There’s no way to be sure exactly when people began to read and write. But the epic story of Gilgamesh, a king of Babylon, and the Code of Hammurabi, which was one of the first examples of law, were written around 2000 BC. Writing provided the opportunity to share ideas in a new way and to preserve their accuracy by providing a fixed text instead of relying on word of mouth.
Most of us may have only a nodding acquaintance, if any, with Gilgamesh and Hammurabi. But this time of year many think of Jesus’ humble birth. Of the journey of Joseph and Mary, who was nine months pregnant, heading to Jerusalem either walking or riding a donkey. Of the wise men, the angels, and shepherds. The fact that Luke took the time to write his Gospel means that we, too, can feel the inspiration of that momentous time and let it lift our hearts.
On the other side, writing can also carry messages that can drag people down, lure them into hateful or lustful thoughts.
In a very real sense, this is where the battle for hearts and minds comes into focus. For Jesus, who surely was a reader based on his knowledge of Jewish law, the struggle was between the material interpretations of his opponents and his higher spiritual message. While they jousted over the actual words, he perceived a divine law in those words. He boldly told them, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39).
People continue to search the Scriptures today, and they also search other texts in the quest for knowledge and freedom. The greater accessibility of reading materials makes individual discernment between the good and the manipulative messages even more important than in the past. But I’ve found helpful guidance in advice Jesus gave his disciples: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35).
Looking for evidence of love in our choices about what to read doesn’t mean reading only "happy" books. But it does enable one to analyze the writer’s motive and to find truth, or to be on guard if the author’s purpose is to warp and deceive.
Mary Baker Eddy, whose book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" makes Jesus’ healing method accessible today, was well aware of humanity’s oppression by disease, age, sin, and other forms of slavery. And she wrote in that book: "The power of God brings deliverance to the captive. No power can withstand divine Love" (p. 224).
In a very real sense, divine Love can and does shape our thoughts about what we read. It can keep us from fear when the news seems overwhelmingly grim, and it can enhance our joy when there is a much-needed rescue or when disaster has been averted. Reading opens the way to God’s Word, and all the good He has in store for us.