Justice

On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Three
A Tale of Two Cities
By Charles Dickens

Do horses run on the rocky crags? Does one plow the sea with oxen? But you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into bitterness—

Amos 6:12


Benjamin Franklin said “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” Today we begin Chapter Three of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well, and we will examine the virtue of justice with examples drawn from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.

Continue reading “Justice”

God Of Little Things by Gina Dalfonzo

Gina Dalfonzo

It’s late at night and I’m reading in bed—Charles Dickens’s The Uncommercial Traveller, which is so good that I’ve been staving off sleep much longer than I should have. I come to a particular passage—nothing wonderful or magnificent, just a couple of sentences in a silly little story he’s telling about sailing from England to France. But it’s so funny, in that nonchalantly over-the-top Dickens way, that I laugh out loud.

And the thought strikes me, out of nowhere, that I can’t imagine being any happier than I am right this minute.

It’s a rogue thought. Even a rebellious thought. According to many Christians I know, you see, my life as a single person is far from complete. I’m not supposed to be able to imagine perfect happiness in my present state, let alone experience it.

Except I do.

My life is full of moments like these: little moments that give me unspeakable joy and satisfaction. It’s also full of hard moments—days when baby after baby after adorable baby scrolls by in my Facebook feed; nights when I ask God why my prayers for marriage were never answered.

But it doesn’t do, I’ve found, to dwell too long on how much greener the grass looks in that yard over there. When married acquaintances envy me my freedom or my opportunities, I’m tempted to remind them of all they have that I have good reason to envy. We could go on playing that game for hours (my freedom can be accompanied by loneliness, their joy in their family can be tempered by exhaustion, and on and on and on). I have to find ways to circumvent it. And if I try, they’re easier to find than I would have expected.

I didn’t choose the life I now lead. And yet, I still find so many joys in it. One of the biggest surprises has been how many little things bring me true joy—and how often those little joys help make up for the lack of bigger things. I can’t explain that. It doesn’t make sense if I think too hard about it. All I know is, God’s economy is not like ours.

There are, of course, any number of people who think that it should be. I run into them all the time. For example, I know Christians who rail against single people having pets because pets, they say, should not take the place of families. What these single people are supposed to do if all their efforts at having a family have failed, these Christians never say. Sit home alone and lambast themselves endlessly for their failure, I suppose.

It’s troubling, this idea that one should be cut off from joys of all kinds if one hasn’t achieved the joy of having a family. It suggests both a lack of trust in God to have every person’s best interests at heart, and a lack of the imagination to comprehend all the different kinds of joys God offers us.

I think of Dorothy L. Sayers, another favorite writer of mine, who found her joy not in her difficult family life, but in the life of the intellect. When she discovered Dante in middle age, her whole life was transformed. Her letters spill over with the sheer joy of reading him, translating him, thinking about his work night and day.

Sayers’s friend and biographer Barbara Reynolds used the Dantean phrase “the mind in love” to describe the way Sayers responded to the world around her and the God who made that world. It was an apt description. The mind can indeed be in love, just as the heart can, and can bring unspeakable joy.

The problem is, the church’s vocabulary has become impoverished. It doesn’t have the words to describe the stab of joy that comes when reading a perfect passage of Dickens; when jumping to one’s feet at the end of an inspiring play; when luxuriating in a favorite old movie that’s become as comfortable as a warm blanket and bedroom slippers; when Beethoven’s Ninth suddenly starts playing on the radio in the middle of an ordinary morning, like a king arriving on the doorstep as you’re finishing the breakfast dishes. Because it has, by and large, lost the understanding that these things are important.

Yet if they are real, and good, and come from the Father who gives every good and perfect gift, then how could they not be important?

How much easier it would be for God’s people to reach others if we would understand this. If we reached out not just with truth, but with imagination, creativity, delight in the music and art and books that mean so much to the people around us. These things cannot carry the weight of a whole life, but there are moments, now and then, when they make life worth living. They reveal something about God’s character that is more appealing and attractive than we tend to realize.

The fact that He generously gives such things to so many demonstrates that He is near to the lonely, the broken—just as near as He is to the people who seem to have it all together.  If we were willing to focus on this part of God, to talk about how He sends joy in all shapes and sizes and gloriously unexpected ways, to all kinds of people—how much better equipped we would be to help those lonely and broken ones.

Glory be to God for little things. It’s not quite Gerard Manley Hopkins, but nevertheless, it rings true for me. The small comforts and consolations that might mean nothing to the person next to us, but that pierce us to the heart with joy—thank God for them. In the beautiful and loving mind that conceived and created them and gave them to us, there is nothing little about them at all.

 

 

John 1:1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

Gina Dalfonzo is author of One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church. She is also associate features editor at Christianity Today, and a columnist at Christ and Pop Culture. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Christianity Today, First Things, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and elsewhere.

 

The Nature of Story by Glynn Young

Glynn Young

It’s the fall of 1985. I’m sitting in a classroom at Washington University in St. Louis, participating in a seminar for my master’s degree. This particular seminar is simply entitled “The Nature of Story.”

Of all the novels on the syllabus, the only one I’ve previously read is One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The syllabus includes The Sound of the Fury by William Faulkner, A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, and about eight other novels. As it so happens, the first novel we’re reading for the course is One Hundred Years of Solitude. I first read it in college when it was relatively new and all the rage, about the same time as The Lord of the Rings. I’ve dutifully read it again, and it’s a completely different experience from my first reading. This time, it almost seems like personal history.

The professor leading the seminar asks, in a casual, offhand way, “So, what did you think?” A short silence follows, until one student says, “It’s a ridiculous book. All this business about flying carpets and children sprouting pigs’ tails, well, it’s simply ludicrous. This is what they call magic realism?”

It seems most of the class agrees. We’re an unusual group; I’m the youngest of about 15 people; the oldest is the CEO of the local gas utility. No one had previously read the book except for me.

The discussion becomes a critical pile-on. Finally, the professor asks, “Did anyone actually enjoy it?”

I raise my hand and nod. “I grew up in a place and culture like Macondo,” I say. “It doesn’t seem alien or ludicrous at all. My grandmother and aunts and uncles told stories like this. I know we had flying carpets. And I’m sure there must have been a few kids in my neighborhood who had pigs’ tails.”

I look around the seminar table, and I see some surprise and even astonishment.

“Where did you grow up?” the professor asks.

“New Orleans,” I say.

“Ah,” he says, nodding, “the northern edge of the Caribbean culture. That makes sense. It’s Garcia Marquez’s culture, too.”

Part of what we learn that semester about the nature of story is that story speaks to us very differently than history or sociology or economics or political science. Inherent in the idea of story is something fundamental to our understanding of who we are, where we come from, how we grow up, what we experience, and what we accept as true. A myth can be just as true as a historical fact. In fact, a myth may be more powerful than a historical fact. Story and myth are the building materials of our worldviews, and they shape us in both known and subtle ways.

I’ve read novels since I was seven years old. And now I’m writing them. When I’m asked where the idea for a novel comes from, I can usually pinpoint a moment, an event, something someone said, or even a song (a song was the inspiration for my first novel).

But none of these things explains where the story comes from. The answer to that question is far more complex. It likely goes back to that big green book of fairy tales my mother read to me. It was that ninth-grade English teacher who taught us Great Expectations and made me fall in love with Dickens. It was my grandmother who worked in a cotton factory when she was five years old. Or my other grandmother who scrubbed floors in the big movie theaters in downtown New Orleans to keep her family fed. It was my great-grandfather who was a messenger boy for the Confederate Army in the Civil War. It was Inez the Crazy Woman who roamed the streets of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans and was every mother’s threat for misbehaving children. It was the list of births and deaths in the family Bible published in 1801, and all those names like Octavia, Cora Belle, and Jarvis.

And it was those flying carpets and children with pigs’ tails.

That’s the nature, and the power, of story.

 


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

Glynn Young is the author of three novelsDancing PriestA Light Shining, and the newly published Dancing King, and the non-fiction book Poetry at Work. He is also an editor at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Photograph by Annie Spratt via Unsplash. Used with permission.

https://www.amazon.com/Hundred-Solitude-Harper-Perennial-Classics/dp/0060883286/ref=sr_1_1

https://www.amazon.com/Sound-Fury-Vintage-International-ebook/dp/B004JHYRT0/ref=sr_1_1

https://www.amazon.com/River-Runs-through-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B06X99WMNF/ref=sr_1_1

https://unsplash.com/photos/thI_CZAB0MY

 

 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

1496610_10201689453172507_140260641_nA Christmas Carol has been popular since the day it was first published in 1843, and it has never been out of print (at least since the first sell out only 3 days after its release). The familiar story is build on a man changed by enlightenment, and its message of redemption is the heart of Christmas.

The story was born in hardship and Dickens spoke from experience. The 1830s and 40s were boom years in London, but like today the result was an economic polarization of society. In 1824, Dickens’ father was placed in debtors prison and 12-year-old Charles was forced to take lodgings nearby, pawn his collection of books, leave school, and accept employment in a blacking factory. For months he lived the life of hardship he vividly describes in his novels.

Later as a young man, he enjoyed financial success when by 26 he had written Oliver Twist, but 6 years later he was in a slump. Around the middle of October of 1843, he got the bright idea to write a short Christmas novella in time for the holidays. It took him only six weeks to write and on December 19th, A Christmas Carol in Prose: A Ghost Story of Christmas went on sale for five shillings. It was an immediate success.

It has blessed us every one.


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

The Magic Of Story: Day 5

Great Expectations
Charles Dickens

After I had turned the worse point of my illness, I began to notice that while all its other features changed, this one consistent feature did not change. Whoever came about me, still settled down into Joe. I opened my eyes in the day, and, sitting on the window-seat, smoking his pipe in the shaded open window, still I saw Joe. I asked for a cooling drink, and the face that looked so hopefully and tenderly upon me was the face of Joe.

    At last, one day, I took courage, and said, “Is it Joe?”
 
    And the dear old home-voice answered, “Which it air, old chap.”
 
    “Oh, Joe, you break my heart! Look angry at me, Joe. Strike me, Joe. Tell me of my ingratitude. Don’t be so good to me!” For Joe had actually laid his head down on the pillow at my side, and put his arm round my neck, in his joy that I knew him.

Eternal things are difficult for the rational mind to grasp.  To help us, God has provided echoes of eternity in the everyday aspects of our lives.  He says “call me Father” because we know what it means to be a parent and we thereby better understand both Him and ourselves.  Every parent who has ever borne the rebellion of a child (which is to say every parent) has a little piece of God in their fabric.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

Joe reflects Christ on a level deeper than mere characterization and actions. Even more profoundly, the very rhythm of Joe’s presence in Pip’s life echoes the rhythm of my own recognition of God’s presence in my life. As a child, Pip took Joe’s constant, loving presence for granted, much as I, growing up in the church, took God’s constant, loving presence for granted. This is what helped me to compartmentalize my life with such ease, to be a good church kid on Sunday and something else the rest of the week. Pip takes Joe’s love for granted, too. Upon bestowal of his “expectations,” Pip embarks on a journey of becoming a gentleman and, in the process, grows ashamed of Joe and eventually abandons him, not just physically but, more poignantly, emotionally.

Yet, later, when Pip becomes sick and desperately in need, it is Joe who rescues him. While Pip spends weeks in bed, in and out of a delirious fever, he recalls the faces of the friends who have surrounded him during his illness.

Surely, this is a picture God, who is said to be longsuffering, stretching out his hand for us to grasp the very moment we will. This passage touches me more deeply each time I read it.

 

Who in your life has been as steadfast and loyal as Joe was to Pip, even when you have not deserved it?

Jeremiah 31:3

The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


The Faith behind the Famous: Charles Dickens

Stephen Rost

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens has been called “perhaps the greatest of English novelists.” Some may consider such a tribute an exaggeration, but no one can deny his genius and tremendous contribution to literature.

Throughout his life, Dickens was a champion of the poor and oppressed, as well as a critic of aristocratic and High-Church elitism. Popular works such as David Copperfiel, A Christmas Carol, and Pickwick Papers reveal his contempt for the corruption and folly in Victorian England’s business, law, religion, and education.

Taste of Poverty

Dickens’s life follows a classic rags-to-riches story. He was born at Landport, in Portsea, on February 7, 1812. His father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the navy—a job that enabled the family to live at a comfortable, but not overly indulgent, middle-class level. Unfortunately, careless money management and difficult times contributed to John Dickens’s financial decline in the 1820s.

Household items had to be sold, and Charles was given the unsavory task of taking treasured family books to the local pawn shop. At the tender age of 12, Charles was sent to work in a dingy blacking house. This dashed all hope of his getting a proper education. To make matters worse, his father ended up in debtors’ prison.

Work in the blacking house lasted from 8 to 8, with one hour for dinner and 30 minutes for tea. He made the best of his situation, and in time it became apparent to the foreman that Charles was different. He not only carried himself in a manner unlike the other boys’, he also outworked them.

Upon his father’s release from prison, Charles went back to school. He developed shorthand and landed a job as a parliamentary reporter—first for The True Sun, then the Morning Chronicle. And he contributed articles to the Monthly Magazine and Evening Chronicle.

Disenchantment with Religion

The influence of religion was ever present in Dickens’s life, even though he didn’t engage in religious activity to any noticeable degree. Biographer Edgar Johnson writes that Dickens’s parents “were Church of England, though not at all devout, or interested in matters of doctrine.… They did not even attend church very regularly.” Young Charles was also subjected to the boring messages of Baptist minister William Giles. With these experiences to reflect upon, Dickens developed a dislike for the church. G. K. Chesterton wrote that “the tone of Dickens towards religion, though like that of most of his contemporaries, philosophically disturbed and rather historically ignorant, had an element that was very characteristic of himself. He had all the prejudices of his time. He had, for instance, that dislike of defined dogmas, which really means a preference for unexamined dogmas.”

This attitude did not come by accident; it was neatly cultivated by a life of unpleasant experiences with formal religion. Dickens’s contempt should not be construed, however, as a hostility toward God or Jesus Christ. He merely observed that the church, for all its dogma and ceremony, failed to realize, at least in practice, the need for social action.

In 1834, for example, Sir Andrew Agnew attempted to pass a bill prohibiting recreation and work on Sunday. This infuriated Dickens, for it reflected the fanatical side of religion he had grown to hate. The wealthy enjoyed leisure throughout the week because their money enabled them to hire others to do their work, but the poor worker had to labor six days, leaving only Sunday for recreation and other needed activities. Now the religious zealots wanted to take that brief source of pleasure from those who needed it most.

Dickens attacked the bill with a pamphlet titled Sunday Under Three Heads: As it is; As Sabbath Bills would make it; As it might be made. The bill was never enacted, but the issue did entrench his disdain for rabid religiosity.

Dickens became involved with a system that attracted many fellow intellectuals: Unitarianism. It enabled him to live without the dogmatic creeds of historic Christianity, yet affirm the existence of God and the humanity and divine mission of Jesus Christ. And Unitarianism promoted social awareness. Writer Robert Browning remarked that “Mr. Dickens is an enlightened Unitarian.” After 1847, however, he did attend the Anglican church near his home. And he prayed each morning and night.

Settling Down to Success

The year 1836 was pivotal for Dickens. He married Catherine Hogarth on April 2 and began a family that eventually expanded to 10 children. Also, his writing career was launched in earnest. Chapman and Hall hired him to write the brief text for a series of sporting plates by illustrator Robert Seymour. Dickens initiated an alternate plan that gave birth to the Pickwick Papers. At the same fume, Oliver Twist was coming out in the periodical Bentley’s Miscellany. Dickens was now an established writer with a growing reputation. His popularity crossed the Atlantic, and soon he was on his way to America, where he was received with enthusiasm.

Dickens conveyed his social concerns to a vast number of people via his novels. He made it a point to expose injustice. A case in point is the anti-Catholic riots of that era. By no means was Dickens sympathetic toward Catholicism, but he hated bigotry. In 1841 he wrote Barnaby Rudge, which exposed the foolishness of the anti-Catholic period and those who encouraged it.

“God Bless Us, Every One”

Even though Dickens hated established religion, he maintained a sensitivity toward the social principles of Christianity, principles he made quite clear in one of his most popular and endearing novels, A Christmas Carol.

Written when Dickens was 31, this tale of ghosts and greed so thrilled him that he literally wept and laughed over it. The protagonist, Scrooge, is an oppressing, greedy, lover of money—a cold, wretched shell of a man who has lost all sense of kindness. Of all the characters in the Dickens gallery, the old miser is the most memorable representation of that which Dickens hated in individuals and society.

The moral and spiritual values sprinkled throughout the story are priceless. For example, Scrooge equates happiness with wealth; ironically, he is the most unhappy character. Scrooge remarks that those who are unable to care for themselves would do society a favor by dying, thereby helping decrease the surplus population. Later, however, Scrooge is taken by the second Spirit to visit the home of his impoverished employee Bob Cratchit. Scrooge develops a personal interest in Tiny Tim, the lovable boy who suffers from a potentially fatal ailment. Scrooge inquires about Tim’s health, and the Spirit states that the boy will die unless the old miser changes his ways. But who cares, for “If he be like to die,” says the Spirit, “he had better do it, and decrease the population.” Scrooge hangs his head in shame.

Eventually, Scrooge sees the folly of his way and exclaims, “I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse.” A religious conversion? The “salvation” of Scrooge comes not from an encounter with Christ, but an encounter with self. He displays the Dickensian view that salvation is achieved by loving your neighbor, giving a cup of water to those in need. The New Testament teaches that such acts are the result of spiritual conversion; for Dickens, they were the means.

A Secret Work Revealed

In 1849, Dickens wrote an important manuscript that would not be printed until 1934. This work was so personal to him that he requested it not be made public for 85 years. The work was a retelling of the Gospel narratives, titled The Life of Our Lord. Marie Dickens, Charles Dickens’s daughter-in-law, offered this fitting description of Dickens’s secret work:

“This book, the last work of Charles Dickens to be published, has an individual interest and purpose that separate it completely from everything else that Dickens wrote. Quite apart from its Divine Subject, the manuscript is peculiarly personal to the novelist, and is not so much a revelation of his mind as a tribute to his heart and humanity, and also, his deep devotion to Our Lord.”

Dickens wrote The Life of Our Lord so that his children would become familiar with Jesus Christ, and he often read the story to them. When his children left home, he gave each a New Testament (though not an entire Bible). To one, he wrote, “I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child; because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world.…” Unitarianism The Life of Our Lord most clearly expresses Dickens’s religious disposition. He respected Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ, who practiced what Dickens so desperately wanted to find in humanity. Jesus loved all people. He rubbed shoulders with social castaways, rebuked wealthy elitists, and severely condemned hypocrisy. If ever a man could gain Dickens’s utmost respect and favor, Christ could, and did.

While certain statements about Christ appear orthodox, the overall picture that Dickens paints cannot be considered orthodox when measured by Scripture or the historic creeds of Christianity. Dickens portrays Jesus as a good man who is loved by God like a son. He writes of the Resurrection, yet glosses over the Virgin Birth and Communion, and he states that one becomes acceptable for heaven by doing good.

One thing is certain, however: Dickens respected the Bible and Christ and sought to instill in his children the same reverence. Near the end of his life he wrote to a reader: “I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of Our Saviour; because I feel it; and because I re-wrote that history for my children—every one of whom knew it from having it repeated to them—long before they could read, and almost as soon as they could speak. But I have never made proclamation of this from the house tops.”

Unfinished Business

In 1858, Dickens separated from his wife. Some speculate that a chief cause of the marriage’s breakup was his tendency to put himself and his writing first. Dickens then devoted himself increasingly to traveling and public readings of his works. He also developed a relationship with a young actress.

Dickens pushed himself to the limit for so long that his health began to break down. Eventually, he was forced to cease most of his public speaking and resign himself to writing. In 1869 he began work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was interrupted by his untimely death from a seizure on June 9, 1870. He was 58. He was buried in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.

In his last will and testament, written on May 12, 1869, Dickens wrote, “I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and I exhort my dear children humbly to try to guide themselves by the teaching of the New Testament in its broad spirit, and to put no faith in any man’s narrow construction of its letter here or there.”

Dickens despised, and in his books eloquently portrayed, the gross injustices and shoddy lifestyle of many who laid claim to the teachings of Christianity. Yet a fair examination of his life and work shows that he was not a hater of Christ or of Christianity. His friend John Forster concluded that Dickens’s will demonstrates his “unswerving faith in Christianity itself, apart from sects and schisms.”

How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ

Selected quotations from The Life of Our Lord
My dear children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the history of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him.

And when people seek ill of the Poor and Miserable, think how Jesus Christ went among them and taught them, and thought them worthy of his care.

And because he did such Good, and taught people how to love God and how to hope to go to Heaven after death, he was called Our Savior.

Remember!—It is christianity to do good always—even to those who do evil to us. It is christianity to love our neighbor as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them Do to us. It is christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to shew that we love him by humbly trying to do right in everything.

Stephen Rost, “How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ,” Christian History Magazine-Issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1990).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Magic Of Story: Day 4

Great Expectations
Charles Dickens

You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read, since I first came here, the rough common boy whose poor heart you wounded even then. You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since-on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets. You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my mind has ever become acquainted with.


I have seen people come to Christ in many different ways.  I have seen young people in tears as they knelt at an alter and I have seen clear-eyed  businessmen who shook my hand and said “I accept Jesus as my Lord.”  Did one mean it more than another?

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

I admit that my relationship with God has been more intellectual than emotional. I used to think this lack of emotional fervor was a mark of sin or, at the very least, some great flaw in my spiritual life. I thought that it must be a great lack in my faith that I am more emotionally moved in reading literary works like Great Expectations than in reading dramatic passages in the Bible or in hearing a moving testimony from the pulpit. But I’ve come to realize that my emotional responses to moving works of literature, like the passage above, are the only way I can bear to respond emotionally to God and his love: indirectly.

Is your spiritual life more connected to your emotions or your intellect or both?

Matthew 22:37-40

Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


The Faith behind the Famous: Charles Dickens

Stephen Rost

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens has been called “perhaps the greatest of English novelists.” Some may consider such a tribute an exaggeration, but no one can deny his genius and tremendous contribution to literature.

Throughout his life, Dickens was a champion of the poor and oppressed, as well as a critic of aristocratic and High-Church elitism. Popular works such as David Copperfiel, A Christmas Carol, and Pickwick Papers reveal his contempt for the corruption and folly in Victorian England’s business, law, religion, and education.

Taste of Poverty

Dickens’s life follows a classic rags-to-riches story. He was born at Landport, in Portsea, on February 7, 1812. His father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the navy—a job that enabled the family to live at a comfortable, but not overly indulgent, middle-class level. Unfortunately, careless money management and difficult times contributed to John Dickens’s financial decline in the 1820s.

Household items had to be sold, and Charles was given the unsavory task of taking treasured family books to the local pawn shop. At the tender age of 12, Charles was sent to work in a dingy blacking house. This dashed all hope of his getting a proper education. To make matters worse, his father ended up in debtors’ prison.

Work in the blacking house lasted from 8 to 8, with one hour for dinner and 30 minutes for tea. He made the best of his situation, and in time it became apparent to the foreman that Charles was different. He not only carried himself in a manner unlike the other boys’, he also outworked them.

Upon his father’s release from prison, Charles went back to school. He developed shorthand and landed a job as a parliamentary reporter—first for The True Sun, then the Morning Chronicle. And he contributed articles to the Monthly Magazine and Evening Chronicle.

Disenchantment with Religion

The influence of religion was ever present in Dickens’s life, even though he didn’t engage in religious activity to any noticeable degree. Biographer Edgar Johnson writes that Dickens’s parents “were Church of England, though not at all devout, or interested in matters of doctrine.… They did not even attend church very regularly.” Young Charles was also subjected to the boring messages of Baptist minister William Giles. With these experiences to reflect upon, Dickens developed a dislike for the church. G. K. Chesterton wrote that “the tone of Dickens towards religion, though like that of most of his contemporaries, philosophically disturbed and rather historically ignorant, had an element that was very characteristic of himself. He had all the prejudices of his time. He had, for instance, that dislike of defined dogmas, which really means a preference for unexamined dogmas.”

This attitude did not come by accident; it was neatly cultivated by a life of unpleasant experiences with formal religion. Dickens’s contempt should not be construed, however, as a hostility toward God or Jesus Christ. He merely observed that the church, for all its dogma and ceremony, failed to realize, at least in practice, the need for social action.

In 1834, for example, Sir Andrew Agnew attempted to pass a bill prohibiting recreation and work on Sunday. This infuriated Dickens, for it reflected the fanatical side of religion he had grown to hate. The wealthy enjoyed leisure throughout the week because their money enabled them to hire others to do their work, but the poor worker had to labor six days, leaving only Sunday for recreation and other needed activities. Now the religious zealots wanted to take that brief source of pleasure from those who needed it most.

Dickens attacked the bill with a pamphlet titled Sunday Under Three Heads: As it is; As Sabbath Bills would make it; As it might be made. The bill was never enacted, but the issue did entrench his disdain for rabid religiosity.

Dickens became involved with a system that attracted many fellow intellectuals: Unitarianism. It enabled him to live without the dogmatic creeds of historic Christianity, yet affirm the existence of God and the humanity and divine mission of Jesus Christ. And Unitarianism promoted social awareness. Writer Robert Browning remarked that “Mr. Dickens is an enlightened Unitarian.” After 1847, however, he did attend the Anglican church near his home. And he prayed each morning and night.

Settling Down to Success

The year 1836 was pivotal for Dickens. He married Catherine Hogarth on April 2 and began a family that eventually expanded to 10 children. Also, his writing career was launched in earnest. Chapman and Hall hired him to write the brief text for a series of sporting plates by illustrator Robert Seymour. Dickens initiated an alternate plan that gave birth to the Pickwick Papers. At the same fume, Oliver Twist was coming out in the periodical Bentley’s Miscellany. Dickens was now an established writer with a growing reputation. His popularity crossed the Atlantic, and soon he was on his way to America, where he was received with enthusiasm.

Dickens conveyed his social concerns to a vast number of people via his novels. He made it a point to expose injustice. A case in point is the anti-Catholic riots of that era. By no means was Dickens sympathetic toward Catholicism, but he hated bigotry. In 1841 he wrote Barnaby Rudge, which exposed the foolishness of the anti-Catholic period and those who encouraged it.

“God Bless Us, Every One”

Even though Dickens hated established religion, he maintained a sensitivity toward the social principles of Christianity, principles he made quite clear in one of his most popular and endearing novels, A Christmas Carol.

Written when Dickens was 31, this tale of ghosts and greed so thrilled him that he literally wept and laughed over it. The protagonist, Scrooge, is an oppressing, greedy, lover of money—a cold, wretched shell of a man who has lost all sense of kindness. Of all the characters in the Dickens gallery, the old miser is the most memorable representation of that which Dickens hated in individuals and society.

The moral and spiritual values sprinkled throughout the story are priceless. For example, Scrooge equates happiness with wealth; ironically, he is the most unhappy character. Scrooge remarks that those who are unable to care for themselves would do society a favor by dying, thereby helping decrease the surplus population. Later, however, Scrooge is taken by the second Spirit to visit the home of his impoverished employee Bob Cratchit. Scrooge develops a personal interest in Tiny Tim, the lovable boy who suffers from a potentially fatal ailment. Scrooge inquires about Tim’s health, and the Spirit states that the boy will die unless the old miser changes his ways. But who cares, for “If he be like to die,” says the Spirit, “he had better do it, and decrease the population.” Scrooge hangs his head in shame.

Eventually, Scrooge sees the folly of his way and exclaims, “I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse.” A religious conversion? The “salvation” of Scrooge comes not from an encounter with Christ, but an encounter with self. He displays the Dickensian view that salvation is achieved by loving your neighbor, giving a cup of water to those in need. The New Testament teaches that such acts are the result of spiritual conversion; for Dickens, they were the means.

A Secret Work Revealed

In 1849, Dickens wrote an important manuscript that would not be printed until 1934. This work was so personal to him that he requested it not be made public for 85 years. The work was a retelling of the Gospel narratives, titled The Life of Our Lord. Marie Dickens, Charles Dickens’s daughter-in-law, offered this fitting description of Dickens’s secret work:

“This book, the last work of Charles Dickens to be published, has an individual interest and purpose that separate it completely from everything else that Dickens wrote. Quite apart from its Divine Subject, the manuscript is peculiarly personal to the novelist, and is not so much a revelation of his mind as a tribute to his heart and humanity, and also, his deep devotion to Our Lord.”

Dickens wrote The Life of Our Lord so that his children would become familiar with Jesus Christ, and he often read the story to them. When his children left home, he gave each a New Testament (though not an entire Bible). To one, he wrote, “I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child; because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world.…” Unitarianism The Life of Our Lord most clearly expresses Dickens’s religious disposition. He respected Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ, who practiced what Dickens so desperately wanted to find in humanity. Jesus loved all people. He rubbed shoulders with social castaways, rebuked wealthy elitists, and severely condemned hypocrisy. If ever a man could gain Dickens’s utmost respect and favor, Christ could, and did.

While certain statements about Christ appear orthodox, the overall picture that Dickens paints cannot be considered orthodox when measured by Scripture or the historic creeds of Christianity. Dickens portrays Jesus as a good man who is loved by God like a son. He writes of the Resurrection, yet glosses over the Virgin Birth and Communion, and he states that one becomes acceptable for heaven by doing good.

One thing is certain, however: Dickens respected the Bible and Christ and sought to instill in his children the same reverence. Near the end of his life he wrote to a reader: “I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of Our Saviour; because I feel it; and because I re-wrote that history for my children—every one of whom knew it from having it repeated to them—long before they could read, and almost as soon as they could speak. But I have never made proclamation of this from the house tops.”

Unfinished Business

In 1858, Dickens separated from his wife. Some speculate that a chief cause of the marriage’s breakup was his tendency to put himself and his writing first. Dickens then devoted himself increasingly to traveling and public readings of his works. He also developed a relationship with a young actress.

Dickens pushed himself to the limit for so long that his health began to break down. Eventually, he was forced to cease most of his public speaking and resign himself to writing. In 1869 he began work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was interrupted by his untimely death from a seizure on June 9, 1870. He was 58. He was buried in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.

In his last will and testament, written on May 12, 1869, Dickens wrote, “I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and I exhort my dear children humbly to try to guide themselves by the teaching of the New Testament in its broad spirit, and to put no faith in any man’s narrow construction of its letter here or there.”

Dickens despised, and in his books eloquently portrayed, the gross injustices and shoddy lifestyle of many who laid claim to the teachings of Christianity. Yet a fair examination of his life and work shows that he was not a hater of Christ or of Christianity. His friend John Forster concluded that Dickens’s will demonstrates his “unswerving faith in Christianity itself, apart from sects and schisms.”

How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ

Selected quotations from The Life of Our Lord
My dear children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the history of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him.

And when people seek ill of the Poor and Miserable, think how Jesus Christ went among them and taught them, and thought them worthy of his care.

And because he did such Good, and taught people how to love God and how to hope to go to Heaven after death, he was called Our Savior.

Remember!—It is christianity to do good always—even to those who do evil to us. It is christianity to love our neighbor as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them Do to us. It is christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to shew that we love him by humbly trying to do right in everything.

Stephen Rost, “How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ,” Christian History Magazine-Issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1990).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Magic Of Story: Day 3

Great Expectations
Charles Dickens

Is it a very wicked place?” I asked, more for the sake of saying something than for information.

“You may get cheated, robbed, and murdered in London. But there are plenty of people anywhere, who’ll do that for you.”

“If there is bad blood between you and them,” said I, to soften it off a little.

“O! I don’t know about bad blood,” returned Mr. Wemmick; “there’s not much bad blood about. They’ll do it, if there’s anything to be got by it.”

“That makes it worse.”

“You think so?” returned Mr. Wemmick. “Much about the same, I should say.”


Double standards are the mother of compartmentalization and they are a fearful thing. Here you may hold diametrically aligned but contrasting views in the cradle of your mind with no spiritual angst whatsoever. It takes children a while to get the hang of it, but not long. The problem, of course, is that we all are guilty and remedy requires a hard lonesome fight against the resolute crowd.  You also must be willing to swim against the rushing murky waters of moral relativity that are fed by convenience.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

There is also a visceral sort of compartmentalization, one that Dickens shows us more subtly through the character of Wemmick. This one not only divides our public self from our private self but also divides us into various selves, often in ways we don’t even recognize. I think, for example, of how by high school I had become one person when I was partying with my friends and another when I was going to church with my parents. That’s natural of teenage rebellion—it’s not like I could light up a joint in church so as to live a de-compartmentalized life. But there are more insidious manifestations to this compartmentalized life. When my youth group leader told all of the kids in youth group that he had burned all of his rock albums, and I happened to listen to rock music, I saw two choices before me: either to burn all my albums, too, or to keep listening but not talk about it in church on Sunday or with any of my Sunday friends. I chose the latter, not seeing a third option of voicing disagreement or engaging in further discussion. My choice made it more difficult to share my Sunday life with my non-Sunday friends and therefore only fortified the partitions that chopped my life into bits.

What are some examples of the modern day tendency to divide our lives and ourselves into compartments?

How can this be overcome? Should it be?

Matthew 5:37

But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


The Faith behind the Famous: Charles Dickens

Stephen Rost

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens has been called “perhaps the greatest of English novelists.” Some may consider such a tribute an exaggeration, but no one can deny his genius and tremendous contribution to literature.

Throughout his life, Dickens was a champion of the poor and oppressed, as well as a critic of aristocratic and High-Church elitism. Popular works such as David Copperfiel, A Christmas Carol, and Pickwick Papers reveal his contempt for the corruption and folly in Victorian England’s business, law, religion, and education.

Taste of Poverty

Dickens’s life follows a classic rags-to-riches story. He was born at Landport, in Portsea, on February 7, 1812. His father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the navy—a job that enabled the family to live at a comfortable, but not overly indulgent, middle-class level. Unfortunately, careless money management and difficult times contributed to John Dickens’s financial decline in the 1820s.

Household items had to be sold, and Charles was given the unsavory task of taking treasured family books to the local pawn shop. At the tender age of 12, Charles was sent to work in a dingy blacking house. This dashed all hope of his getting a proper education. To make matters worse, his father ended up in debtors’ prison.

Work in the blacking house lasted from 8 to 8, with one hour for dinner and 30 minutes for tea. He made the best of his situation, and in time it became apparent to the foreman that Charles was different. He not only carried himself in a manner unlike the other boys’, he also outworked them.

Upon his father’s release from prison, Charles went back to school. He developed shorthand and landed a job as a parliamentary reporter—first for The True Sun, then the Morning Chronicle. And he contributed articles to the Monthly Magazine and Evening Chronicle.

Disenchantment with Religion

The influence of religion was ever present in Dickens’s life, even though he didn’t engage in religious activity to any noticeable degree. Biographer Edgar Johnson writes that Dickens’s parents “were Church of England, though not at all devout, or interested in matters of doctrine.… They did not even attend church very regularly.” Young Charles was also subjected to the boring messages of Baptist minister William Giles. With these experiences to reflect upon, Dickens developed a dislike for the church. G. K. Chesterton wrote that “the tone of Dickens towards religion, though like that of most of his contemporaries, philosophically disturbed and rather historically ignorant, had an element that was very characteristic of himself. He had all the prejudices of his time. He had, for instance, that dislike of defined dogmas, which really means a preference for unexamined dogmas.”

This attitude did not come by accident; it was neatly cultivated by a life of unpleasant experiences with formal religion. Dickens’s contempt should not be construed, however, as a hostility toward God or Jesus Christ. He merely observed that the church, for all its dogma and ceremony, failed to realize, at least in practice, the need for social action.

In 1834, for example, Sir Andrew Agnew attempted to pass a bill prohibiting recreation and work on Sunday. This infuriated Dickens, for it reflected the fanatical side of religion he had grown to hate. The wealthy enjoyed leisure throughout the week because their money enabled them to hire others to do their work, but the poor worker had to labor six days, leaving only Sunday for recreation and other needed activities. Now the religious zealots wanted to take that brief source of pleasure from those who needed it most.

Dickens attacked the bill with a pamphlet titled Sunday Under Three Heads: As it is; As Sabbath Bills would make it; As it might be made. The bill was never enacted, but the issue did entrench his disdain for rabid religiosity.

Dickens became involved with a system that attracted many fellow intellectuals: Unitarianism. It enabled him to live without the dogmatic creeds of historic Christianity, yet affirm the existence of God and the humanity and divine mission of Jesus Christ. And Unitarianism promoted social awareness. Writer Robert Browning remarked that “Mr. Dickens is an enlightened Unitarian.” After 1847, however, he did attend the Anglican church near his home. And he prayed each morning and night.

Settling Down to Success

The year 1836 was pivotal for Dickens. He married Catherine Hogarth on April 2 and began a family that eventually expanded to 10 children. Also, his writing career was launched in earnest. Chapman and Hall hired him to write the brief text for a series of sporting plates by illustrator Robert Seymour. Dickens initiated an alternate plan that gave birth to the Pickwick Papers. At the same fume, Oliver Twist was coming out in the periodical Bentley’s Miscellany. Dickens was now an established writer with a growing reputation. His popularity crossed the Atlantic, and soon he was on his way to America, where he was received with enthusiasm.

Dickens conveyed his social concerns to a vast number of people via his novels. He made it a point to expose injustice. A case in point is the anti-Catholic riots of that era. By no means was Dickens sympathetic toward Catholicism, but he hated bigotry. In 1841 he wrote Barnaby Rudge, which exposed the foolishness of the anti-Catholic period and those who encouraged it.

“God Bless Us, Every One”

Even though Dickens hated established religion, he maintained a sensitivity toward the social principles of Christianity, principles he made quite clear in one of his most popular and endearing novels, A Christmas Carol.

Written when Dickens was 31, this tale of ghosts and greed so thrilled him that he literally wept and laughed over it. The protagonist, Scrooge, is an oppressing, greedy, lover of money—a cold, wretched shell of a man who has lost all sense of kindness. Of all the characters in the Dickens gallery, the old miser is the most memorable representation of that which Dickens hated in individuals and society.

The moral and spiritual values sprinkled throughout the story are priceless. For example, Scrooge equates happiness with wealth; ironically, he is the most unhappy character. Scrooge remarks that those who are unable to care for themselves would do society a favor by dying, thereby helping decrease the surplus population. Later, however, Scrooge is taken by the second Spirit to visit the home of his impoverished employee Bob Cratchit. Scrooge develops a personal interest in Tiny Tim, the lovable boy who suffers from a potentially fatal ailment. Scrooge inquires about Tim’s health, and the Spirit states that the boy will die unless the old miser changes his ways. But who cares, for “If he be like to die,” says the Spirit, “he had better do it, and decrease the population.” Scrooge hangs his head in shame.

Eventually, Scrooge sees the folly of his way and exclaims, “I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse.” A religious conversion? The “salvation” of Scrooge comes not from an encounter with Christ, but an encounter with self. He displays the Dickensian view that salvation is achieved by loving your neighbor, giving a cup of water to those in need. The New Testament teaches that such acts are the result of spiritual conversion; for Dickens, they were the means.

A Secret Work Revealed

In 1849, Dickens wrote an important manuscript that would not be printed until 1934. This work was so personal to him that he requested it not be made public for 85 years. The work was a retelling of the Gospel narratives, titled The Life of Our Lord. Marie Dickens, Charles Dickens’s daughter-in-law, offered this fitting description of Dickens’s secret work:

“This book, the last work of Charles Dickens to be published, has an individual interest and purpose that separate it completely from everything else that Dickens wrote. Quite apart from its Divine Subject, the manuscript is peculiarly personal to the novelist, and is not so much a revelation of his mind as a tribute to his heart and humanity, and also, his deep devotion to Our Lord.”

Dickens wrote The Life of Our Lord so that his children would become familiar with Jesus Christ, and he often read the story to them. When his children left home, he gave each a New Testament (though not an entire Bible). To one, he wrote, “I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child; because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world.…” Unitarianism The Life of Our Lord most clearly expresses Dickens’s religious disposition. He respected Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ, who practiced what Dickens so desperately wanted to find in humanity. Jesus loved all people. He rubbed shoulders with social castaways, rebuked wealthy elitists, and severely condemned hypocrisy. If ever a man could gain Dickens’s utmost respect and favor, Christ could, and did.

While certain statements about Christ appear orthodox, the overall picture that Dickens paints cannot be considered orthodox when measured by Scripture or the historic creeds of Christianity. Dickens portrays Jesus as a good man who is loved by God like a son. He writes of the Resurrection, yet glosses over the Virgin Birth and Communion, and he states that one becomes acceptable for heaven by doing good.

One thing is certain, however: Dickens respected the Bible and Christ and sought to instill in his children the same reverence. Near the end of his life he wrote to a reader: “I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of Our Saviour; because I feel it; and because I re-wrote that history for my children—every one of whom knew it from having it repeated to them—long before they could read, and almost as soon as they could speak. But I have never made proclamation of this from the house tops.”

Unfinished Business

In 1858, Dickens separated from his wife. Some speculate that a chief cause of the marriage’s breakup was his tendency to put himself and his writing first. Dickens then devoted himself increasingly to traveling and public readings of his works. He also developed a relationship with a young actress.

Dickens pushed himself to the limit for so long that his health began to break down. Eventually, he was forced to cease most of his public speaking and resign himself to writing. In 1869 he began work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was interrupted by his untimely death from a seizure on June 9, 1870. He was 58. He was buried in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.

In his last will and testament, written on May 12, 1869, Dickens wrote, “I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and I exhort my dear children humbly to try to guide themselves by the teaching of the New Testament in its broad spirit, and to put no faith in any man’s narrow construction of its letter here or there.”

Dickens despised, and in his books eloquently portrayed, the gross injustices and shoddy lifestyle of many who laid claim to the teachings of Christianity. Yet a fair examination of his life and work shows that he was not a hater of Christ or of Christianity. His friend John Forster concluded that Dickens’s will demonstrates his “unswerving faith in Christianity itself, apart from sects and schisms.”

How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ

Selected quotations from The Life of Our Lord
My dear children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the history of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him.

And when people seek ill of the Poor and Miserable, think how Jesus Christ went among them and taught them, and thought them worthy of his care.

And because he did such Good, and taught people how to love God and how to hope to go to Heaven after death, he was called Our Savior.

Remember!—It is christianity to do good always—even to those who do evil to us. It is christianity to love our neighbor as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them Do to us. It is christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to shew that we love him by humbly trying to do right in everything.

Stephen Rost, “How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ,” Christian History Magazine-Issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1990).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Magic Of Story: Day 2

Great Expectations
Charles Dickens

This was a case of metaphysics, at least as difficult for Joe to deal with as for me. But Joe took the case altogether out of the region of metaphysics, and by that means vanquished it. . . .
“And as to being common [said Joe], I don’t make it out at all clear. You are oncommon in some things [Pip]. You’re oncommon small. Likewise you’re a oncommon scholar.”
“No, I am ignorant and backward, Joe.”
“Why, see what a letter you wrote last night! Wrote in print even! I’ve seen letters—Ah! and from gentlefolks!—that I’ll swear weren’t wrote in print,” said Joe.
“I have learnt next to nothing, Joe. You think much of me. It’s only that.”
“Well, Pip,” said Joe, “be it so or be it son’t, you must be a common scholar afore you can be a oncommon one, I should hope! The king upon his throne, with his crown upon his ed, can’t sit and write his acts of Parliament in print, without having begun, when he were a unpromoted Prince, with the alphabet.—Ah!” added Joe, with a shake of the head that was full of meaning, “and begun at A. too, and worked his way to Z. And I know what that is to do, though I can’t say I’ve exactly done it.”
There was some hope in this piece of wisdom, and it rather encouraged me.


Readers are evangelists.  Everyone who truly enjoys digging into a book thinks all of their friends should read it too.  Immediately.  Stop everything and read this classic work of literature – or trashy pulp fiction!

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

Not everyone loves English or reading literature or their eight-grade English teacher or their college professors. Not everyone loves Great Expectations. My cousin will not let me forget the summer she “wasted” trying to get through Great Expectations because I had so strongly recommended it. She is a voracious reader of popular fiction—I count as one the best accomplishments of my youth that I introduced her to the joys of reading one summer when we were about 10, a couple of summers before she and her older sister introduced me to the joys of sneaking puffs of cigarettes out in our Grampa’s woods—and, seeking to give her reading a more literary turn, she asked me for suggestions. I don’t think she’ll ever do so again. But I suspect that the pleasure she takes in reminding me of her lost summer just might make up for the lack of pleasure she found in actually reading the book. Other friends, too, have picked up the book at my bidding, only to put it quietly down again after torturously slow starts.

Is there a book you have loved that others around you just didn’t understand or love as much?

Romans 15:4

FOR WHATEVER THINGS WERE WRITTEN BEFORE WERE WRITTEN FOR OUR LEARNING, THAT WE THROUGH THE PATIENCE AND COMFORT OF THE SCRIPTURES MIGHT HAVE HOPE.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


The Faith behind the Famous: Charles Dickens

Stephen Rost

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens has been called “perhaps the greatest of English novelists.” Some may consider such a tribute an exaggeration, but no one can deny his genius and tremendous contribution to literature.

Throughout his life, Dickens was a champion of the poor and oppressed, as well as a critic of aristocratic and High-Church elitism. Popular works such as David Copperfiel, A Christmas Carol, and Pickwick Papers reveal his contempt for the corruption and folly in Victorian England’s business, law, religion, and education.

Taste of Poverty

Dickens’s life follows a classic rags-to-riches story. He was born at Landport, in Portsea, on February 7, 1812. His father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the navy—a job that enabled the family to live at a comfortable, but not overly indulgent, middle-class level. Unfortunately, careless money management and difficult times contributed to John Dickens’s financial decline in the 1820s.

Household items had to be sold, and Charles was given the unsavory task of taking treasured family books to the local pawn shop. At the tender age of 12, Charles was sent to work in a dingy blacking house. This dashed all hope of his getting a proper education. To make matters worse, his father ended up in debtors’ prison.

Work in the blacking house lasted from 8 to 8, with one hour for dinner and 30 minutes for tea. He made the best of his situation, and in time it became apparent to the foreman that Charles was different. He not only carried himself in a manner unlike the other boys’, he also outworked them.

Upon his father’s release from prison, Charles went back to school. He developed shorthand and landed a job as a parliamentary reporter—first for The True Sun, then the Morning Chronicle. And he contributed articles to the Monthly Magazine and Evening Chronicle.

Disenchantment with Religion

The influence of religion was ever present in Dickens’s life, even though he didn’t engage in religious activity to any noticeable degree. Biographer Edgar Johnson writes that Dickens’s parents “were Church of England, though not at all devout, or interested in matters of doctrine.… They did not even attend church very regularly.” Young Charles was also subjected to the boring messages of Baptist minister William Giles. With these experiences to reflect upon, Dickens developed a dislike for the church. G. K. Chesterton wrote that “the tone of Dickens towards religion, though like that of most of his contemporaries, philosophically disturbed and rather historically ignorant, had an element that was very characteristic of himself. He had all the prejudices of his time. He had, for instance, that dislike of defined dogmas, which really means a preference for unexamined dogmas.”

This attitude did not come by accident; it was neatly cultivated by a life of unpleasant experiences with formal religion. Dickens’s contempt should not be construed, however, as a hostility toward God or Jesus Christ. He merely observed that the church, for all its dogma and ceremony, failed to realize, at least in practice, the need for social action.

In 1834, for example, Sir Andrew Agnew attempted to pass a bill prohibiting recreation and work on Sunday. This infuriated Dickens, for it reflected the fanatical side of religion he had grown to hate. The wealthy enjoyed leisure throughout the week because their money enabled them to hire others to do their work, but the poor worker had to labor six days, leaving only Sunday for recreation and other needed activities. Now the religious zealots wanted to take that brief source of pleasure from those who needed it most.

Dickens attacked the bill with a pamphlet titled Sunday Under Three Heads: As it is; As Sabbath Bills would make it; As it might be made. The bill was never enacted, but the issue did entrench his disdain for rabid religiosity.

Dickens became involved with a system that attracted many fellow intellectuals: Unitarianism. It enabled him to live without the dogmatic creeds of historic Christianity, yet affirm the existence of God and the humanity and divine mission of Jesus Christ. And Unitarianism promoted social awareness. Writer Robert Browning remarked that “Mr. Dickens is an enlightened Unitarian.” After 1847, however, he did attend the Anglican church near his home. And he prayed each morning and night.

Settling Down to Success

The year 1836 was pivotal for Dickens. He married Catherine Hogarth on April 2 and began a family that eventually expanded to 10 children. Also, his writing career was launched in earnest. Chapman and Hall hired him to write the brief text for a series of sporting plates by illustrator Robert Seymour. Dickens initiated an alternate plan that gave birth to the Pickwick Papers. At the same fume, Oliver Twist was coming out in the periodical Bentley’s Miscellany. Dickens was now an established writer with a growing reputation. His popularity crossed the Atlantic, and soon he was on his way to America, where he was received with enthusiasm.

Dickens conveyed his social concerns to a vast number of people via his novels. He made it a point to expose injustice. A case in point is the anti-Catholic riots of that era. By no means was Dickens sympathetic toward Catholicism, but he hated bigotry. In 1841 he wrote Barnaby Rudge, which exposed the foolishness of the anti-Catholic period and those who encouraged it.

“God Bless Us, Every One”

Even though Dickens hated established religion, he maintained a sensitivity toward the social principles of Christianity, principles he made quite clear in one of his most popular and endearing novels, A Christmas Carol.

Written when Dickens was 31, this tale of ghosts and greed so thrilled him that he literally wept and laughed over it. The protagonist, Scrooge, is an oppressing, greedy, lover of money—a cold, wretched shell of a man who has lost all sense of kindness. Of all the characters in the Dickens gallery, the old miser is the most memorable representation of that which Dickens hated in individuals and society.

The moral and spiritual values sprinkled throughout the story are priceless. For example, Scrooge equates happiness with wealth; ironically, he is the most unhappy character. Scrooge remarks that those who are unable to care for themselves would do society a favor by dying, thereby helping decrease the surplus population. Later, however, Scrooge is taken by the second Spirit to visit the home of his impoverished employee Bob Cratchit. Scrooge develops a personal interest in Tiny Tim, the lovable boy who suffers from a potentially fatal ailment. Scrooge inquires about Tim’s health, and the Spirit states that the boy will die unless the old miser changes his ways. But who cares, for “If he be like to die,” says the Spirit, “he had better do it, and decrease the population.” Scrooge hangs his head in shame.

Eventually, Scrooge sees the folly of his way and exclaims, “I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse.” A religious conversion? The “salvation” of Scrooge comes not from an encounter with Christ, but an encounter with self. He displays the Dickensian view that salvation is achieved by loving your neighbor, giving a cup of water to those in need. The New Testament teaches that such acts are the result of spiritual conversion; for Dickens, they were the means.

A Secret Work Revealed

In 1849, Dickens wrote an important manuscript that would not be printed until 1934. This work was so personal to him that he requested it not be made public for 85 years. The work was a retelling of the Gospel narratives, titled The Life of Our Lord. Marie Dickens, Charles Dickens’s daughter-in-law, offered this fitting description of Dickens’s secret work:

“This book, the last work of Charles Dickens to be published, has an individual interest and purpose that separate it completely from everything else that Dickens wrote. Quite apart from its Divine Subject, the manuscript is peculiarly personal to the novelist, and is not so much a revelation of his mind as a tribute to his heart and humanity, and also, his deep devotion to Our Lord.”

Dickens wrote The Life of Our Lord so that his children would become familiar with Jesus Christ, and he often read the story to them. When his children left home, he gave each a New Testament (though not an entire Bible). To one, he wrote, “I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child; because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world.…” Unitarianism The Life of Our Lord most clearly expresses Dickens’s religious disposition. He respected Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ, who practiced what Dickens so desperately wanted to find in humanity. Jesus loved all people. He rubbed shoulders with social castaways, rebuked wealthy elitists, and severely condemned hypocrisy. If ever a man could gain Dickens’s utmost respect and favor, Christ could, and did.

While certain statements about Christ appear orthodox, the overall picture that Dickens paints cannot be considered orthodox when measured by Scripture or the historic creeds of Christianity. Dickens portrays Jesus as a good man who is loved by God like a son. He writes of the Resurrection, yet glosses over the Virgin Birth and Communion, and he states that one becomes acceptable for heaven by doing good.

One thing is certain, however: Dickens respected the Bible and Christ and sought to instill in his children the same reverence. Near the end of his life he wrote to a reader: “I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of Our Saviour; because I feel it; and because I re-wrote that history for my children—every one of whom knew it from having it repeated to them—long before they could read, and almost as soon as they could speak. But I have never made proclamation of this from the house tops.”

Unfinished Business

In 1858, Dickens separated from his wife. Some speculate that a chief cause of the marriage’s breakup was his tendency to put himself and his writing first. Dickens then devoted himself increasingly to traveling and public readings of his works. He also developed a relationship with a young actress.

Dickens pushed himself to the limit for so long that his health began to break down. Eventually, he was forced to cease most of his public speaking and resign himself to writing. In 1869 he began work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was interrupted by his untimely death from a seizure on June 9, 1870. He was 58. He was buried in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.

In his last will and testament, written on May 12, 1869, Dickens wrote, “I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and I exhort my dear children humbly to try to guide themselves by the teaching of the New Testament in its broad spirit, and to put no faith in any man’s narrow construction of its letter here or there.”

Dickens despised, and in his books eloquently portrayed, the gross injustices and shoddy lifestyle of many who laid claim to the teachings of Christianity. Yet a fair examination of his life and work shows that he was not a hater of Christ or of Christianity. His friend John Forster concluded that Dickens’s will demonstrates his “unswerving faith in Christianity itself, apart from sects and schisms.”

How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ

Selected quotations from The Life of Our Lord
My dear children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the history of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him.

And when people seek ill of the Poor and Miserable, think how Jesus Christ went among them and taught them, and thought them worthy of his care.

And because he did such Good, and taught people how to love God and how to hope to go to Heaven after death, he was called Our Savior.

Remember!—It is christianity to do good always—even to those who do evil to us. It is christianity to love our neighbor as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them Do to us. It is christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to shew that we love him by humbly trying to do right in everything.

Stephen Rost, “How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ,” Christian History Magazine-Issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1990).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

The Magic Of Story: Day 1

Great Expectations
Charles Dickens

“My name,” he said, “is Jaggers, and I am a lawyer in London. . . . I have unusual business to transact with you, and I commence by explaining that it is not of my originating. . . .”
Finding that he could not see us very well from where he sat, he got up, and threw one leg over the back of a chair and leaned upon it; thus having one foot on the seat of the chair, and one foot on the ground.
“Now, Joseph Gargery, I am the bearer of an offer to relieve you of this young fellow your apprentice. You would not object to cancel his indentures at his request and for his good? You would want nothing for so doing?”
“Lord forbid that I should want anything for not standing in Pip’s way,” said Joe, staring.
“Lord forbidding is pious, but not to the purpose,” returned Mr. Jaggers. “The question is, Would you want anything? Do you want anything?”
“The answer is,” returned Joe, sternly, “No.”
I thought Mr. Jaggers glanced at Joe, as if he considered him a fool for his disinterestedness. But I was too much bewildered between breathless curiosity and surprise, to be sure of it.
“Very well,” said Mr. Jaggers. “Recollect the admission you have made, and don’t try to go from it presently.”
“Who’s a going to try?” retorted Joe. . . .
“Now, I return to this young fellow. And the communication I have got to make is, that he has Great Expectations.”.


This week we turn to Great Expectations by Mr. Charles Dickens.  The book is said to be his masterpiece and that’s quite a statement, for he was prolific in the production of timeless literature.  Great writers like Dickens most certainly create words of lasting impact, but many others – more everyday people –  do as well.  In the impressionable early years of our lives, these words frequently came from our teachers.  Most of us can remember, as we say, ‘that one special teacher.’

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

Because I loved her, I believed in Mrs. Lovejoy, too. And because I believed in her, I believed in everything Mrs. Lovejoy taught my seventh and eighth grade English classes. I believed in grammar and parts of speech and sentence diagramming and punctuation and spelling quizzes and vocabulary lists and stories. Especially the stories.

Mrs. Lovejoy was like an interesting character in a good story. She was as thin and tall as a birch tree, and just as silver and smooth. She was older than dirt, too. Peering down from the top of her spectacles at all of us in the throes of awkward adolescence, she commanded both fear and respect. Mrs. Lovejoy was passionate about not just what she taught but also about those whom she taught.

Did you have a teacher who influenced your life more than any other?  How so?

James 3:1

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


The Faith behind the Famous: Charles Dickens

Stephen Rost

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens has been called “perhaps the greatest of English novelists.” Some may consider such a tribute an exaggeration, but no one can deny his genius and tremendous contribution to literature.

Throughout his life, Dickens was a champion of the poor and oppressed, as well as a critic of aristocratic and High-Church elitism. Popular works such as David Copperfiel, A Christmas Carol, and Pickwick Papers reveal his contempt for the corruption and folly in Victorian England’s business, law, religion, and education.

Taste of Poverty

Dickens’s life follows a classic rags-to-riches story. He was born at Landport, in Portsea, on February 7, 1812. His father, John Dickens, was a clerk in the navy—a job that enabled the family to live at a comfortable, but not overly indulgent, middle-class level. Unfortunately, careless money management and difficult times contributed to John Dickens’s financial decline in the 1820s.

Household items had to be sold, and Charles was given the unsavory task of taking treasured family books to the local pawn shop. At the tender age of 12, Charles was sent to work in a dingy blacking house. This dashed all hope of his getting a proper education. To make matters worse, his father ended up in debtors’ prison.

Work in the blacking house lasted from 8 to 8, with one hour for dinner and 30 minutes for tea. He made the best of his situation, and in time it became apparent to the foreman that Charles was different. He not only carried himself in a manner unlike the other boys’, he also outworked them.

Upon his father’s release from prison, Charles went back to school. He developed shorthand and landed a job as a parliamentary reporter—first for The True Sun, then the Morning Chronicle. And he contributed articles to the Monthly Magazine and Evening Chronicle.

Disenchantment with Religion

The influence of religion was ever present in Dickens’s life, even though he didn’t engage in religious activity to any noticeable degree. Biographer Edgar Johnson writes that Dickens’s parents “were Church of England, though not at all devout, or interested in matters of doctrine.… They did not even attend church very regularly.” Young Charles was also subjected to the boring messages of Baptist minister William Giles. With these experiences to reflect upon, Dickens developed a dislike for the church. G. K. Chesterton wrote that “the tone of Dickens towards religion, though like that of most of his contemporaries, philosophically disturbed and rather historically ignorant, had an element that was very characteristic of himself. He had all the prejudices of his time. He had, for instance, that dislike of defined dogmas, which really means a preference for unexamined dogmas.”

This attitude did not come by accident; it was neatly cultivated by a life of unpleasant experiences with formal religion. Dickens’s contempt should not be construed, however, as a hostility toward God or Jesus Christ. He merely observed that the church, for all its dogma and ceremony, failed to realize, at least in practice, the need for social action.

In 1834, for example, Sir Andrew Agnew attempted to pass a bill prohibiting recreation and work on Sunday. This infuriated Dickens, for it reflected the fanatical side of religion he had grown to hate. The wealthy enjoyed leisure throughout the week because their money enabled them to hire others to do their work, but the poor worker had to labor six days, leaving only Sunday for recreation and other needed activities. Now the religious zealots wanted to take that brief source of pleasure from those who needed it most.

Dickens attacked the bill with a pamphlet titled Sunday Under Three Heads: As it is; As Sabbath Bills would make it; As it might be made. The bill was never enacted, but the issue did entrench his disdain for rabid religiosity.

Dickens became involved with a system that attracted many fellow intellectuals: Unitarianism. It enabled him to live without the dogmatic creeds of historic Christianity, yet affirm the existence of God and the humanity and divine mission of Jesus Christ. And Unitarianism promoted social awareness. Writer Robert Browning remarked that “Mr. Dickens is an enlightened Unitarian.” After 1847, however, he did attend the Anglican church near his home. And he prayed each morning and night.

Settling Down to Success

The year 1836 was pivotal for Dickens. He married Catherine Hogarth on April 2 and began a family that eventually expanded to 10 children. Also, his writing career was launched in earnest. Chapman and Hall hired him to write the brief text for a series of sporting plates by illustrator Robert Seymour. Dickens initiated an alternate plan that gave birth to the Pickwick Papers. At the same fume, Oliver Twist was coming out in the periodical Bentley’s Miscellany. Dickens was now an established writer with a growing reputation. His popularity crossed the Atlantic, and soon he was on his way to America, where he was received with enthusiasm.

Dickens conveyed his social concerns to a vast number of people via his novels. He made it a point to expose injustice. A case in point is the anti-Catholic riots of that era. By no means was Dickens sympathetic toward Catholicism, but he hated bigotry. In 1841 he wrote Barnaby Rudge, which exposed the foolishness of the anti-Catholic period and those who encouraged it.

“God Bless Us, Every One”

Even though Dickens hated established religion, he maintained a sensitivity toward the social principles of Christianity, principles he made quite clear in one of his most popular and endearing novels, A Christmas Carol.

Written when Dickens was 31, this tale of ghosts and greed so thrilled him that he literally wept and laughed over it. The protagonist, Scrooge, is an oppressing, greedy, lover of money—a cold, wretched shell of a man who has lost all sense of kindness. Of all the characters in the Dickens gallery, the old miser is the most memorable representation of that which Dickens hated in individuals and society.

The moral and spiritual values sprinkled throughout the story are priceless. For example, Scrooge equates happiness with wealth; ironically, he is the most unhappy character. Scrooge remarks that those who are unable to care for themselves would do society a favor by dying, thereby helping decrease the surplus population. Later, however, Scrooge is taken by the second Spirit to visit the home of his impoverished employee Bob Cratchit. Scrooge develops a personal interest in Tiny Tim, the lovable boy who suffers from a potentially fatal ailment. Scrooge inquires about Tim’s health, and the Spirit states that the boy will die unless the old miser changes his ways. But who cares, for “If he be like to die,” says the Spirit, “he had better do it, and decrease the population.” Scrooge hangs his head in shame.

Eventually, Scrooge sees the folly of his way and exclaims, “I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse.” A religious conversion? The “salvation” of Scrooge comes not from an encounter with Christ, but an encounter with self. He displays the Dickensian view that salvation is achieved by loving your neighbor, giving a cup of water to those in need. The New Testament teaches that such acts are the result of spiritual conversion; for Dickens, they were the means.

A Secret Work Revealed

In 1849, Dickens wrote an important manuscript that would not be printed until 1934. This work was so personal to him that he requested it not be made public for 85 years. The work was a retelling of the Gospel narratives, titled The Life of Our Lord. Marie Dickens, Charles Dickens’s daughter-in-law, offered this fitting description of Dickens’s secret work:

“This book, the last work of Charles Dickens to be published, has an individual interest and purpose that separate it completely from everything else that Dickens wrote. Quite apart from its Divine Subject, the manuscript is peculiarly personal to the novelist, and is not so much a revelation of his mind as a tribute to his heart and humanity, and also, his deep devotion to Our Lord.”

Dickens wrote The Life of Our Lord so that his children would become familiar with Jesus Christ, and he often read the story to them. When his children left home, he gave each a New Testament (though not an entire Bible). To one, he wrote, “I put a New Testament among your books, for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child; because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world.…” Unitarianism The Life of Our Lord most clearly expresses Dickens’s religious disposition. He respected Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ, who practiced what Dickens so desperately wanted to find in humanity. Jesus loved all people. He rubbed shoulders with social castaways, rebuked wealthy elitists, and severely condemned hypocrisy. If ever a man could gain Dickens’s utmost respect and favor, Christ could, and did.

While certain statements about Christ appear orthodox, the overall picture that Dickens paints cannot be considered orthodox when measured by Scripture or the historic creeds of Christianity. Dickens portrays Jesus as a good man who is loved by God like a son. He writes of the Resurrection, yet glosses over the Virgin Birth and Communion, and he states that one becomes acceptable for heaven by doing good.

One thing is certain, however: Dickens respected the Bible and Christ and sought to instill in his children the same reverence. Near the end of his life he wrote to a reader: “I have always striven in my writings to express veneration for the life and lessons of Our Saviour; because I feel it; and because I re-wrote that history for my children—every one of whom knew it from having it repeated to them—long before they could read, and almost as soon as they could speak. But I have never made proclamation of this from the house tops.”

Unfinished Business

In 1858, Dickens separated from his wife. Some speculate that a chief cause of the marriage’s breakup was his tendency to put himself and his writing first. Dickens then devoted himself increasingly to traveling and public readings of his works. He also developed a relationship with a young actress.

Dickens pushed himself to the limit for so long that his health began to break down. Eventually, he was forced to cease most of his public speaking and resign himself to writing. In 1869 he began work on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which was interrupted by his untimely death from a seizure on June 9, 1870. He was 58. He was buried in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.

In his last will and testament, written on May 12, 1869, Dickens wrote, “I commit my soul to the mercy of God through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and I exhort my dear children humbly to try to guide themselves by the teaching of the New Testament in its broad spirit, and to put no faith in any man’s narrow construction of its letter here or there.”

Dickens despised, and in his books eloquently portrayed, the gross injustices and shoddy lifestyle of many who laid claim to the teachings of Christianity. Yet a fair examination of his life and work shows that he was not a hater of Christ or of Christianity. His friend John Forster concluded that Dickens’s will demonstrates his “unswerving faith in Christianity itself, apart from sects and schisms.”

 

How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ

Selected quotations from The Life of Our Lord
My dear children, I am very anxious that you should know something about the history of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him.

And when people seek ill of the Poor and Miserable, think how Jesus Christ went among them and taught them, and thought them worthy of his care.

And because he did such Good, and taught people how to love God and how to hope to go to Heaven after death, he was called Our Savior.

Remember!—It is christianity to do good always—even to those who do evil to us. It is christianity to love our neighbor as ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them Do to us. It is christianity to be gentle, merciful, and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to shew that we love him by humbly trying to do right in everything.

Stephen Rost, “How Dickens Viewed Jesus Christ,” Christian History Magazine-Issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1990).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

What Do You Seek?

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Great Expectations
Charles Dickens

There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth.


RickOur lives, like the characters of Dickens’ finest novel, are filled with great expectation.  We likewise are often disappointed –  in spite of our tenacious optimism – because life rarely matches the lofty dreams of our youth.  Adults whose childhood dreams took them to riches and glory are soon resolved to lives much dimmer than their grand imaginations.

Our hearts yearn for God and the grandeur of His company, but His voice is still and small.  We expect majesty, but He comes to us as the hungry, naked or imprisoned stranger. Rather than a throne, we find a manger.

John Henry Newman put this point well in the great hymn of the Angelicals, part of his Dream of Gerontius, but familiar to congregations across the world as Praise to the Holiest in the height

And that a higher gift than grace
Should flesh and blood refine,
God’s Presence and His very Self,
And Essence all divine.

As Alister McGrath wrote in Incarnation

The image of a vulnerable child has always served to emphasize the humility of God, both in entering this world in the first place, and in such a menial situation in the second. For Christian artists, the point is simple: the more we trust that God really did enter into our history as one of us, the more we can be reassured that we shall finally be raised up into those heavenly places in which the Christ-child now reigns in glory.

Yes, majesty awaits and accompanies His glory, but our eyes are blinded by lesser lights of the temporal, the profane and the empty promises of the world.  Our hearts were indeed created to long for Him but wisdom prays for open eyes.

It is expectancy rather than expectations that guides us home.

IMG_0181

Matthew 25:31–46

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

 


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Homelessness in America

Tom Darin Liskey

 

Anthony carries an old family bible with him. His favorite book is John, specifically the verses where Jesus said “I am the true vine.” This is what he tells me about the bible: “This was my mother’s, and her mother’s before her. This book has given us a lot of shelter from the storms over the generations.”

 

Elias rides his bike around downtown Houston with his two dogs, Rocky and Fifi, in the front basket. “They are my family. They’re my hijos.”

 

C. has a job, but still lives on the street. He’s also an artist. He draws on secondhand notebook pages, thrown out business forms, napkins, anything, in fact, with some blank space. He carries a collection of colored pencils worn down to the nub with his gear. “I love drawing, you know. Been doing it since I was a kid,” he says.

 

Tom Darin Liskey

Tom Darin Liskey is an author, poet and photo-journalist.  More than twenty years of international journalism and business experience gives Tom a unique perspective. That experience abroad has given him a keen eye to appreciate different cultures and locations. His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry has been published in literary magazines, both in the US and abroad including two published books.

https://www.tomdarinphoto.com/

All images © Tom Darin Liskey