By Rick Lewers

The greatest book of all time

You may be surprised to learn that English literature often has Biblical themes, like in Shakespeare’s plays

Every now and then I find myself reading something that surprises me.

In The Book That Made Your World, Indian author Vishal Mangalwadi reveals the deep influence of the Bible on English literature.

Vishal writes: "Khushwant Singh is a secular Sikh and one of India's best-known writers. He taught English literature at Delhi University. He has often said that he reads two chapters of the Bible every day because 'no one can understand English literature without first reading the Bible.' "

Vishal also introduces Dr Louise Cowan, editor of Invitation to the Classics and former English department chairman and graduate school dean. While teaching the play Hamlet, she realised it was full of Biblical faith and heroism.

When Horatio cautions him to call off a duel, Hamlet declares, "There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow," alluding to Jesus comforting the worried disciples that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without his Father's will.

Hamlet places his life in God's hands, affirming God's sovereignty: "if it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all."

Cowan's professors and scholarly authorities made Shakespeare a nonbelieving genius writing for money, not art. His comedies were but bits of froth, his tragedies full of scepticism.

Cowan comments, "This mention of providence struck me as being in marked contrast with Hamlet's earlier anguished irony...What did Shakespeare intend his readers to think of so radical a turnabout?

Did it not in fact imply that the author himself saw and understood the change wrought in Hamlet by faith?

[As] I pored over Hamlet several times during the ensuing months... it became apparent that his perspective was not simply spiritual, but overtly Christian.

Sacrificial love was evident everywhere in his dramas. Grace was one of his key words; evil was its darker counterpart.

His comedies in particular were virtual illustrations of themes and passages of Scripture.

By today, of course several scholars have come to acknowledge, and even explore Shakespeare's-Christian faith; but at that time my discovery seemed monumental.

It meant recognising the secularism of our day and discerning the bias of most scholars."

I have to say that the more I read the Bible, the more amazed I become by it. Through 40-odd authors it cuts to the heart of any reader, accurately critiquing my life and the culture of which l am a part. The Bible stands us before a Creator in a world magnificently ordered by Him, for our blessing. It convicts the world as a whole and me personally of sin. And in moments of lucid honesty it informs the heart of the need for God's mercy and our Saviour Jesus Christ.

Read the Bible to understand what it means and your life will never be the same. English literary history can attest to that.