By Rick Lewers
Every now and then I find myself reading something that surprises me.
"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."
That surprised me as someone who may not always appreciate the literature that surrounds me.
Vishal Mangalwadi is the author of The Book That Made Your World, from which I have quoted.
Beginning to read the book I was struck by the influence of the Bible on English literature.
I guess I was surprised because the Bible was so obviously absent in my English classes at school, not to mention my history and biology classes.
I think Bible-less classes were a bit of a theme at my school.
I am further surprised when I think of how serious the attempts to remove the Bible from schools all together.
Vishal introduces Dr Louise Cowan, editor of Invitation to the Classics.
Dr Cowan was an English department chairman and graduate school dean.
"Although her university education had demolished her childhood faith, teaching Hamlet began to open her eyes to biblical faith and heroism.
Hamlet's friend Horatio cautions him to call off the duel. But Hamlet's faith overcomes this warning."
"There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow," Hamlet declares, 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 nonbeliever – a free thinker.
They described Shakespeare as a genius writing for money, not art.
His comedies were but bits of froth, his tragedies full of scepticism.
Shakespeare, they believed, summed up his secular outlook in King Lear; as Flies to wanton boys are we to gods; they kill us for their sport.
Reading Shakespeare to her class forced Cowan to reconsider.
"This mention of providence struck me as being in marked contrast with Hamlet's earlier anguished irony.
It took on the aura of something momentous.
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?
L pored over Hamlet several times during the ensuing months, each time finding further evidence of Shakespeare's spiritual outlook.
And gradually 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 recognizing the secularism of our day and discerning the bias of most scholars."
Would an HSC student who wrote such a Christian critique of Shakespeare in their English exams find their paper well received? I hope so.
I have to say that the Bible surprises me a little more than every now and then.
In fact the more I read the Bible, the more amazed I become.
Its narrative, wisdom, poetry and apocalyptic content make it a book of diverse literary genres and worthy of literary study.
However, I would argue that the Bible is more than just another piece of literature.
Over thousands of years, through some 40 different authors this book has the power to cut to the heart of any 21st century reader with a message to challenge the lives of us all.
Surprising is the way it so accurately critiques my life and the culture of which l am a part.
Of course its fundamentals are no surprise.
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 a Saviour introduced in the person of Jesus Christ.
Vishal's book The Book That Made Your World is a great read, but God's book The Holy Bible will change your life.
I recommend them both but I can recommend the Bible more.
Read it to understand it and your life win never be the same.
English literary history can attest to that. •