the end of which, she rejects Christianity.
“Such was the discomfort she felt when forced to sit through an unsatisfactory piece of music badly played.”
“All round her were people pretending to feel what they did not feel, while somewhere above her floated the idea which they could none of them grasp, which they pretended to grasp, always escaping out of reach, a beautiful idea, an idea like a butterfly.”
“She did her best to brush away the film and to conceive something to be worshipped as the service went on, but failed, always misled by the voice of Mr. Bax saying things which misrepresented the idea…”
Virginia Woolf is one of my favorite writers. She’s brilliant, creative, unique, and thought-provoking. She was also a devout atheist, raised from an early age to question, doubt, and mock religion—especially Christianity. The Voyage Out, Woolf’s first novel, tells the story of a young Victorian woman, Rachel, who takes a journey of self-discovery from London to South America.
At the beginning of the novel, Rachel is a blank slate, naive, young, and ready to be taught and molded. On her journey, she begins to discover for herself, for the first time, who she is, what she thinks, and what she believes. Along the way, she rejects many of her beliefs from the beginning of the novel, including those of Victorian society and those of Christianity. From this description, this likely doesn’t sound like a novel that would point its reader to Jesus. Yet, God’s word flows out in the most unexpected of places.
Looking closely at the scene in which young Rachel rejects Christianity, it’s clear to me that she isn’t necessarily rejecting the idea or possibility of God. Rather, she rejects organized, institutionalized religion and the way it blocks her from connecting with the Lord. The above quotes show that she is interested in God. She looks for something worth worshipping. But she is unable to connect with God because the words of Mr. Bax, the preacher, misrepresent the idea.
Because she is so distracted by the people around her, pretending to feel what they don’t feel. Because the service is overly structured and so English and forced and complicated. Rachel is unable to see past these hindrances to connect with God in intimacy, in a quiet place.
Even though Woolf likely wrote this passage to discourage followers of Christianity, God still spoke through her words, telling me the importance of simplifying religion.When we discussed this passage in my Virginia Woolf class, the Holy Spirit connected with me in a deep and personal way, whispering to me about how Woolf’s word reflect the experience of many non-believers when they encounter organized religion.
Non-believers long to know and be known by Jesus, though they might not recognize that longing. Like Rachel, we all long for purpose, for fulfillment, for satisfaction and joy, to connect with something bigger than ourselves. We all long for something to worship. Yet, despite this longing, non-believers are so often turned off to Jesus because of how the Church blocks encounters with the Holy Spirit.
To be clear, I believe that Church, meaning, as Jesus described it, the body of believers, is a good thing. Unfortunately, the overly structured nature of the church can become an impediment to non-believers, new believers, and long-time believers in their desire to connect with Jesus. We tend to over-complicate things. To make committees and divide and split up and organize into small groups and Bible studies and Sunday school classes.
Instead, maybe we should spend less time organizing and categorizing and structuring. Instead, let’s simplify the Church experience. Let’s focus on fulfilling the commandment to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and let the potlucks and the meetings figure themselves out.