My to-read list on Goodreads currently contains 863 books. Considering I usually read about fifty books a year, I’ll be 42 by the time I finish only that list—yet I’m constantly adding to it, not to mention re-reading books. I’ve added more than twenty books to the list just in the past month.
What this all means is that I don’t have a chance of reading all the books I want to in my lifetime.
This is a bit depressing to me. I love reading Christian books so that I can understand God better, grow in holiness, and do ministry more effectively. They are good teachers, helping me to see beyond my own limited experience and understanding.
But I also need to remember the right place of books. In Ecclesiastes, the Preacher observes: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12b)
I will never read enough books to “arrive”. Even if I double the amount I read each year, I can never achieve fulness of knowledge, or perfect character, or flawless theology. Often when I’m taking notes from a great book, I’ll worry that I’m going to forget a crucial insight. I keep up with countless blogs because I don’t want to miss out on anything.
Reading this way is a denial of reality. I need to accept that I can never keep up with everything I could possibly learn.
This quote attributed to the poet Sylvia Plath captures how limited we are:
“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.”1
Yet as Christians, we don’t have to view this limitation as “horrible”. Our limitations are a gift from God, so his power can be displayed more clearly through our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). And our limitations make us gloriously free. We don’t need to know and experience everything in this life, for we were made for the eternal life waiting for us beyond the grave. Even though books are a helpful tool in our sanctification, ultimately God is the one who changes us, so we do not need to rely upon them.
I’m grateful for the incredible blessing that books have been in my life. God has been so generous to give me the wealth to own a decent collection, and the time to read them. But they’re not essential. I don’t need them to live with certainty and peace now. All that I truly need has been granted to me in grace by Jesus Christ:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” (Ephesians 1:3)
I’m certain of the redemption I have through the death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s the firm knowledge I can rest everything upon. I know of this through the Bible, that precious treasure where I commune with the living God, learn about him and myself, and discover how God wants me to live. Even if I never read another book in my lifetime, I would have everything I need.
This truth enables me to rest. I don’t have to be a slave to my Goodreads list, or keep up with every single blog, or obsess over finishing my reading goal each year. I can trust the words of the apostle Peter:
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence…” (2 Peter 1:3)
- I’ve seen this quote attributed to Plath, apparently from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, for instance on Goodreads here: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/78158-i-can-never-read-all-the-books-i-want-i. I haven’t read the book, and never seen a page number quoted, so I can’t verify the source.