I’m reading a book my dad recommended called The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett. It’s wonderful to read for pleasure instead of reading to complete assignments or reading knowing that I’ll be graded.
In the preface, Follett writes,
Nothing happens the way you plan it. A lot of people were surprised by The Pillars of the Earth, including me. I was known as a thriller writer. In the book business, when you have had a success, the smart thing to do is write the same sort of thing once a year for the rest of your life. Clowns should not try to play Hamlet; pop stars should not write symphonies. I should not have risked my reputation by writing something out of character and overambitious.
What’s more, I don’t believe in God. I’m not what you would call a spiritual person. According to my agent, my greatest problem as a writer is that I’m not a tortured soul. The last thing anyone would have expected from me was a story about building a church.
So Pillars was an unlikely book for me to write – and I almost didn’t. I started it, then dropped it, and did not look at it again for ten years.
This is how it happened.
When I was a boy, all my family belonged to a Puritan religious group called the Plymouth Brethren. For us, a church was a bare room with rows of chairs around a central table. Paintings, statues, and all forms of decoration were banned. The sect also discouraged members from visiting rival churches. So I grew up pretty much ignorant of Europe’s wealth of gorgeous church architecture.
Later in the preface, Follett writes,
The hero of the story had to be some kind of man of God. This was difficult for me. I would find it hard to get interested in a character who was focused on the afterlife (and so would many readers). To make Prior Philip more sympathetic, I gave him a very practical, down-to-earth religious belief, a concern for people’s souls here on earth, not just in heaven.
There are two ideas that strike me, even before I begin in chapter one.
First, the metaphor of the church building (physical) versus the church building (spiritual).
For example, compare and contrast these two verses:
“But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go…” Deuteronomy 12:5
“…you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:5
As I read about the author’s, and consequently, main character’s view of the building, I consider the building not made by human hands in which God resides – the temple of humanity. In what condition is this kind of “building”? Is it burdened with rules and legalism, like the unadorned church building of Follett’s childhood? Is it full of pride, built on the backs of the poor, like the pristine, cavernous European cathedrals?
Second, the idea that Follett writes the main character not “focused on the afterlife.”
Instead he has “a very practical, down-to-earth religious belief, a concern for people’s souls here on earth, not just in heaven.” How interesting it is that this atheist author recognizes something that many religious people do not. He writes the main character with the attitude of Jesus Christ:
When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples,“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:36-38
Notice how the verse from 1 Peter is a fulfillment of the verse from Matthew. The “living stones” are “being built into a spiritual house,” but this spiritual house is different and better than “that place you must go” in Deuteronomy – the “place” is now as mobile as a human beings, because it comprised of human beings. The “church” of 1 Peter is “into his harvest field,” while the “church” of Deuteronomy stays right where it is.
I’m looking forward to what other spiritual truths I might discover by way of Follett.