Because I write novels for kids, most of my pleasure reading takes the form of middle grade and young adult selections, but I like to poke my way through classic literature as well. I usually have one going on my Kindle all the time. Over the past year or so I’ve read several books by Jules Verne, Les Mis, The War of the Worlds, The Phantom of the Opera, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Hobbit, and Frankenstein, along with several classic children’s books like Alice in Wonderland and The Princess and Curdie. I find value in checking out books that have stood the test of time. They usually contain themes that resonate with humanity across the generations. Many times these themes are positive. Sometimes they are not.
I just finished reading The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a work heralded as a nostalgic, enchanting tale of the era of jazz. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say: “The book received critical acclaim and is generally considered Fitzgerald’s best work. It is also widely regarded as a ‘Great American Novel’ and a literary classic, capturing the essence of an era. The Modern Library named it the second best English language novel of the 20th Century.”
I say it’s a terrible commentary on a life lived without God.
Jay Gatsby is a self-made millionaire, though his success smacks of the underworld. He’s well-known in New York for throwing lavish parties, which are attended by all the social elite. It’s all done for the benefit of Daisy Buchanan, with whom he’s in love. His bid to woo her away from her husband ends in backstabbing and murder. In the end, the narrator laments that Gatsby was chasing a dream that was better left in the past. Yet he understands Gatsby’s motivation for looking backwards when only lonely decades stretch before. Happiness eludes us though we run toward it with our arms out. It’s a bleak, hopeless take on life. One that, unfortunately, so many identify with.
Last week, I finished reading Heaven, written by Randy Alcorn. If only I could hand out a copy to everyone who picks up The Great Gatsby! As Christians, we have the promise of eternal life. Not life with pain and suffering as we know here. Life as we’d want it to be lived here. For we will live here, on this remade earth, in the presence of God and in the absence of sin. This formula equals the fulfillment and satisfaction Mr. Fitzgerald’s characters were seeking in their gin, sex, wealth, and socializing.
As Christians, we don’t always understand what hope we have to offer the world. We don’t understand Heaven. We have this image of floating in the clouds in some disembodied state while strumming on harps. No wonder no one seems to want to go there! But Mr. Alcorn uses scripture to explore the truth about Heaven. He does it in a way that makes it digestible. He paints it in terms of what we are familiar with. After reading this, I’m telling you I’m awfully excited to go there.
Of course the ticket comes with a cost: acknowledging that there is a God, admitting that He is righteous and we are not, and surrendering to His will. That’s a price steeper than many folks wish to pay. The alternative, however, is the useless seeking and bitter disappointment of The Great Gatsby during this life and something worse after death.